Turkey’s JDP returns to its Islamic roots

Jamal Khashoggi

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After delivering a speech in front of a group of Arab journalists, Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Arinc raised his hands in prayer to bless good actions. The government and Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, invited us to the Turkish capital where we spent several days meeting with politicians and people close to the ruling party.

Mr. Arinc’s speech was emotional; “Come to us, we share the same values and aspirations,” he said and then repeated “come to us” several times, citing additional reasons for Arab states and Turkey to cooperate. Islamic sentiments were strongly present in his speech that was engrafted with Arab Spring expressions, “Dignity...Justice...Freedom.” He then alluded to Egypt's Tahrir Square, with all its obvious symbolic meaning, saying: “We will soon be all sitting in the Tahrir Square.”

Turkey seems different, new and powerful. It settled its last debts to the International Monetary Fund. It believes in the change in the Arab world.

Jamal Khashoggi

He moved towards a former editor-in-chief and a well-known writer and said: “What? Do they think that we are all affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood?” so I told him: “It is their era now... Prepare yourself for the upcoming.”

I had never seen or heard JDP members being honest in the declaration of their Islamic leanings, as I have seen and heard during my recent visit. I followed their political rise since the days of the national pro-Islamic welfare party that was headed by late Necmettin Erbakan; the party was banned many times by the Ataturk’s state but it has always insistently resurrected.

In 2001, the party had finally left the political arena after the establishment of the JDP, which came to power after a great landslide in the following year. The JDP is still in power in unprecedented Turkish circumstances, achieving stable economic growth and prosperity; its popularity is increasing with every election.

In previous years the party’s leaders were keen to avoid obvious Islamic tendencies, because the former ancient state was lying in wait for them in all possible ways. MP Emrullah Isler of the JDP told me: “Five years ago, the Attorney General had almost issued a ruling to dissolve the party even though it has the majority in the parliament and achieved economic success; we have survived owing to one vote!” Isler graduated from King Saud University in Riyadh and is fluent in Arabic. We were wandering in the corridors of a building that was built 40 years ago, according to a design adopted by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Isler is confident that this will not happen again, stressing that the old ruling class in the judiciary, army and security has completely changed. He added: “Our most important achievement is that we have really become a democratic state. To each his responsibilities: the army is guarding the homeland, the judiciary is now separated from politics, and the government is strictly devoted to the government; there are no conspiracies anymore.”

I looked at a fellow Egyptian colleague hoping that he has heard our conversation:. Egyptians need such an explanation because what happened in Turkey was not easy; it was the outcome of maneuvers and operations that imprisoned some senior generals in the army and intelligence services, in addition to judges and businessmen.

They are today on trial in what is described as Turkey's case of the century, dubbed the “Ergenekon case.” Many Turks cannot believe that those powerful people who were capable of discharging governments and terrorizing ministers are now in the lurch.

Arabic news editor in the Turkish news agency, Turan Kişlakçi, said that the reasons behind the men’s self-confidence in the JDP can be briefed through the statement of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “we arrived to power several years ago, and now we became truly capable of ruling.”

Arab Spring influence

Is it so or is it the Arab Spring? Mr. Jamal al-Din Hashemi, advisor to the Prime Minister and in charge of “public diplomacy” management that is directly linked to Erdogan, openly says: “The Justice Party calls for change, not only in Turkey but in the whole region. The previous and old Arab regimes cannot continue as they were. But each country can undertake its reforms according to its own circumstances.”

Hashemi is in charge of the relations with intellectual leaders and political activists in the region, in addition to parties that are close to the JDP. He organized several conferences and meetings, some of which included young people. He is passionate about change as he believes that the Arab world must be Turkey’s next stage and vice versa: the relationship must be reciprocal.

He said “Turkey has witnessed an Arab Spring in 2002”, referring to the date when his party reached power. He added “we believe in the change in the whole Islamic world, we have been waiting for this moment for a 100 years now, and we are constantly losing; geography should be in line with history. When we got away from the international scene, an unfair regime was established; we do not accept Western agendas imposed on us, and we should not imitate the West, but we should rather look for our own solution, even in our relations with non-Muslims. Our relations were only unsteady during that last 100 years; the bonds with the non-Muslims were established in accordance with our fair values. At the time of the Ottoman Empire, there was no problem with the Kurds, but during the modern Turkish state these problems emerged and divided us”. I mentioned the previous sentences to denote the strong Islamic speech that we will be hearing from Ankara or “the new Turkey” – a term that Hashemi has used several times.

A fellow researcher at an Arab research Center mentioned one of the usual conspiracy theories in the Arab region, saying that there was a call few weeks ago between the Turkish and Israeli prime ministers, which was arranged by U.S. President Obama to reconcile between the two, stating that this is the introduction of a new “Turkish-Israeli-American” alliance that will work on filling the void in the region. Upon hearing that, another Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bashir Otlaa objected saying: “It is sad to hear such statements during the governance of Prime Minister Erdogan. We cannot establish an alliance with Israel away from our Arab and Muslim allies.”

Turkey seems different, new and powerful. It settled its last debts to the International Monetary Fund. It believes in the change in the Arab world that is divided into two groups: the first group includes the Arab Spring countries, where Turkey feels that it is responsible for the success of the change in these countries, and the second group embraces the rest of the Arab countries that are viewed according to their economic strength and regional influence.

This article was first written in pan-Arab daily al-Hayat on May 11, 2013.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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