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Fight or Acquiesce? Religion and Political Process in Turkey's and Egypt's Neoliberalizations


  • Cihan Tuğal

    1. teaches at the University of California Berkeley (410 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA). His book Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism was published by Stanford University Press in 2009. He now works on welfare and Islamic charity in Turkey and Egypt. He can be contacted at e-mail:
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The author would like to thank readers for comments received on an earlier draft of this paper.


The Polanyian expectation that disruptive marketization will lead to movements and policies that seek to ‘embed’ the market in society needs to be tempered by closer scrutiny to historical, religious and political contexts. This article studies how movements respond to marketization. The analysis proceeds through a comparison of the Turkish and Egyptian neoliberalizations, religious movements of the last decades, secular opposition, and finally recent processes, which have led to generally different social takes on neoliberalism. The irony of the Turkish case is that with the empowerment of the Islamists, religious opposition to neoliberalism was muted and secular opposition further marginalized and labelled as ‘anti-democratic’. As a result, free market policies were not only sustained, but deepened and intensified, turning Turkey into a neoliberal ‘success story’. The (thus far) sustained mobilization of youth and labour in Egypt makes a direct imitation unlikely. Another major factor that would prevent a ‘Turkish’ solution to Egypt's crisis is the contrasting structure of the religious fields. Moreover, while the passive revolution has further solidified the professional and unified religious field in Turkey, the revolutionary process in Egypt seems to reinforce the fragmentation of the religious field. The article points out that making Islam compatible with neoliberalism would be more difficult in a country with a fragmented religious field, such as Egypt. Although neoliberalism was imposed from above and resisted from below in both nations, in Turkey it came to be embraced in the name of Islam and democracy, whereas in Egypt it remains an imposition and popular struggles against it persist. It is suggested that this process and field-based approach to a Polanyian problem can also shed new light on discussions about ‘actually existing neoliberalisms’.

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