SETA > Opinion |
A New Version of Stigmatization 'İslamist Rentierism'

A New Version of Stigmatization: 'İslamist Rentierism'

Turkey is witnessing new versions of authoritarianism debates on its way to presidential elections.

Turkey is witnessing new versions of authoritarianism debates on its way to presidential elections. The latest Freedom House report categorizing Turkey among "not free" countries has sparked a lot of discussions as well. We also see the opposition reiterating its discourse of authoritarianism through different means. Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu went so far as to accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being a "poor excuse for a dictator" in his criticisms.

Western countries have also joined this chorus with their politicians and media outlets. Hannes Swoboda, the socialist group leader of the European Parliament, made a "significant contribution" to the discourse about Erdoğan's alleged authoritarianism. Swoboda claims that Erdoğan has reversed his own reforms in the last two years and become one of the "new types of autocrats," adding: "An autocrat who tries to manipulate the Constitution and other laws in accordance with his own interests. The language he uses against his opposition and the EU is the typical language of an autocrat. He is a leader made of the same cloth as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Both usurp the system and laws to fortify their powers in an antidemocratic way."

Kemalist and Gülenist media are competing with each other to produce more sophisticated versions of critiques of authoritarianism. Newly formed concepts about authoritarianism in political science are being upended over Turkey. As far as I can remember, some of the current concepts are: illiberal democracy, post-authoritarianism, electoral democracy and competitive authoritarianism. A new one has been added to these recently: rentierism a la Turca. Its argument: During the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule, Turkey has headed toward a new kind of authoritarianism. Even without oil wealth in Turkey, the AK Party government manages foreign direct investments as it wishes to create nouveau riche loyal to the party. Thus, Turkey loses its characteristic of being a typical market economy and transforms into a state-centric economy. This criticism associates the AK Party period with a term that is used for the authoritarian regimes of the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. It is no different from Freedom House's report putting Turkey in the same basket as North Korea.

Actually the rentier state allegations seek an answer to the following question: Why don't the AK Party's votes decrease? The answer is very simple: The AK Party has bought the electorate with its welfare state practices.

Let us go one step further and combine this "sophisticated criticism," which makes Orientalists turn green with envy, with the Gülenist media's criticism of the AK Party as being Islamist: the Islamist rentier state. What is meant is that Erdoğan has established a totally new rentier state with his "Islamist, authoritarian and populist" approach. Thus, the AK Party is portrayed as both anti-Western and authoritarian. What is important here is not academic consistency but that Turkey not having the potential to become a rentier state may be ignored, that Turkey presents welfare policies as an average democratic state may be disregarded in the claims of rentierism, that Turkey's economic growth depends on the delicate balance between democratization and political stability can be overlooked.

We are facing a phenomenon that gradually becomes clearer.

Criticisms about authoritarianism being used to limit AK Party power are quickly losing their characteristic of being democratic critiques. It is turning into a political and intellectual anti-AK Party campaign. While trying to produce new notions to understand Turkey better, they are actually creating a new stigmatization. It's true: When political struggles become existentialist, every means available can be used. Therefore, it is possible to understand the oppositional campaigns and discourse of the Kemalist and Gülenist medias.

But it should not be forgotten that the heaviest cost of this