Coffins draped with the Iranian flag during the funeral of victims killed in twin blasts on Jan. 3, as they took part in a commemmoration marking the anniversary of the killing of Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani in the southern Iranian city of Kerman, Iran, Jan. 5, 2024. (AFP Photo)

From Super Cup crisis to terror attack in Iran

The new year got off to an extremely busy start in Türkiye.

The new year got off to an extremely busy start in Türkiye.

The Turkish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia was postponed. A pro-Palestinian march took place on Jan. 1 where a participant was assaulted while carrying a “tawhid” banner. An act of provocation occurred at Anıtkabir, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara, as the turf war between the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeals raged on. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) captured 34 Israeli spies while Israel killed Saleh al-Arouri, a senior leader of Hamas, in Lebanon.

As the Houthi rebels prevented commercial vessels from passing through the Red Sea, a senior official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed in Syria. Last but not least, two terror attacks claimed 95 lives in Iran on the fourth anniversary of Qassem Soleimani’s death.

Those developments rekindled the “regime” debate – which many thought to have been resolved permanently – concerning secularism, the caliphate, republican values, and anti-Arab sentiment. Meanwhile, tensions fuel concerns over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s potential spillover.

Whereas the former relates to tensions linked to the municipal election campaign in Türkiye, the latter stems from the dangerous impact of the high level of uncertainty, which plagues the international system, in the Middle East.

Shifting strategies in domestic politics

I have been making the case that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Özgür Özel and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu make that movement develop a new strategy. Whereas the previous party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, sought to “make amends” and “embrace the political right,” his successor has been making serious accusations and starting wars of words with reference to the “regime” debate.

Meanwhile, Imamoğlu (as well as Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş) steered clear of that controversy to remain able to connect with right-wing voters.

Although the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), along with Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, were collectively responsible for the terms of the Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia, the main opposition leader promptly accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of “turning Atatürk and the national anthem into a subject of negotiation in Saudi Arabia.”

A CHP parliamentarian labeled the extraordinary pro-Palestinian march in Istanbul as an “anti-regime and anti-constitutional event” with reference to the above-mentioned individual with the “tawhid” banner, claiming that “Türkiye saw the banners of the caliphate – the Daesh banners.”

Why did they stand with the young man who assaulted that person, and accuse the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of seeking to reinstate the caliphate and replace the regime? Why did the CHP chairperson, CHP parliamentarians and the pro-CHP media cherry-pick isolated events in sports, the judiciary and elsewhere to fuel the discourse that the constitutional order remains in danger? Why did the CHP circles launch such a fierce attack against religious orders?

To say that their vicious campaign stems from ignorance – that they merely cannot recognize the “tawhid” banner – would be a severe underestimation. The truth is that the main opposition party deliberately exploits ignorance, lies and radicalization for its political campaign. Meanwhile, the far-right Victory Party (ZP) and others provide rhetorical ammunition to that campaign regarding immigration.

CHP’s desperate bid

Compelled to collaborate with the pro-PKK Green Left Party (YSP), informally known as the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) and the successor of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which faces closure over its alleged ties to the terrorist organization PKK, ahead of the March 2024 municipal elections, CHP launched a counteroffensive in a desperate attempt to keep the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara.

That counteroffensive feeds off the all-too-familiar discourse of “secularism, democracy and the republic in danger.”

I posit that the main opposition party made that decision for three distinct reasons: First, the right-wing parties, including the Good Party (IP), refused to form an alliance or otherwise work with CHP. Hence the CHP leadership’s efforts to attract right-leaning, nationalist, secularist voters by paying lip service to nationalism and secularism.

Secondly, the main opposition party builds an “ideological stockpile” to counter the nationalist backlash against its partnership with the YSP. That is why they do not mind turning football into a domain of political opposition or the extreme right’s secularist racism and hostility toward Arabs. Finally, the CHP charges the governing party with authoritarianism and Islamism in an attempt to get voters to see this year’s municipal election as a new general election – which would focus everyone’s attention on ideological polarization as opposed to the poor track record of CHP-affiliated mayors.

Leaving aside that campaign’s negative impact on Türkiye’s social peace, I maintain that this new strategy will serve CHP’s interest in March 2024. If anything, the main opposition party’s ideologically charged campaign would give the AK Party more opportunities to develop a more effective discourse and more impactful policies.

[Daily Sabah, January 4, 2024]

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