By Vassilis Kopsacheilis*
As a genuine reformer, Erdogan promotes a new pro-democratic model for Turkey, suitable for Muslims, as the Muslim alternative to Western-style constitutional monarchy or presidential republic.
On August 27, 2014, during the ceremonial transfer of AKP party leadership to the new prime minister and former foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s new President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered a speech that was far more than a usual ceremonial speech. Erdogan spelled out his strategic vision and deep aspirations about Turkey and the Muslim world.
During his speech, Erdogan said that “AKP is the ruling party for all the 77 million of Turkey’s population” and that “the 13 years old AKP party is in fact a political organization rooted deeply in our Ottoman past that today unites all people, as Sultan Alp Arslan united all people before the momentous Manzikert Battle in 1071”.
It is true that Erdogan is a populist but he is also a very clever politician. It is well-known that he uses religion and Turkey’s Ottoman past to touch the feelings of the average Turk. But, apart from being a competent strategist, Erdogan is and inspiring leader too. And his speech was most revealing about his deep political aspirations and his plan for the Presidency.
His aspiration is simply to change the Western-style Presidential system of Turkey into a progressive “Sultanocracy”, as a model-system for the entire Muslim, notably Arab, world.
Most of the Muslim and Arab states in the Middle East and in northern Africa have been carved out and established upon the ruins of the Ottoman Empire by the then Great Powers of the West. Since the 1920’s, the majority of the Muslim world in their respective regions are struggling – albeit unsuccessfully – to find their own political way forward, being split between Western political institutions and Muslim tradition. All models provided – Baathism or Monarchies – are based on elements of strong leadership but, in practice, all have proven to be dysfunctional.
Since the outbreak of the “Arab Spring”, it became clear that this political path is a dead end for the Muslim world. The attempted “regime change” only unlocked a suppressed extremism that produced many more problems than it was meant to solve.
Erdogan comes to the forefront of these developments with a unique and progressive political proposal. His aspiration is to provide the Muslim equivalent of the Western constitutional monarchy for Turkey and if he succeeds to export his Turkish model throughout the Arab-Muslim world in order to consolidate or restore – considering the Ottoman past – Turkey’s sphere of influence in the region.
The new model will combine pro-democratic elements together with a progressive Neo-Ottoman governance model for its Muslim subjects, with no discrimination between Turks and other ethnic or religious minorities.
Corruption and poor election performance of the Turkish political opposition fuels Erdogan aspiration to convert, in practice, the political scene of the country into a one-party political system. The President, elected directly by the people, will be the politically accountable, 21st century Sultan of the country. He will be the “great father” of all of its people.
The President will have a say in politics, religion, in the military and in justice. But he will be an elected Sultan, not a dictator imposed by the military. Under the command of the new Sultan, will be the members of his cabinet, exercising a central monitoring and administrative role. The vast population of the country will be governed directly by regional councils having greater autonomy from the government but appointed by and loyal to the Sultan.
This new “Sultanocratic” model is suitable to Muslim tradition and is pro-democratic in relation to the civilian base of society and in accordance with the public demand for strong, but accountable, leadership.
Additionally, it is a model that it can finally bring peace in the country between the Turkish majority and the Kurdish minority. Possibly, the recent optimism of the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Otsalan, who said “Kurds are close to ending hostilities” and compromise with the Turkish government is a sign that something has changed in Turkish politics.
*Vassilis Kopsacheilis is international relations expert, specialized in Southeast Mediterranean region.