The reluctance of the AKP politicians in relinquishing the municipalities they have lost in last week’s local election is another way of telling the world that the ballot box is a source of legitimacy for Islamists only when they come out of it as triumphant.
Without entering into the intrinsically inconclusive discussion on the compatibility of Islam with democracy, one can safely claim that for the Islamists democratic elections are not a part of the end, but of the means. That they can even be mouthpieces of human rights if their authorities and offices are not challenged is well documented in Erdogan’s championing of the call for justice for the late Jamal Khashoggi. “Democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination,” as Erdogan is reported to have said early in his career.
Erdogan’s illiberal democracy train might have erred from its destination though.
And it seems that our autocratic first-class passenger is looking for a reversal of travel direction.
AKP’s embattled leader R. Tayyip Erdogan is running a sophisticated campaign against all the opposition candidates that won the local elections of 31 March. Until now we have seen recounting of the invalid votes, requesting recounting of all votes, launching investigations against the newly elected opposition mayors, starting background inquiries about the polling clerks and showing the stick of ungovernability when the mayor of a city is from an opposition party and the city assemblies are populated by AKP councilors. Soon, we will start hearing the catchword “coup attempt” about the very elections.
The ultimate result is the catastrophic film we have watched between 7 June and 1 November 2015, when, under rocketing terrorist activities and blackmailing of economic crisis about ten percent of the voters redeemed their allegiances to the AKP they had left in June.
Opposition parties suggest that the government is winning time to “cleanse documents” of its two decades of corruption in municipalities, or that it is not willing to turn over the control of municipal budgets that are used to create its own state-fed bourgeoise, or that it is afraid that what has started in the municipalities may lead to a snowball effect in the 2023 general election and so on…
All these can be true and yet, I believe that there is also a deeper and more dangerous reason why Erdogan’s Islamist party is not ready to accept a defeat in elections. This deeper reason relates to the classical dar al-Harb / dar al-Islam distinction that was a central motif in the Islamist discourse of the National Outlook, the ideological core of the AKP.
Put in a nutshell, Islamists believe that the land converts into Islam when it is conquered by Muslims (dar al-Islam – lit. Land of Islam) and that when such a land is lost to the enemies, it becomes dar al-Harb (lit. Land of War) and fighting for its recovery becomes obligatory on each and every Muslim.
This enhancing of the importance of the lost might be a universal human instinct, but in the Islamic discourse, it is institutionalized. So, whereas growing a beard for men is only advised in the sense of following the good example of the Prophet, shaving an already grown beard is regarded a sin; whereas Muslims are rather tolerant to non-veiled women, unveiling is regarded as treason; whereas memorising the whole of the Qur’an is not even a religious duty, forgetting a memorised Qur’an is regarded as a grave mistake.
In a more stressed manner, loss of a dar al-Islam to the infidels is a shame all Muslims have to quiver with fear. And if that land is Istanbul, the city conquered twice by Muslims, once under Sultan Mehmet II and once under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with all its eschatological connotations, such a loss will not be easily absorbed by the Islamist core of the AKP.
Even if that core cannot find any practical way to undo the “mistake of the Istanbulites” they will interpret this defeat as an accident of history, a diversion from God Almighty’s masterplan that calls for repent, reversal and redemption, by all means possible…