- From the Editor
Since becoming prime minister in 2003 and then president in 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has steered Turkey through a period of extensive and important political and economic change. Overall, Turkey’s economic rise has been significant, lifting millions of Turks out of poverty in a country that had previously been considered politically fragile during the best of times—with frequent involvement of Turkey’s military to maintain a semblance of order.
Erdogan’s most loyal supporters come from members of Turkey’s rising middle class, whose lives have been transformed by the country’s economic boom. According to recent World Bank data, average annual personal income in Turkey has risen from $3,800 in 2003, when Erdogan became prime minister, to approximately $10,000 in 2017. In turn, the number of people living below the poverty line in Turkey dropped from 23 percent of the population to less than 2 percent in that time.1 It should also be noted that with the rise of Erdogan the influence of Islam has crept into Turkish political discourse and policy, and the republic now appears to be slowly turning away from its Western, secular foundations.
Turkey has also been crippled by a series of terrorist attacks, which some see as demonstrative of the Turkish government’s inability to manage long-standing tensions with Kurdish groups and to deal with the Syrian conflict on its southern border. Almost all recent attacks in Turkey have been blamed on either the Islamic State in Syria or the Kurdistan Workers Party. In addition, the failed military coup in July 2016, which led to a clampdown on civil [End Page 1] liberties and a purge in the military, media, civil service, and academia of potential detractors of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (the AKP), has given the Turkish president the opportunity to imprint his personal brand of authoritarian democracy on the republic.
On 16 April 2017, the Turkish people voted in a referendum on a new eighteen-article constitutional reform package—nicknamed the “Power Bill”—that effectively consolidated the authority of Turkey’s three legislative bodies into the executive branch, with the president as its head. Until this point, the role of the president in Turkey had been a largely ceremonial, non-partisan position. The new constitution gives Erdogan unprecedented powers, cementing his position as the country’s leader for years to come.
The Mediterranean Quarterly is pleased to provide an issue whose first two essays focus on the significant political and social changes taking place in Turkey. Syaza Farhana Mohamad Shukri and Ishtiaq Hossain’s essay “Strategic Shifts in Discourse by the AKP in Turkey, 2002–2015” picks up these themes and examines them through the lens of Erdogan’s party, identifying a key component to the changes the president has been able to put into effect over the past fifteen years. Meanwhile, Aeshna Badruzzaman, Matthew Cohen, and Sidita Kushi analyze the societal changes taking place in Turkey through the lightning-rod issue of the Turkish headscarf in their essay “Contending Images in Turkey’s Headscarf Debate: Framings of Equality, Nationalism, and Religion.” Both essays are essential reading that provides insight into the major shifts of power in the Turkish Republic.
Next, in “The European Common Security and Defense Concept: Opportunities and Challenges,” Spyridon N. Litsas traces the evolution of a strictly European defense organization from its earliest conception at the beginning of the Cold War until the present. As the author highlights, the challenge of aligning the defense policies of major and minor European countries has largely prohibited the development of anything beyond the drawing board stage. There are varying national interests and different perspectives regarding the purpose of a uniquely European defense organization and a wide range among the countries’ level of commitment. There is also the elephant in the room—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which already has a successful track record. It remains to be seen whether Europe will be able to move forward with this concept anytime soon, especially in the context of the [End Page 2] United States distancing itself from its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners under President Donald Trump.