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Populist Movements and Democracy Formation

Session IV-14, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • The rise of populism has been seen around the world recently. Kuwait is no exception and has seemed to experience the rise of populism over the two decades. In the case of Kuwait, populists dominated parliament debilitates function of the government and weakens the governance of the State. The number of interpellations against ministers has gone up since 2000s. While the media speculates performance of PMs through grilling sessions, on the other hand, some grieve loss of significance of interpellations and show concern the quality of representation. Should “us against the elites”, “people against a small group of privileged and corrupted people” be the cause of populist discourse as seen in other places of the world, the inequality has always existed in the Kuwaiti society since the inception of national assembly and constitution. Why is populism rising in Kuwait? What has contributed to this change since 2000s? The cause of populism has been explored by several authors in context of consolidated democracies across the regions and overtime; however, researches on the relationship between democracy and populism in different phases of democratization is understudied (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2018). While some previous studies touch upon inner experiences from the MPs themselves(Alnufaishan & Alrashidi, 2019), populist policy itself (Nordenson, 2020), or the affect from the politics itself (Abdalla & Al-Homoud, 2012; Aljarallah, 2020), there not many studies have not considered causal relationship between Kuwaiti democracy and the rise of populism. This study analyses the factors contributing the rise of populism and the phase of Kuwaiti democracy by considering quality of representation as an independent variable. In the premises of “the populism is in many ways an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism” (P.1670, Mudde & Rovira Kaltwassar, 2018), quality of representation here includes political participation, social participation, level of corruption, gathered from previous studies, governmental websites, newspapers, data collected by international organization, and/or by private consulting firms. The study implies common conditions in which populism derives regardless of difference phases and levels of democratization.
  • The astonishingly preponderant mobilization of the “popular” in politics in a society that has experienced frequent polarization (Erdoğan and Uyan-Semerci 2018b), has provided the opportunity for insightful work on issues of mobilization, leadership and discourse. However, the centrality of the notion of the people in politics sometimes leads to misreading the ways “the people” is deployed as a political category and gives rise to flaws in the analysis of political discourse, action and mobilization. Indicatively, some (see for example Tekdemir 2018 or Erdoğan et al. 2018) imply that the leaders of the secular, Islamist and leftist presidential coalitions/parties in the 2018 presidential election embraced populist politics/discourse. On the other hand, Aytaç and Elçi (2019) imply that they can discern populist parties in Turkey dating back to the 1960s largely due to the charismatic character of their leaders, while Tekdemir, goes even further and argues that the Gezi urban protests could also be characterised as populist. This paper deploys a synthetic conceptualization of populism that retains the critical edge of the concept and allows us to use it in the study of Turkish politics without collapsing all appeals to the people into populist politics. Tracing the emergence of the idea of “the people” and its uses in Turkish politics from its independence to the present, and drawing on a conceptualization of populism as a political logic that promotes the construction of a polarised political field and posits the people as the indivisible and sole bearer of rights, at the expense of particularistic or individual rights, this paper identifies and discusses critically significant discursive traditions from above and below that have privileged abstract collective political subjects such as “the nation” and “the people”. It notes the simultaneous appeal to, and mistrust of “the people” by the republican elites and examines the impasses of a system that was geared towards creating a compliant people and the appropriation and transformation of the exclusive divides erected by the Kemalist state into resources for populist forms of mobilization and politics by counter-elites, including the conservative-Islamist elites of the past two decades. Zooming into this time the paper provides an outline of the discursive, performative and representation aspects of the populism of the AKP and suggests that the democratic promise of the latter’s populist politics (and populism in general for that matter) “effectively” displaces popular sovereignty or divorces it from its material dimension of empowerment.
  • The question of ‘democratic enclaves’ in otherwise authoritarian polities has recently received increased attention. Particularly in ‘former democracies’ with a track record of multi-party elections and peaceful transfer of power, ‘democratic resilience’ can be observed in collective discourses on sovereignty based on fair elections as well as in pockets of government, and particularly on the level of local administration. Local administrations can serve as power bases for rookie politicians and become locales of ‘springboard politics’, contributing to the gradual empowerment of opposition politics, while at the same time having to avert the national-level incumbents’ assaults on local autonomy. Yet, how can opposition local governments counter the politics of autocratizing governments, which forcefully enforce their vision of personalized rule as an alternative to rule- and value-based democratic politics? Based on expert interviews, textual analysis of municipality publications and ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2020 and 2021, this paper examines the case of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul. Governed by a series of mayors associated with Islamist parties (Welfare Party and Justice and Development Party, AKP) since 1994 and thanks to a large coalition of otherwise ideologically distant political blocs, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the local elections of 2019 despite concerted attempts at manipulation and vote-rigging by the incumbent. The Metropolitan Municipality, as well as several district administrations, indeed became local power bases and laboratories for oppositional politics, significantly extending the understanding and practice of democratic politics prevalent in the less than liberal national party organization of CHP. I am particularly interested here in the municipality’s ‘counter-politics’ under the current metropolitan mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu and the question of how opposition politicians in subnational administrations counter the logic of personalization of autocratizing regimes. What kind of alternatives -political, social, cultural and gender-based- does the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality project discursively and materially? To what extent can it escape public desires for a ‘strong leader’-based municipality? And finally, what does the example of opposition politics in Istanbul tell us about the prospects for democratization in the case of regime change?
  • Following a period of more than a decade long democratic erosion and eventual breakdown, Turkey appears to have a possibility of democratic transition through opposition coordination and coming to power in upcoming elections. What are the chances of this happening? What are the changes that this potential period of transition and democratic reforms also involve reforms and transformations that begin to resolve Turkey’s century-old Kurdish Conflict? This paper will analyze this question based on two novel theoretical and empirical grounds that will make significant contributions to extant research on Turkey, Kurds, and democratization with respect to ethnic-national conflicts. First, it will analyze what it takes to successfully address the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict by building on an original theoretical framework developed in a forthcoming book by the author in April 2022 (Return to Point Zero: The Turkish-Kurdish Question and How Politics and Ideas (Re-)Make Empires, Nations and States, New York: SUNY Press, April 2022). Specifically, it will argue that in terms of its fundamental conditions and problem and solution sets, the current period resembles a “return to point zero,” i.e. this conflict’s formative period during the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Accordingly, the key to beginning to resolve the conflict lies in, rather than Turkish-Kurdish politics, intra-Turkish politics, which needs to resolve three mainly Turkish dilemmas regarding identity, security and elite unity. Second, the paper will review and examine the developments and opposition advances in Turkish politics since 2019. Hence, it will discuss whether these opposition efforts to unite and agree on a program of democratic reforms will suffice to defeat and replace the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whether opposition talks may involve reforms addressing the three dilemmas mentioned above, and to what extent Kurds can be included in the emerging democratic coalition and their efforts can be addressed in the process. With references to the conflict’s formative period, the paper will conclude by discussing whether Turkey can manage to accomplish both democratization and conflict resolution at the same time.
  • The Rifaiyye is a gender-mixed, upper-class Turkish Sufi order founded in the late nineteenth century. The Rifais have transformed the Islamic gender discourses by recognizing the ontological egalitarianism of the sexes in Islam and women’s greater capacity for spirituality. They have disrupted Islamic gender norms by discarding bodily modesty codes, such as veiling and gender segregation, and by extending women’s public participation to the level of community and spiritual leadership. Women have always been at the forefront of the Rifai movement. One of them, Samiha Ayverdi, inherited the order in 1950 upon Rifai’s death. Ayverdi was not only the first female Sufi master who led both men and women in Turkey, but also a renowned novelist, poet, and public intellectual of the Turkish conservative Right during the Cold War era. She published over 40 books. She also founded several prominent civil society associations dedicated to the preservation of the classical Turkish-Islamic heritage in literature, fine arts, music, and architecture. In 1966, she established one of the first associations for women in Turkey named the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association (TURKKAD) with an aim to mobilize elite women to become active social agents in the public sphere. Ayverdi may have been seen as a progressive modern Muslim woman thanks to her status as an unveiled female Sufi master and public intellectual leading educated middle-class men and women (Ayturk 2019, Ayturk and Mignon 2013). However, I complicate the picture of women’s empowerment mapped on her female leadership by closely examining Ayverdi’s oeuvre and civic activities. Strongly refuting feminism and the Western discourse of women’s rights, Ayverdi valued women not as autonomous individuals, but as a class of mothers tasked to reproduce the ideal nation and rehabilitate Turkish-Islamic culture. Hence, she echoed the early Republican illiberal “state feminism” which emancipated women in public while simultaneously deflecting feminist consciousness and independent activism. In this paper, I historically and socio-politically situate Ayverdi’s ideological thought in Cold War Turkey. I demonstrate how she co-imbricated Sufism with the Right-wing anti-communist and nationalist values by tying the idea of serving God into the idea of one’s duty and obligations to the nation. I finally examine how her nationalist conservatism, elitism, and etatism prevented her to endorse the feminist ethics of gender equality since she associated the empowerment of women only with a public mobilization for a greater cause of national defense against communism, westernization, and cultural alienation.