Istanbul, and with it all the major Turkish cities, has risen against what is regarded as the dictatorship of the Justice and Development Party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In our consciousness, Taksim and Tahrir squares have merged, Habib Borgeiva Boulevard has become one with Al-Abasain square in Damascus, and it seems that we are witnessing yet another event of the sort we have seen since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. This resemblance derives not only from the nonviolent nature of the Turkish rallies and demonstrations, but also from the fact that their initiators are young, middle class men and women, who used social media to mobilize and publicize their activism, steering away from the traditional political parties and the self-censoring mainstream media.
Despite the similarities, there are significant differences between the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria on the one hand, and the events in Turkey on the other. Erdoğan is not an all-powerful dictator, as were Mubarak and Bin-Ali. He uses water cannons rather than bullets or Scad missiles to suppress the protests. He was voted in democratically and has been appreciated by his people throughout the years of his administration. He was able to take Turkey out of a deep financial crisis and lead the country’s economy into unprecedented development, turning it into one of the most important economies in the world. Nevertheless, there is a common thread that connects the events in Turkey, Egypt, and even Syria.
The Test of Political Islam
The common denominator is obvious. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party strikes a resemblance to Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, and despite the differences between them, the behavior of Egypt’s Morsi is similar to Erdogan’s. Both leaders represent political Islam, while adopting a neoliberal economic approach, which prefers private capital and privatization over a welfare state that curtails social gaps. Another common characteristic is the exploitation of the majority achieved in democratic elections to enforce an Islamic constitution and an Islamic lifestyle, despite fierce opposition by a large, influential, secular and urban ‘minority’.
Some describe the actions of the Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party as an attempt at Islamization. Similarly, Erdogan is trying to overthrow the principles of the secular state, as determined by Mustafah Kamal Ataturk. Egypt’s youth are revolting against Morsi’s attempt to hijack the revolution of January 25, 2011. They have created “the rebellion” movement, which has collected over 7 million signatures demanding Morsi’s resignation. The youth of Taksim square are carrying Ataturk’s portrait in the demonstrations and protesting against Erdogan’s new laws, the latest of which restrict the selling of alcohol and interfere with women’s dress codes.
These days, the entire region is united by the open struggle between Islamist and secular currents: between political Islam with a capitalist approach and the liberal, secular stream supporting the welfare state. This shared struggle connects the local struggles taking place in Egypt, Tunisia, and now Turkey. It is the first time that political Islam is being tested while in power. In addition, the social meaning of the slogan “Islam is the solution” is being challenged. The question being asked is: Can democracy coincide with a view that considers all secular people as infidels, that disqualifies their way of life and worldview, and prevents them from fulfilling their civil rights?
In fact, the revolutionary youth and the civilian forces are coming to terms with an uneasy truth: that their concentration in large cities such as Alexandria, Cairo and Istanbul, their adoption of modern a life-style enabled by information technology, and their connection with the developed world—all while the majority lives in rural poverty and ignorance—have played into the hands of the Islamist movements. With their incitement, the Islamists are creating sharp divisions between the poor and the middle class, the village and the city, ignorance and knowledge. They are relying on these chasms to achieve a majority in the elections.
The April 6th movement in Egypt, which tied the struggle against dictatorship to the exploitation and privatization in the factories of Al-Mahla Al-Kubra, pulled the rug from beneath the Islamist movement. The cry “Bread, Liberty, Social Justice” is a revolutionary chant, opposing the slogan that “Islam is the Solution”, which does not promise a life of dignity, does not recognize
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