What is the true nature of Turkey’s new regime?

With Turkey’s pledge of allegiance back in the news , the nature of the regime that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put in place since the July 2016 coup attempt is again under the microscope. Is it democratic? Conservative? Socialist? Nationalist? Fascist? Islamist?

It may be all of the above, or none.

Elections are taking place, and are widely seen as free, if not entirely fair. There is a parliament, even if its role has been reduced. Yet there is also the matter of the government’s exclusionary and violent policies toward the Kurds. The near-outlawing of the Kurdish language is a reminder of past nationalism.

The policies employed to favor the government’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Islam-friendly Imam Hatip schools, and certain Islamic sects adds a strong religious flavor to this regime and a sense of Islamism.

The capital controls, price controls, and the welfare payments made to 15 million citizens evoke socialism. The way the government accuses nearly half the population of having links to terrorism has echoes of fascism.

The political, economic, military and social crises that have arisen are blamed on external factors and the proposed solutions are based on a spectre constructed by the regime, which are clear elements of nationalism.

External forces, the interest rate lobby, global capital and imperialists are the masterminds behind a plot to take over Turkey and the only solution is the ubermensch: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The idea of the ubermensch was created by the German thinker Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. He posited that humanity would free itself only by ridding itself of the idea of God and becoming its own master. In his opinion, real humanism could only appear that way.

Nietzsche, who created nihilism, the philosophy of nothingness, wrote the dramatic aphorism, “God is dead and we have killed him.” Nietzsche believed that his ubermensch ideal could be realized only by rejecting religious values. Yet the ubermensch could be a leader and master who would make values and laws for humanity. Nietzsche gave his ubermensch god-like qualities of power and leadership.

This is exactly what is happening in Turkey. Paradoxically, Islamists and nationalists have made Erdoğan into an ubermensch, giving him practically unlimited power and the tools to solve every problem Turkey faces.

I say paradoxically because it’s impossible to come together around an ubermensch without abandoning your religious and nationalist values. How can all power be placed in the hands of a single man, if god is the ultimate leader? Or if a nation’s people are truly great?

In exchange, Erdoğan has ensured that Turkey’s fate is his own fate and that the state is increasingly identified with his person. He has destroyed all of the political, bureaucratic, and military checks on his power and built a system dependent on him.

The proper title for the way that Erdoğan the ubermensch has operated in his social and political life is chauvinism. This is a relatively new concept, in which aggressively nationalist regimes marked by hawkish patriotism are considered chauvinist.

This tends to emerge when a nation’s confidence has begun to erode, when a state’s political, economic and military existence appear threatened. Chauvinism is a way for the state to save itself from its situation by bringing national will to the fore and sacrifice personal freedoms. It emphasizes the nation as a central theme of its propaganda to try to restore national confidence. Like Putin’s Russia, Erdoğan’s Turkey is now a chauvinist regime.

As with Putin, Erdoğan’s chauvinism often substitutes his person for the nation as the central theme and urges a coming together around the ubermensch as the solution to all economic, political, and military crises. Chauvinism also uses other means such as whipping up hatred against foreigners, rival groups, and other political parties — taking Erdoğan’s side in all things and directing hate towards the opposition.

One of the most important vehicles for Erdoğan’s chauvinism is the July 2016 coup attempt. Domestic and foreign policies were heavily revised in its wake, and a new regime of extreme patriotism and Erdoğan-centered nationalism was born.

Some of Turkey’s neighbors provide good examples of chauvinism: Albania under Enver Hoxha; Syria under the Assads; Iran under the Ayatollahs; and the al-Saud family’s rule in Saudi Arabia. For me, the Saudis’ religious chauvinism most parallels that of Erdoğan.

Saudi Arabia is governed by a “unitary absolute monarchy” founded in 1932. The country is controlled by Salafi-Wahabbi Islamists. While unitary states require national leadership, Saudi Arabia is ruled by a dynasty. The king holds both legislative and executive power, appointing members of the cabinet and able to veto their decisions at will. All top legislative, judicial, and executive staff are appointed by the king, and thus predominantly members of the royal family.

Nearly all of the economy belongs to the Saudi family. While they live in petrodollar luxury, many Saudis are poor and live in almost medieval social and economic conditions. A handful of Bedouin tribes still live in the desert. Further, the state uses religion and strict media control to keep citizens ignorant. News outlets are either state-run or state-supported and people are given a strictly religious education.

Despite tensions between the two states, I believe the Saudi royal family and its administration serve as a model for Erdoğan. Turkey’s president has taken all of the capital under his control and lives in luxury and comfort with his family and inner circle.

Despite the fact that he has nearly bankrupted his people, it is forbidden to speak of this. They erode the education system and offer religious services to the masses and expect people to be satisfied. Those who criticize are accused of ingratitude. This is chauvinism, nearly on the level of the Saudis.

In order to remake Turkey in the image of Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan needs Turkish nationalism and Islamism. Despite the fact that Erdoğan is ethnically Georgian, he insists on Turkism because of his reliance on nationalism. He only moves away from Turkishness when he stresses Islam as a unifying force, echoing Ottoman rule beyond Turkey’s borders.

Erdoğan’s chauvinism grows more violent every day, gathering society as a mantle around him, bringing all capital under his own control, making all institutions reliant upon him and centralizing power in his own hands.

One day he is likely to pass this power on to a family member. The free market economy, free speech, the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and freedom of association and religion –the supposed hallmarks of Turkey’s Republic — are being trampled on every day as Erdoğan builds his horrifyingly chauvinist regime.

About Me

Ali Agcakulu is an academic, author, and columnist. After he graduated from the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the Yildiz Technical University in 2016, he worked as a Postdoctoral research fellow at The Catholic University of America. He published two books; “The Brief History of Kurdish Nationalism” and “Said Nursi’s Political Theory or The Reform of Islamic Political Thought”. As a journalist, he was a columnist with Rota Haber and Ocak Medya news websites between 2015-2019. He also has many academic and semi-academic articles published in various magazines and newspapers. He is currently a columnist with the Ahval News website. His expertise is on the history and philosophy of Turkey’s relationships between religion and politics.

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