Olivier Roy: The freedom of press is under control, the judiciary is under control and there is no more separation of powers, which is the base of a liberal state. It’s what we call “illiberal democracy”
We know Olivier Roy as a political scientist who specializes in Islamic world from his works En quête de l’Orient perdu, The Failure of Political Islam and many others on secularization and political Islam. According to a recent article of his in Le Monde, published on December 27, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, after slowly abandoning the Kemalist model, failed to succeed in defining a lasting and consistent foreign policy. While EU membership process was still on the table in this period, it strived to be a regional power. But now, there exists no EU membership, no region to take root or no liberal democracy whatsoever.
In a recent interview he made in Tunisia, Roy linked “AK Party’s success to the social policies that improve everyday life of the voter,” as opposed to the view that claims “AKP takes Islam as a reference for its social policies.”
Olivier Roy answered our questions about the referendum results and the process of Turkey’s isolation, at his office in European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
Can you say that the result of the referendum is a success for President Erdoğan?
It is a mitigated success. It’s not a full success at all because the margin of success was small, which means that a lot of the population doesn’t agree. And it’s always a big problem to have a constitutional reform with probation. Because normally for instance in a parliament when you change the constitution, you would need at least 60- 65 percent. For a constitution to work, you need large consensus. And the problem is that here there is no consensus. It’s just a majority.
The European parliamentary tradition for changing the constitution is almost around 60 percent, right?
It depends on the local constitutions. Of course, there are some cases, like in Italy, where the constitution was approved in 1946, with just a majority.
What can we say about the 50% of the community who voted yes? Clearly, claiming that they are all Islamists would be nothing but a misinterpretation of the situation.
I think the problem is that the country is very divided. And if you look at the electoral map, it is very clear. So, you have the secular west with Ankara, you have the Kurds and you have Anatolia, broadly speaking. And what is new is that we see an alliance between the secularists and the Kurds. It started three years ago with the parliamentary elections. But AKP has a stable electoral base: the society of Anatolia. It is conservative, not Islamist. This society is taking its revenge on the secularists. Since Kemal Ataturk, CHP was based on the urban elites and the west.
What about conservatism?
Among the people who vote for Erdoğan, you have a hardcore ratio who are Islamists, who believe in Islamist values and norms, but it doesn’t make the fifty percent. So, my guess is among the people who voted for Erdoğan for ideological reasons maybe it is only the 20- 25 percent who are Islamists. I think that there is an ideological nucleus around 20 percent but the rest of the people did not vote for Islam. In fact, they considered that the economic policy of Erdoğan was a big success. They are at the same time conservative, yes. They share the conservative values of AKP.
Thus, we can say that there is an integration problem in Turkey, and that is the reason for the division of Turkey?
It’s true that the Kemalists had a problem with democracy, yes. That was a problem of Kemalism from the beginning. We cannot say that Kemalists were open to the Kurdish issue, no they were not. In the beginning AKP was more open to the issue, or Özal likewise. But the problem of Turkey is polarization. It’s not just a political polarization. It is at the same time social and cultural, which is the real problem. In this sense integration stands as a problem. We have two Turkeys now.
Is this integration problem and the division still about the struggle between Kemalists and Islamists? It did not come to an end after the enervation of the army?
No, it’s not a matter of deep state anymore. We used to say it was, until recently, and mention the Kemalist deep state. However, the Kemalist deep state has been destroyed. But still you have the Kemalist society and the struggle remains.
What do you think about the opposition against President Erdoğan?
The problem is that CHP has not been able to recreate or restructure itself to adapt to the new situation. CHP has been unable to renovate itself. Correspondingly, HDP has been unable to make a clear distinction from the PKK. It has not clearly distanced itself. CHP did not cooperate with HDP because it is too connected with the Kurdish issue. During the parliamentary election 2- 3 years ago, HDP was able to reach outside the Kurdish constituency and to find a new democrat electorate. But then, PKK re-took the weapons. In that regard, HDP was not able to distance itself from PKK. Of course, HDP is not supporting armed struggle, but failed to make it clear that it does not. They were under pressure from two sides: the government and the PKK in the Kurdish areas.
Do you think AKP’s success, as claimed in a recently published Ipsos research depends on “the concern of the voters about the future of the country” or only “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?"
No. Erdoğan figure is very important of course. He is a charismatic leader obviously. But he is not popular just because he is popular; he is popular because his name is associated with this success. And it’s clear if you look at Anatolia, including the Kurdish area, it’s true that the economic and social situation is better than fifteen years ago.
What about the big cities? Erdoğan lost also in the conservative neighborhoods in the big cities, like Üsküdar. Why do you think they lost in such areas
I think that until recently we tended to say that the new population in Istanbul was from Anatolia and so we had the vision of Istanbul as a place where peasants, farmers were bringing the Anatolian culture to the city. But that was twenty years ago, in the nineties. But the new urban population, they have become urbanized. I am not an expert on Turkish elections, but we can suppose that the process of urbanization is not just sociological but also cultural. The new generation born in Istanbul in conservative areas is more liberal than their parents.
The problem with AKP in a sense is that the change AKP has been able to bring to the Anatolian society is a big success. Because from both the economic and educational points of view, AKP in Anatolia was successful. But the consequence is that people now are more educated, they have more access to internet, and thus they changed too. We can say that in the long term the conservative basis of AKP society will be less conservative.
Can we say that there is an ideological line towards radical Islam to AKP, deeply rooted within the party ideology?
No. Everyone says they have Islamic lines. It is not completely right. You must consider two things: traditions that come from the Ottoman legacy and social conservatism. But the conservatism of AKP is not based on sharia. It can be compared with the Protestant conservatism in the USA. For instance, their attitude towards alcohol exemplifies a lot. They did restrict the consumption of alcohol in public areas such as streets or universities, but they didn’t ban alcohol. It’s the same attitude of the conservative American states. When Erdoğan tried to criminalize adultery in 2004, the law proposal foresaw to apply the same to both men and women, for the husband and the wife. I would say, adultery was defined the same way it was defined in the USA, where there are adultery laws in ten states. They have the same definition with the law proposal that Erdoğan wanted to pass, which was rejected by the parliament. While in sharia it’s not the case, the statue of the genders is not the same. Men have the right to four wives in sharia. But in Erdoğan’s law, which was rejected, a man could not have four wives. In this sense, I would say his views are closer to US Evangelism than to Salafism.
Can we say that he is a dictator? Not only because he arrested a lot of journalists, prisoned HDP MPs just before the referendum or that he labels everyone who doesn’t agree with him as terrorist, but also because of having the media under his control or all the laws passing?
More complex. He is obviously not a democrat, but it is not a dictatorship. But Turkey is not a democracy anymore. It’s what we call “illiberal democracy.” As Putin, or Orbán in Hungary. It means that the leader is no doubt elected, there is still a constitution but it’s no more liberal. The freedom of press is under control, the judiciary is under control and there is no more separation of powers, which is the base of a liberal state. There must be a separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislative powers, and there must be freedom of press.
Do you think that EU will be excluding Turkey, whom they already leveled down to candidacy for nomination, from EU membership?
Turkey will not enter EU. It was already clear, but now the EU has good reasons. Now, especially after Brexit, they will surely not replace UK with 60 billion Turkey. Now the problem is, how to say that and on what ground EU will officially exclude Turkey. The EU can say that Turkey does not meet the criteria of the European Union. But such an explanation is again problematic, because there are two other states in EU that are leaving the criteria of being a member: Hungary and Poland. They comply with EU rules less and less. They can reject Turkey for good reasons, but then what do they do with these two illiberal democracies?
Given the impossibility of an alliance with EU, where will Turkey turn to? Will Turkey be more and more isolated soon? Or will it approach Putin officially? The Shanghai Five has been mentioned a couple of times in the last two years as the possible future route for Turkey.
The Shanghai Five is only a strategic alliance. It does not have institutional or economical dimensions to it. The problem for Turkey now is that, yes, it is becoming more isolated and it will have no choice other than to make strategic alliances with countries, which are not Turkey’s friends. Like Russia. Look at what is going on with Syria right now, Turkey is making a de facto alliance with Russia, but also with Iran and to a certain extent even with Bashar al-Assad. Because if you look at Syria, the opposition is being defeated and what you have is three forces: Assad, YPG (the Kurds) and ISIS. And what is the position of Turkish government? Turkish government’s biggest enemy is the Kurds. But they cannot ally with ISIS. So, the only ally left is Bashar al-Assad, which means that Turkey is joining the anti-Sunni coalition. Which is nonsense. Turkey is fighting the Sunni Arab counties, while at the beginning, in 2012 and even with the Arab Spring in 2011, Erdoğan wanted to take the lead of Sunni world. Now what he is doing is allying with Assad against the Sunnis. So, Turkey is already isolated.
Is he allying with anti-Sunni powers only because he is against the Kurds?
Yes. It is a very narrow nationalist vision that is far from being strategic. And to me, it’s the problem of Turkey; it has a narrow nationalist vision in the Middle East. Turkey is not able to replace the European option by a greater regional vision.
Do you think Trump is likely to make an alliance with Erdoğan, as he expects? Their politics are almost on the same line.
There will be no new strategic alliance. Of course, it is a time of populist leaders. We have Trump, we have Orbán, we have Putin, and we have Erdoğan. We may have Le Pen, I don’t know. But it doesn’t make a strategic alliance. Trump doesn’t care about democracy. He is an illiberal. The difference between Turkey and USA is that in USA they have the Congress, they have the Supreme Court, freedom of press and the 50 states. You cannot do what you want as a president. Trump is clearly illiberal. But it doesn’t result in strategic alliance. The other issue is you cannot rely on Trump. You cannot know what Trump will do. He is totally unpredictable.