Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1289, (31 March - 6 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The sultan’s wife

There are fresh indications that Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not stop at introducing a republican presidential system for Turkey, but really wants to revive the Ottoman sultanate, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since his star began to shine in the Anatolian firmament at the beginning of this millennium, he has issued mysterious remarks that bore unmistakable theocratic signals. Suspicions were kindled further by that intense passion — some might say obsession — for distant glories that occurred centuries before the sun of the Ataturk republic rose in the 1920s.

His utterances seemed to jar with the secularist foundations of the modern Turkish state and the sentiments of large segments of Turkish society. But he was difficult to pin down. As time passed, he succeeded in consolidating his power across the length and breadth of the country.

In the process, his remarks shed their inhibitions and their enigmatic ciphers. They became bolder and increasingly pugnacious, and they left no doubt about the ambitions that were driving him to attempt to revive an ancient past, and bury modernism and its values in an unmarked grave.

True, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not the sole bird to sing apart from the flock. Many of his fellow leaders in the up-and-coming Justice and Development Party (AKP) that he founded harboured similar reactionary convictions, and they took few pains to conceal their aversion to the advances of the Ataturk era, especially with regard to women’s rights.

So when Erdogan said that women could not be equal to men, he was merely conveying the cherished ideas and attitudes of his AKP friends and associates who have been busily trying to alter the social and legal realities and whose efforts appear to be bearing fruit. Among their catchwords towards this end are the “traditions, values and modesty of the authentic Turkish family”.

Many AKP officials have held forth on this subject, but the words of AKP cofounder and former deputy prime minister Bülent Arinç epitomise what they have in mind. A “decent” Turkish woman, he said, should speak in a soft voice and not laugh aloud in public.

Ironically, Erdogan’s nemesis, the Islamist preacher Fethüllah Gülen, was instrumental in setting the course for the reversion to all that is “Ottoman” and the erosion of that loathsome secularism. His sermons and lectures, which used to be broadcast over various media in those halcyon days of harmony between him and Erdogan, took direct aim at the secularist principles of the Kemalist state. It was not a change in ideas that hardened Erdogan’s heart against his erstwhile friend and mentor, but rather the politics of power, which he seeks in unlimited quantities.

If Erdogan’s opinions are familiar to Turkish audiences, so too are those of his wife, Emine Erdogan. So when, on the day after International Women’s Day, she praised the harem as a “school that prepared women for life” she stirred less surprise at home than abroad. Of course, what Emine Erdogan failed to mention was that, in those days a woman’s life did not extend beyond the harem. Nor did she mention that, as Istanbul University Professor Özlem Kurumlar pointed out, referring to the era of the 16th century Sultan Murad III, “Books were the only thing that never entered the harem.”

Emine Erdogan, if nothing else, is the faithful mirror of her husband’s inner thoughts. So it was no coincidence that her harem insights came the day after Erdogan marked International Women’s Day by saying that “a woman is above all a mother”. Erdogan, as Turkish women surely know, is a passionate advocate of the Turkish woman’s right to have as many children as he says they should have, and is vehemently opposed to efforts to promote birth control, which he calls “treason”.

More significantly, here, she said: “We have been working to remove a 90-year-old wreckage.” It was no accident that she chose that figure. In just seven years from now, Turkey should be celebrating the centennial of the Ataturk republic, though many believe that Erdogan has earmarked a different type of occasion.

Moreover, in another one of those ironies that the Erdogan regime produces by the dozen, Emine Erdogan was imparting her insights to a women’s charity association, something that would have been inconceivable had it not been for the legislation introduced by the secular system that accorded her, along with other Turkish women, equal rights to men.

Meanwhile, in the Black Sea city of Samsun, the women’s branch of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) not only protested but also filed a suit against President Erdogan’s wife for abusing her position, sowing strife and contempt for the principles of the Turkish republic. Hatice Çakır, president of the Samsun CHP women’s branch, said that the republic that Emine Erdogan described as a “wreckage” gave Turkish women the right to vote and to run for public office ahead of most European countries.

Unfortunately, the Emine Erdogan “wreckage” incident was echoed in a more sympathetic way, and it is pointless to chalk it up to mere coincidence. There is a system to the madness that has been gradually permeating certain segments of Anatolian society. As a sign of the spreading influence of fundamentalist sects in Turkey, a periodical called Köklü Değişim (Radical Change) organised a conference to promote the reestablishment of the “international caliphate”, which is to be ruled by Islamic Sharia.

The magazine is a mouthpiece of Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Party of Liberation), banned under Turkish law but apparently tolerated by the current powers that be, and (in another irony) it chose as the venue for its conference the Ataturk Sports Hall in Downtown Ankara. Some 5,000 participants were on hand to remind the umma of that fateful day 92 years ago when the Ottoman caliphate was abolished, and to call for its revival in its former seat of glory.

In his speech to open the conference in Ankara, on 6 March, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Turkey media bureau head Mahmut Akar said: “Infidels who were enemies of Islam thought they buried Islam in the depths of history when they abolished the caliphate on 3 March 1924. We are hopeful, enthusiastic and happy. Some 92 years after 3 March 1924, when the caliphate was abolished, we are shouting out that we will re-establish the caliphate, here, right next to the parliament.”

The party, which describes itself as a political organisation dedicated to the Islamic creed, vowed that the banner of Islam would flutter once again, not just over Istanbul and Ankara, but all Turkish cities. The party hosted a similar event three days earlier in a hotel near the historic Topkapi Palace, the famous palace of Ottoman sultans.

Not surprisingly, events such as this beg dozens of questions, especially at a time when thousands of people throughout the country are being charged with “insulting the president” and summarily tried and sentenced to jail and heavy fines.

Meanwhile, in major venues in downtown Istanbul and downtown Ankara (near the parliament building no less) a party that refuses to call the Islamic State group terrorist and insists on calling the founders of the Turkish republic the enemy hosts events calling for the destruction of the republic.

Why are Turkey’s public prosecutors silent here? Why are they not taking action against what is clearly an insult to the very principles on which the modern Turkish state is founded?

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