In search of the ‘New Turkey’

Genc_newturk_468wKaya Genç at Eurozine:

If a time traveller had come to visit me in the early 1990s and foretold a future where Turkey's conservatives would install an 81km-long underground railway network, with 65 stations, in Istanbul – a city of overcrowded buses and chronic traffic – I would have laughed at him. But, once in government, the AKP did indeed modernise the city to a great degree. In the preceding decades, defenders of Turkey's old political elite had adapted an isolationist, Eurosceptic and statist tone, and the economy they had created favoured only the privileged bureaucratic classes. This meant the closing of doors to “strivers” from the poor, rural communities. Yet the shifts that have taken place in the last decade, where Turkey's economic growth has brought migrants from those rural communities into the heart of its cities, have led to an uneasy reconciliation between religion and modernity. Conflicts between these two spheres became increasingly pronounced. Pious politicians asked for alcohol-free neighbourhoods and there were tighter regulations on events like rock concerts, which rang alarm bells for the secular youth; in response, members of the upper middle classes became more vocal in their complaints about Arab tourists and Syrian refugees, whom they accused of being backward.

In the first half of the noughties, a democratic, Islamic and pluralistic Turkey was an attractive proposition for Western observers who had been searching for ways of reconciling Islam and democracy in their own countries, especially after 9/11. In the West, Turkey was increasingly presented as a model for its Arab neighbours, while in the wake of Egypt's revolution in 2011 Erdogan surprised many Islamists in other countries by praising Turkey's secular model at a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Cairo.

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