By Gökhan Bacık
Jul 10 2018
Regime change is almost complete in Turkey.
Hereafter, we will witness how the new regime reshapes social, cultural and even economic life in Turkey in line with its own Islamist ideology.
Nevertheless, there is confusion among pundits in naming the power holders of the new regime. Some still have the opinion that, despite revolutionary political changes led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish state is still dominated by the traditional actors usually dubbed the “deep state”.
Accordingly, the old state cadres still safeguard their positions in a kind of cohabitation with Erdoğan.
For instance, in this vein, several experts interpret the role of ultra-nationalist leader Devlet Bahçeli’s in alliance with the ruling party as a proof of the old cadres within the state machinery.
But, are such comments plausible? And more importantly, who does this new state belong to?
Regime change is a complex procedure that requires a comparatively long time. Therefore, any process of regime change generates some sort of gray zones where the remnants of the old order temporarily survive. So, there will also be times when we observe remnants of the old regime during Erdoğan’s regime change.
Even so, one point is clear: The owners and real power holders of the nascent regime and state are Islamists. Imagining old cadres playing critical role or assuming important posts within the state in Erdoğan’s Turkey is misleading.
A short review of the Turkish state tradition may help us better understand how Erdoğan is dominating the new regime.
In theory, one can classify state traditions into two models: Functional and transcendental.
In the former, the state is an instrument to serve the citizenry. In the latter, however, the state is almost a metaphysical entity whose prime mission is not to serve its citizens, but instead to guide them.
Historically, the Turkish state tradition has been a good example of the transcendental track.
Reflecting that, the Turkish state has positioned itself above its citizens almost as an autonomous organisation. In this model, the state is no longer an instrument to serve the population. Borrowing a term from German philosopher Carl Schmitt, the Turkish state tradition has its own political theology regulating state and society relations.
As a result of this political theology, the state assumes a transcendental position and citizens are expected to serve the state. Meanwhile, the state – usually dubbed the father figure – provides freedom, jobs and other needs to its citizens as approved by the political theology.
However, there is a critical point not to be overlooked here: The historical root of such a transcendental state tradition among Turks is the Turkish people. The Turkish people have historically demanded their state be organised as a transcendental entity. Put it differently, the Turkish transcendental tradition is never a top to bottom phenomenon, instead, a reflection of well-established sociological demand for such a model.
Turks have been happy to have a transcendental state showing them what is wrong and right as well as punishing those who follow dangerous ideas.
In a broader framework, Turks’ admiration of a transcendental statehood is a reflection of the mainstream Sunni Islamic thought that calls Muslims to obey ulu’l amr, i.e. those in authority.
Reflecting this sociological enthusiasm for a transcendental statehood, all political cadres quickly transform into state-oriented and naturally authoritarian actors.
On this account, what we witness in Turkey today is not the transformation of the Islamist actors by the old cadres. Quite contrary to that, we observe how the Islamist actors are now embracing a transcendental position within the historical standards of Turkish political theology.
Seeing how Islamists maintain several features of the transcendental Turkish state tradition such as authoritarianism or nationalism, some mistakenly think the old cadres of Turkish politics retain their central role and are transforming the ruling party.
Islamists are expected to continue many typical features of the transcendental state tradition. However, Islamists will also certainly demand radical changes in the long term. And only observing such long-term changes, it will be more clear that the Islamists are the real holders and possessors of the nascent regime.
For example, Islamists will strive for a complete purge of Kemalist cadres from the state including the Turkish Armed Forces. Instead, the new central official ideology of the Turkish state will be an Islamist-nationalist one.
Similarly, it will not be easy to find a position within the state for people from all shades of the left, including social democrats.
Meanwhile, some nationalist groups who have historically differentiated themselves from Kemalism may survive as long as they recognise the Islamists’ central role. But the Islamists would also want to weaken their impact in the long term.
Given all the dynamics we observe, the Islamists are the real possessors of the new regime in Turkey. Yet, time is now on the side of the Islamists.