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Journey from Islamism to conservative democracy: The politics of religious party moderation in Turkey

Guliz Dinc Belcher, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Through the analysis of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey with Islamist roots, this dissertation examines the relationship between “moderation” of religious political parties, i.e. moving towards programmatic positions compatible with liberal democracy and their ongoing mobilization practices. Based on data collected through fieldwork conducted in Turkey over 22 months, from September 2006 through June 2008, this study argues that the transformation of the Islamist party into a mass based center-right party in Turkey was possible to the extent that the AKP pursued “moderation” not only at the external level by moving towards a more accommodative stance vis-à-vis the other political actors and the regime, but also at the intra-party and grassroots levels. This transformation entailed re-drawing the boundaries between religion and politics through efforts to forge a “conservative democratic” party identity within the mass organizational network it has inherited from its predecessors and to develop multiple modes of linkages between the party and mass base moving away from religious mobilization, reconciling the principles of secularism, nationalism and liberal economic policies with its constituents religious sensibilities. AKP’s effort in developing a more inclusive and representative party involved structural transformation through new recruitment patterns, constructing a new party genealogy and diffusing a new symbolic and discursive structure through training and other intra-party activities as well as through the everyday practices of the local party units and municipalities. By continuing to rely on the diffuse Islamic networks for filling the important party positions, the AKP sought to retain its Islamic credentials while shedding Islamic insignia (except for the women’s headscarves), ending gender segregation, incorporating more women into the party’s administrative cadres. At the local level, through its grassroots organizing structure, the AKP has been able to continue to carry on its strong social embeddedness. The AKP’s base units working with the local municipality run by the party communicated the AKP government’s policy positions that dramatically differed from its predecessors without Islamic justification, but instead worked as a liaison between the state and the local constituency, delivering constituency-service effectively through its social service provision and cultural activities.

Subject Area

Middle Eastern Studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Belcher, Guliz Dinc, "Journey from Islamism to conservative democracy: The politics of religious party moderation in Turkey" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498331.