16 Haziran 2014 Pazartesi

A Surprise Name for Turkish Presidential Elections: Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

Turkey will make its first elections for the post of President of the Republic by popular vote in August. Although he did not declare his candidacy, it is widely expected that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will become a candidate for Presidency representing his ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP). Erdoğan without any doubt is the strong favorite for Presidential elections. However, a surprising move made Turkey’s opposition parties, namely Republican People’s Party (RPP) and Nationalist Action Party (NAP), could change the balance and nature of Presidential race.
After weeks of haggling over a name for Presidential candidate in the period leading up to the August election, the two main opposition parties today agreed on the name of Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.[1] The choice of İhsanoğlu as a candidate is a surprising move by RPP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and NAP leader Devlet Bahçeli, because İhsanoğlu is the former Secretary-General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).[2] RPP is known as a pro-secular and pro-EU social democratic party and NAP as a pro-secular Turkish nationalist party, ideologically both distanced from Islamist politics. Thus, the very choice of İhsanoğlu means a courageous move made by the opposition parties to decrease the level of secularist-Islamist clash in the country.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu: An Unusual Islamist Figure
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (1943-)[3] is a Turkish academic, diplomat and former Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations. He is known as an eminent intellectual, author, editor of academic journals and advocate of intercultural dialogue.[4] İhsanoğlu was born into a Turkish family in Cairo, Egypt. He studied science at the Ain Shams University, where he received his BSc in 1966. He remained in Cairo and obtained his MSc in 1970 from Al-Azhar University. Ihsanoğlu received his PhD from the Faculty of Science at the Ankara University in 1974. İhsanoğlu’s academic work has focused on the history of scientific activity and institutions of learning within Islam, cultural exchanges between Islam and the West, the relationship between science and religion, and the development of science in its socio-cultural environment. İhsanoğlu was the founder of the Department of History of Science at the Faculty of Letters of İstanbul University, and he remained the chairman of that department between 1984 and 2003. He was also a lecturer and a visiting professor at various universities, including Ankara University, the University of Exeter, United Kingdom (1975-1977), İnönü University (1970-1980), Malatya University (1978-1980) and Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich in Germany (2003).
After taking the office as the ninth Secretary General of the OIC in January 2005, İhsanoğlu coordinated the drafting and implementation of a reform program for the OIC aiming to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the 57-member Organization.[5] The reform program’s components included the “Ten-Year Programme of Action to Face the Challenges of Twenty-first Century” (later implemented by the Third Extraordinary Islamic Summit Conference in 2005) and a revised OIC Charter which was adopted by the OIC at the Eleventh Islamic Summit Conference in 2008.[6] İhsanoğlu was one of the signatories of A Common Word, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, that called for peace and understanding. His mandate as the Secretary-General of OIC expired on 31 January 2014 and he was replaced by Iyad Medeni.[7]
İhsanoğlu is an unusual Islamist figure. He is shown as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims.[8] He also received EastWest Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.[9] İhsanoğlu’s vision of Islam is peaceful and open to secularism.[10] He is fluent in English and he is widely seen as a respected figure in the world. He is author of many important books on Turkish and Islamic culture.[11] İhsanoğlu favors peace in terms of Muslims’ relations to Christians and other religions.[12] He also favors democracy but prefers gradual reforms to bloody revolutions turning into civil wars.[13] However, he was recently criticized by JDP members and Prime Minister Erdoğan for not enough criticizing the military regime in Egypt. İhsanoğlu defended himself by saying that both parties in Egypt, the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood, had to take a step back to end the turmoil and the bloodshed in the country and he cannot speak alone for the whole organization without consensus.[14]
The End of Secularism in Turkey?
After witnessing Turkey’s secular opposition to show an Islamist figure as Presidential candidate, one might be seriously concerned about the future of secularism in Turkey. Some hardliner secularists in RPP already started to voice out these concerns. However, İhsanoğlu is not a classical Islamist figure who could sacrifice Turkey’s very valuable secularism. His Islamic vision is intellectual and academic rather than political. He might be a good name to secularize the Islamist politics in Turkey, as well as breaking prejudices against all Muslims among the hardliner secularists. During his tenure in office, he contributed a lot to the democratic progress of OIC and the image of Islam in general. During his term, the issue of human rights was introduced to the new Charter of the OIC, definition of and action to combat the problem of terrorism was introduced to the Ten-Year Programme of Action and objectives were adopted in the same Programme of Action emphasizing cultural dialogue.[15] İhsanoğlu is without any doubt fully capable of representing Turkey and Islamic world on the international level and contribute to peaceful relations between Muslims and other religions.
However, İhsanoğlu’s candidacy does not make his electoral success guaranteed. The biggest problem is that he is an intellectual known among the intellectuals not by the “man in the street”. That is why; he should organize a very strong political campaign if he accepts RPP and NAP’s offer and becomes a Presidential candidate. But İhsanoğlu’s opponent is also still strong. Erdoğan could win the elections in the first round but if he is not able to win in the first round, İhsanoğlu might have higher chances. İhsanoğlu’s candidacy also shows that Erdoğan’s authoritarianism is worse for the opposition than Islamist politics.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ

[1] “CHP, MHP agree on former OIC head as joint presidential candidate”, Today’s Zaman, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://www.todayszaman.com/news-350485-chp-mhp-agree-on-former-oic-head-as-joint-presidential-candidate.html.
[2] For its website see; http://www.oic-oci.org/.
[3] For his website; http://www.ihsanoglu.com/en/.
[4] For details see; “Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekmeleddin_%C4%B0hsano%C4%9Flu.
[5] For details see; Örmeci, Ozan (2010), “Turkey’s Role in the Organization of Islamic Conference, JDP Government and the Greater Middle East Project”, Caspian Weekly, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://en.caspianweekly.org/main-subjects/turkish-foreign-policy/1959-turkeys-role-in-the-organization-of-islamic-conference-jdp-government-and-the-greater-middle-east-project.html and Güleç, Merve Gülçin (2012), “İslam İşbirliği Teşkilatı”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://politikaakademisi.org/islam-isbirligi-teskilati/.
[6] “Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekmeleddin_%C4%B0hsano%C4%9Flu.
[7] “İTT’nin Yeni Genel Sekreteri Medeni Göreve Başladı”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://politikaakademisi.org/ittnin-yeni-genel-sekreteri-medeni-gorevine-basladi/.
[9] Third Turkish citizen to receive this award after İsmail Cem and Fethullah Gülen. See; http://www.ewi.info/events/annual-awards-dinner-2013.
[10] For an analysis see; Özkök, Ertuğrul (2013), “İslam’ın en barışçı yüzüne ödül”, Hürriyet, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/24905526.asp?yazarid=10.
[12] For an interview with him; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKmddWibuBY.
[13] Çamlıbel, Cansu (2014), “Eskiyi muhafaza lüksü yok”, Hürriyet, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/dunya/16903068.asp?gid=373.
[14] “Turkish government furious against OIC chief, calls for resignation”, Hürriyet Daily News, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-government-furious-against-oic-chief-calls-for-resignation-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=52736&NewsCatID=338.
[15] “Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu”, Wikipedia, Date of Accession: 16.06.2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekmeleddin_%C4%B0hsano%C4%9Flu.

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