The current fight in Turkey is whether we will return to the "Old Turkey" where the status quo prevailed or whether the era of the "New Turkey," which was established by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will survive and take deep roots.
In 2002 the Turkish nation put an end to the "Old Turkey," giving a clear mandate to Erdoğan to change the political map of Turkey and usher the country into an era of progress in all spheres. This was regarded as a silent revolution and a reply to the series of military coups to keep the Turkish elite in power and suppress the masses with religious sensitivities.
The AK Party was set up to build a bridge between the masses with religious sensitivities who were the majority and the minority elite with secularist sensitivities who had been running Turkey for decades. Erdoğan tried a policy of cohabitation with the elite secularists in his first term in office between 2002 and 2007. In that period, he tried to accommodate the elite while changing the face of Turkey's political and social scene.
Erdoğan and his team - mostly comprised of loyal people who served with him in Istanbul when he was mayor - managed the country from Ankara and set the stage for sweeping reforms and changes. The influential Islamic communities of Turkey led by Fethullah Gülen's movement rallied behind the government and gave it an added momentum. The Gülen Movement contributed to the Erdoğan administration with its qualified manpower, thus gaining partial control of the bureaucracy.
Yet the elite did not sincerely cooperate with Erdoğan, and it was later proven that they were only playing for time to seek an opportunity to try and topple him. That opportunity came in 2007 when the military collaborated with the elite to use the election of Abdullah Gül as president as a pretext to unseat Erdoğan. But that backfired:
Erdoğan called for parliamentary elections and won nearly 50 percent of the votes to win a clear mandate from the nation. The people had clearly ended the domination of the military and given a clear message to the elite that their days of plundering the wealth of the country were over. Since then, Erdoğan, on his own, has been getting the votes and the AK Party has prevailed. The opposition has been dwarfed and ineffective.
In the process, Turkey has clearly put its economic house in order, created one of the soundest financial systems in Europe, boosted its exports, increased its tourism revenues and has become the 16th leading economy in the world.
In the social scene, the face of Turkey has started to change, as the health system and the welfare system have all been improved.
Turkish cities have been groomed and highways and social facilities have expanded throughout the country. Land and air transportation have been boosted with practically an airport in every important location in Turkey. The improvements are countless, and yet, there is still much room for improvement. Turkey has abandoned the policy of denial in the Kurdish issue and has come to terms with the reality that Kurds simply want to be treated as first class citizens. Erdoğan has managed to end the conflict with the PKK, and with the help of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, life is returning to normal in eastern and southeastern Turkey, which have been ravaged by separatist terrorism. Now, Turkey has to institutionalize this peace climate with more democratic reforms.
In foreign policy, Turkey has abandoned its passive stance of falling behind events and at times has become the pacesetter. But some mistakes have been made, and some setbacks have occurred. Yet, Turkey is no longer the country that simply tags along with the United States like a satellite state. It has become a ray of hope and a model in the Islamic world, which is facing serious crises of all kinds.
Erdoğan had set the target to turn Turkey into an advanced democracy where all kinds of freedoms are respected. Here, he has faced setbacks. The momentum since 2007 has slowed down. Those who did not want a "New Turkey" and wanted the restoration of the old system have not only stalled Erdoğan, but also, now the Gülen Movement willingly or unwillingly has joined their ranks.
Erdoğan has been challenged and is now fighting back. Corruption has been at the center of this challenge, which has now turned into a dirty war. Next week we will look into this struggle a day before the nation heads for local elections, which Erdoğan sees as a referendum for his administration.