Turkey’s Gradual Revolution

Throughout his tenure, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been condemned by the country's secularists for pursuing too much reform, and by its minorities for doing too little. But Erdoğan has managed to navigate this difficult landscape deftly, bringing about significant democratic change in a single decade.

ANKARA – When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his latest package of democratic reforms, ultra-nationalist groups accused him of betraying the values of the republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, while Kurdish nationalists expressed frustration at the package’s perceived inadequacy. This polarized reaction is nothing new. Throughout his tenure, Erdoğan has been condemned by the three leading secular opposition parties for pursuing too much reform, and by Turkey’s minorities and civil-society organizations for doing too little.

But Erdoğan has navigated this difficult political landscape deftly, with a cautious reform style that aims to build consensus through compromises that actually work when enacted. His gradual yet persistent efforts have succeeded in mobilizing his conservative supporters to back progressive change. Indeed, it was Erdoğan’s backers (often described as “Islamist” in Western media), not the pro-Western secularists, who defended the return of non-Muslim foundations’ property confiscated by the republican regime.

Moreover, Erdoğan and his allies have advocated harsher punishments for hate crimes against Jews, Christians, Alevis, and Kurds. With mistreatment of non-Muslim minorities a common criticism of Muslim parties across the Middle East, Turkey’s quiet revolution suggests that, by reconciling people’s religious values with the need for change, Erdoğan’s tactics can be applied in other countries to win support for progressive reforms.

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