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Islam, Conservatism, and Democracy in Turkey: Comparing Turgut Özal and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

In the absence of a politically influential aristocracy and the entrepreneurial middle class, the political and economic transformations in Republican Turkey have been the handiwork of the political elites. Thus, late Dankwart A. Rustow talked of the cultural revolution of Atatürk, the democratic revolution of İsmet İnönü, and the economic revolution of Turgut Özal. The first two transformations were top-down revolutions and have not had a considerable impact on the social and economic stratification in the country. In contrast, with the Özal revolution a new entrepreneurial middle class began to flourish. Furthermore, during the current Recep Tayyip Erdoğan period, the peripheral social groups led by the entrepreneurial middle class have become influential players in Turkish polity.

Islam Conservatism and Democracy in Turkey Comparing Turgut Özal and
Özal and Erdoğan
 

Turkey has inherited from its Ottoman times a cultural center-periphery divide. The Westernization reforms undertaken in the early Republican decades were aimed at the modernization of the center, while the periphery was left to its own devices. Even after the transition to multi-party politics in the 1940s, in the eyes of the Republican establishment, the periphery for the most remained “backward” in cultural terrms. Under these circumstances, the periphery could not play a significant role for several decades, except in the ballot box beginning in 1950. Despite the fact that several road blocks were laid in their path, Turgut Özal in 1983-1993 and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from 2002 to the present (2013) have managed to bring the periphery into the center, thus, eventually enabling it to begin to play a major role in the Turkish economy and polity. The present essay is an introduction to that saga.1

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