By Nuray Mert
Paradoxically, the end of the secular republic in Turkey also marks the end of Islamism or Islamist politics in Turkey and elsewhere. The Turkish Parliament is currently voting on a constitutional change that will usher in a so-called Turkish type of presidential system, or “President of the Republic System” as the governing party dubs it. This system is nothing but an authoritarian executive regime that not only promises less democracy, but also hints at the end of the secular regime once established. The supporters of the Islamist ruling party have already started to question the legitimacy of the secular political system, suggesting “a native sort of alternative democracy” more openly than before.
We democrats and I, for one, supported the Islamists’ critique of the rigid understanding and implementation of secularism in Turkey, especially in the 1990s. It was all in the name of democracy to challenge the idea of rigid republican secularism, since rigid republicanism refused to recognize the rights and freedoms of religious conservatives. Both in Turkey and elsewhere, the debate about the “republican emphasis on secularism against democratic rights and freedoms” has been a major intellectual and political issue for a long time. At the time, the Islamists who presented themselves as “moderates and democrats” denounced not only violence and radicalism, but also the idea of an Islamic state. At the end of the 1990s, the majority of Turkey’s Islamists further denounced their ex-Islamist politics and declared themselves to be on the centre right as “Conservative Democrats.” The early 2000s were the years of the triumph of the happy idea of not only THE compatibility of Islam and democracy, but even the compatibility of Islamism and democracy. It was so especially after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 when Islamist movements needed to distance themselves from radical Islam in general and al-Qaeda in particular.
The dream ended with the delusion of the Arab Spring, especially after Islamist rulers, which came to power after the so-called spring, turned out not only to be ineffective but also authoritarian in Egypt and even in Tunisia. The other major disappointment was the failure of the “Turkish model” after the ruling Islamist party abandoned “conservative democracy” and slid toward authoritarian politics. Now we have two types of Islamist politics; on one hand, there are radical violent Islamist groups, and on the other, we have Islamist authoritarianism which failed in Egypt but succeeded in Turkey. The case of Egypt has been disastrous since the Islamist government was not defeated and followed by democratic politics but was ousted in a military coup, presaging authoritarian military rule. Fortunately, Turkey survived a coup attempt in July last year, but the victory of democratic resistance against the coup could not be harnessed to democratize Turkey. On the contrary, it was used to further legitimize authoritarian politics under emergency rule.
Nevertheless, we can hardy call it success in the name of Islamism, since the whole affair ended with the “ordinary politics of nationalist and religious authoritarianism.” The starting point of Islamist politics was to challenge the politics of modernity in the name of justice and dignity, but ended up producing the worst version of modern politics. Islamists managed to challenge the power of the secular republican system and have come close to ending it altogether in Turkey, but only at the cost of surrendering themselves to nationalist authoritarianism with more religious flavour rather than challenging the politics of modernity altogether. It is also true for Islamism in general, since it proved unable to suggest any alternative for a better future for Muslims and humanity.