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The AK Party and the Evolution of Turkish Political Islam’s Foreign Policy

Turkish foreign policy under the AK Party government has long drawn scrutiny from a wide range of analysts. The Syrian uprising has raised the intensity, variance, and rapid change of such analysis. Though the events in Syria have forced a recalibration of Turkish foreign policy, this change can be better understood with attention to the history of the AK Party’s foreign policy. That history is rooted in a tradition of both continuity and change vis-à-vis the AK Party’s political Islamist predecessors, the Refah and Fazilet parties. By understanding the values, motivations, failures, and lessons of the AK Party’s political forebears, we may better understand the last decade of the AK Party’s foreign policy—and its continuing evolution.

The AK Party and the Evolution of Turkish Political Islam
Egptian President Mursi delivered speech at 4th Grand Regular Congress of AK Party. AA / Mehmet Kaman

Almost two years ago, after the first wave of Arab uprisings, cheering throngs hailed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as he toured the Middle East. Questions about a supposed “Turkish Model” saturated the English and Arabic media, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke about the uprisings as if they were the natural course of events in the region. As the Syrian uprising—which Turkey prominently supported—became increasingly bloody and intractable, domestic critics turned sharply, proclaiming the failure of the AK (Justice and Development) Party’s foreign policy and indicting Davutoğlu’s performance.1 When the Syrian conflict spilled over into Turkey, and the AK Party government first threatened and then responded with artillery fire, some analysts wondered if Turkey would transition to a more muscular foreign policy.2 At best, these efforts to build narratives out of Turkish foreign policy were overzealous. Still, they represent only the most recent attempts to define the “new” Turkish foreign policy.

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