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date: 18 October 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Religion, and particularly the forces of political Islam and state secularism, have been central to discussions of regime stability in the Turkish case. Intense polarization, political instability, and military interventions have propelled Turkey into crisis about once a decade, preventing strong democratic or authoritarian consolidation. To explore why both democracy and authoritarianism have “failed to stick,” this chapter advocates for a historical assessment of the relationship between religion and regime, making two interlocking arguments. First, using evidence from the late Ottoman Empire and early Republican Turkey, it argues that processes of state formation shaped the subsequent trajectory of Islamist politics, which came to be dominated by statist or state-centric political Islamist currents. Second, and relatedly, although Turkey’s political Islamists have indeed used grass-roots strategies to inspire and mobilize the masses, legacies of state-building have contributed to another set of strategies at the elite level: State-centric Islamists in Turkey have wielded their moral authority to homogenize and nationalize society, as well as to build and reorient the state in their own image. They have steadily gained influence through a patient strategy of temporary bargains with the anti-democratic forces of Kemalist secularism against mutual enemies (leftists, minority groups, etc.). Finally, they have aspired for institutional capture rather than protracted power sharing—much like their Kemalist counterparts. In this context, many big political battles are fought within the critical institutional corridors of the Turkish state and are thereby destabilizing to it, whether in democratic or autocratic form.

Keywords: Turkey, Ottoman Empire, religion, regime, state secularism, political Islam, democracy, autocracy

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