1779) A Silent Revolution In Turkey

Here's the latest news from Turkey: there will be no coup. Nor will sharia law be imposed. Instead, the economy will continue to grow, . . the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will most likely consolidate its parliamentary majority in the July 22 elections, and Turkey's regional clout will continue to increase.

Sound counterintuitive? Only if one pays excessive attention to reports about Turkey in the international press or the more

sensationalist or alarmist Turkish publications, and not enough to actual developments in Turkish society. Turkey is undergoing a silent revolution, but one that has nothing to do with soldiers or fundamentalists.

According to data included in a recent report by progressive Istanbul non-governmental organization TESEV (the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation), support among the Turkish population for a government based on sharia (Islamic) law has fallen under 10%, 77% believe that democracy is better than any other form of government, and more than 50% believe that democracy can be preserved without any "support" from the military.

Where has this support for democracy and rule of law come from? The most likely source is the emergence of a "true" Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie into Turkey's corridors of power. In fact, it may not be much of a stretch to say that Turkey is undergoing its own form of French Revolution, the Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie rising to put an end to aristocratic domination.

Can Paker, the president of TESEV, explained in a recent interview that Turkey is experiencing the emergence of a "new" middle class composed largely of recent migrants to Turkey's main urban centers.

This new middle class, despite identifying itself as "Muslim", is worried much more about its standard of living, the economy and whether or not its children will be educated well than about imposing sharia law.

As Turkish citizens are aware, the new Turkish-Muslim bourgeois may not look as one expects: he wears a comfortable Polo, appropriate (but not cheap) belt on slacks, sensible shoes, fashionable wire-rim glasses, and a mustache; she may or may not wear a headscarf, but if she does, the mark is most likely expensive, like Vakko. Their daughter may (or may not) wear a headscarf, and may be smoking a cigarette as she walks down Istiklal Street, the cultural heart of Istanbul and Turkey, with her punk-rock friends. Their son dresses nicely, but not loudly; it's just as likely that he listens to Placebo or Eminem as to Ibrahim Tatlises, the king of Turkish "Arabesque" music. If he's not using his iPod, then he's chatting with his girlfriend on one of the most recently released mobile telephones.

Most probably their roots are in an Anatolian village or burgeoning Anatolian urban center such as Adana, Denizli, Gaziantep or Kayseri.

But they are thriving in increasingly cosmopolitan Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. Urban Kemalist-elite Turks constantly complain that they are seeing more and more scarved women on the streets. But TESEV's numbers show that the percentage of Turkish women wearing scarves has actually dropped. And only 4% of polled respondents thought that the headscarf issue was one of the two most important issues facing Turkey. Apparently, the new bourgeoisie have hit the streets in Turkey's big cities.

To the new Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie, questions about whether Islam is compatible with capitalism, or whether Islam is compatible with democracy, are silly: of course capitalism and democracy are compatible with Islam, and always have been. In reality, these questions will soon be recognized for the risible red herrings that they are, put forth by those who fear the writing on the wall: Turkey is coming, and coming fast, leading the Islamic world as an example of independently achieved development as well as economic and political stability.

The changes and statistics described above are the real reasons for the current tensions in Turkish society, the 100,000-strong marches, the midnight press releases from the Turkish military, the acts of violence in urban areas committed by individuals loosely associated with Turkey's "deep state". The centers of power in Turkey are surreptitiously changing hands. Little by little, the traditional Turkish pseudo-bourgeoisie of Kemalist soldiers, bureaucrats and old-guard intellectuals is relinquishing the real political decision-making to an actual Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie composed of esnaf, ie, small-to-middle-sized-business people, and industry, represented by TUSIAD, the Turkish business association dominated by massive Turkish holding companies such as Koc, Sabanci and Eczacibasi.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the premier and head of the AKP, is a prominent example of the Turkish-Muslim esnaf. His childhood and formative years were spent in Kasimpasa, a working-class area of Istanbul, after his family migrated to that city from the eastern Black Sea city of Rize. Erdogan now has assets worth millions of US dollars.

His son, Bilal, graduated from Harvard and had an internship at the World Bank, and Erdogan's wife and daughters wear headscarves. The AKP's parliamentary candidate list, released for the July 22 elections, was described by some commentators as a putsch against its last Islamically inspired members.

This means that the party's pragmatists, those who have no interest in pursuing radical political programs, have achieved the upper hand.

But after all, a main goal of the Kemalist elite has always been to create exactly this Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie. That was the point of such projects as the infamous 1942 Wealth Tax, which was, in essence, a forced capital transfer from the Turkish minority bourgeoisie composed of Armenians, Greeks and Jews to Muslim Turkish business people. But for various political, economic and social reasons, the true Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie has only recently developed to the point where it can flex its political muscles. As a result, Turkey has been making fast headway on the road to economic development.

A last note for those interested in sports. The Turkish-Muslim bourgeoisie's favorite soccer club tends to be the same as that of their most famous representative, Erdogan: Fenerbahce, Brazilian Roberto Carlos's new team.

A B McConnel is finishing a history master of arts program at Sabanci University in Istanbul, with a focus on Republican Turkish history and Turkish-US relations. He has lived in Istanbul since 1999.

By A B McConnel
Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
June 25 2007



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