The decline and resurrection of Turkish Islamism: the story of Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP
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AbstractFor decades, Turkish Islamists have failed to attract the votes of large sections of society and remained marginal. As a result of this failure to come to power, and due to domestic and international constraints and windows of opportunities, they have declared that they have jettisoned Islamism. Many Turkish Muslims whose religious disposition was shaped by the pluralistic urban Ottoman experience and small-town Anatolian traditionalism, and by the contesting currents of cosmopolitan pluralism and rural social conservatism, voted in favour of these former Islamists who have become &ldquo;Muslim Democrats&rdquo;. This paper elaborates on the genealogy of Turkish Islamists and their political trajectories and argues that when the forces and constraints of domestic and external social, political and economic conditions disappeared and the opportunities derived from being Muslim Democrats no longer existed, the former Islamists easily returned to their original ideology, showing that despite assertions to the contrary their respect for democracy and pluralism had not truly been internalised. This paper also aims to demonstrate that similar to other authoritarian populists, Erdoganists perceive the state and its leader as more important than anything else and as being above everything else, which has culminated in a personality cult and sanctification of the state. As long as Turkey&rsquo;s economy continued to boom, almost everyone was happy that Turkey could readily market the &ldquo;Muslim Democrats&rdquo; story to the whole world for a long period as a major success story, or as an &ldquo;exemplary Muslim country&rdquo; or &ldquo;model&rdquo;. Yet, Middle Eastern elites and Western forces got carried away and learnt the hard way just how naive their view was in perhaps the first great transformation movement of the twenty-first century &ndash; the Arab Spring. Likewise, the Turkish Spring turned all too quickly towards autumn and then winter.