Why you should care
Because Muslim-majority democracies are rare.
The leader of Turkey had a plan. After about a decade as prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was term-limited out. So he became president and moved to consolidate power in the presidency — which had been largely a ceremonial post. It’s a time-honored trajectory that power-hungry leaders the world over have contemplated, or taken (e.g., Vladimir Putin).
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t seem to have worked. On Sunday, Erdoğan’s AK Party failed to secure enough seats in Parliament to reform the constitution. And democracy supporters across the globe breathed a sigh of relief. If Turkey had gone autocratic, the world would have lost the signal bearer of Muslim-majority democracies.
Signs of Erdoğan’s power-grabbiness were there for most of the world to see. In “Wires Crossed in Turkey,” for instance, OZY contributor Katharine Kendrick wrote of Erdoğan’s steadily tightening grip on free expression, from newspapers to social media to the Internet. This year, OZY’s Sean Braswell noted Erdoğan’s new, 3.1 million-square-foot “White Palace” — and asked whether it was a sign of incipient doom: “As history has shown time and again, one of the surest ways a flailing autocrat can signal his imminent downfall is by building a bigger roof to go over it.” Read more here.
Meanwhile, OZY’s Shannon Sims delivered a thoughtful take on Erdoğan’s rise to power. He’d made a name for himself by, among other things, fighting for religious expression in a state that was once staunchly secular. But in recent years, Sims wrote, fears grew that Erdoğan was using Islam as a tool of propaganda. Read more here.
So, what next? In Sunday’s elections, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 13 percent of votes, giving it its first seats in Parliament. Many in Turkey see the pro-Kurdish HDP as a strong counterbalance to Erdoğan’s power grabs. Last month, OZY’s Laura Secorun Palet profiled one of the party’s leaders, Figen Yüksekdağ, and outlined its very egalitarian aspirations for Turkey. Read more here.