The rentier state a la Turca

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Rentier states derive their national revenues from the rent of indigenous resources to external clients.

These resources could be natural resources, such as petroleum, as well as financial instruments, such as reserve currency. Since rentier states are not dependent on revenues from domestic taxation, the relationship between the state elite and citizens is developed through a rentier mentality. The elites are “the fathers,” immune from domestic criticism. The government basically “bribes” the citizenry with social welfare policies. Such states fail to develop democratically because, in the absence of taxes, people have less incentive to place pressure on the government to become responsive to their needs. The best example is Saudi Arabia.

Turkey, of course, is not a typical rentier state in the Middle East. Yet, there are signs that indicate government is embracing the rentier mentality. Consider this: The Justice and Development Party (AKP) acts as the sole owner of the indigenous resources, and through manipulation of huge state contracts, the differences between private interests and public service are increasingly blurred. Similar to rentier state elites, the AKP leaders seek ways to “bribe” the populace through massive financial support to Islamic charities and religious groups. They are expected to support the AKP along this path, justifying government corruption by the Islamic notion of ehven-iser (i.e. despite being evil, it is still the best among all the available options). As a respected religious scholar and now the AKP’s Islamic jurist of choice, Hayrettin Karaman repeatedly argues that the AKP remains the best option for Muslims and there is no better alternative. One may wonder why there is such bold political support amidst major corruption charges against the government. Here is a quote from Mustafa Akyol’s recent piece on this intriguing issue:

“Karaman wrote a column on Dec. 27 titled ‘No fatwa can be given to corruption.’ He denied the rumors that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan personally asked him whether ‘taking commissions in state contracts’ is permissible. Yet, he went on to say, ‘But many others asked me, “Is there any problem if we encourage the people who win contracts from the state and make a profit to make donations to charitable foundations?” Here is what I said to them: “If these people who you encourage to make donations are Muslims and would not have made these donations unless you demanded it of them, … they will not earn the [divine] blessing for it. But, assuming that it is written and transparent, charitable foundations can benefit from such donations.” In other words, Karaman saw no problem in the government’s ‘encouragement’ of certain businesspeople to make donations to specific foundations. (One of these foundations, apparently, is TÜRGEV, a foundation directed by Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, who recently announced that he is ready to speak to prosecutors about the corruption charges.)”

Interestingly, the AKP does not only “bribe” the Islamic populace but also the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-led Kurdish movement. Instead of supporting Kurdish rights by introducing an inclusive democratic constitution, Erdoğan has chosen to cut a deal with the PKK, seeking the pro-Kurdish party’s support in return. Professor İhsan Dağı asks an apt question about this “rentier mentality” deal: “Could Kurds be free in an increasingly authoritarian Turkish state?” We should not forget, however, that this is not the first time the PKK’s organizational interests are strongly at odds with Kurds at large. The PKK and pro-Kurdish party seem to be strategically winning, but as Nuray Mert puts it, the Kurds are losers in the overall picture.

Where is an inclusive constitution that guarantees the rights of all citizens? It is far, far away. The rentier mentality would suggest “divide and rule” instead: Do not take any wrong steps Muslims, you certainly need the AKP. Let’s come to the table Kurds, you will be in a mess without the AKP. Hey Alawis, do you have a better option?

This is the rentier state a la Turca. To be fair, it was not introduced with the AKP: We have all long suffered under such a state for a long time. Yet, the frustration comes from the broken promise of Erdoğan, who received historic electoral support to introduce an inclusive democratic constitution.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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