Money and support lost in the course of political Islam

The veterans and family members of the deceased from the coup attempt in July 2016 who were trying to learn what happened to all the donations collected in their names were beaten in front of the ruling AKP headquarters last week. This protest was small in terms of the number of participants but a giant event in terms of its meaning.

On November 21, 2019, the Turkish Parliament approved the Digital Service Tax, together with other laws and new taxes like a valuable property tax and an accommodation tax. This omnibus tax law made the news because it had an article that delayed the deadline to install filters on thermal power plants. When the postponement of the deadline caused many negative reactions, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vetoed the law.

After the veto, the filter delay article was removed and the omnibus law was passed on December 4, 2019. It was then approved by President Erdoğan on December 7. The sections on the accommodation tax and tax on digital publications also drew criticism, but they were suspended during the coronavirus crisis.

There was another article in this omnibus bill hidden in the 41st section in an attempt to avoid public scrutiny. This article, which looked tailor-made, removed the possibility of repayment of the money collected and pocketed from citizens by “Islamic Holdings,” which have victimized many people in the past. With the omnibus law, these victims were declared “shareholders.”   

An interesting personality was present in the parliamentary committee in October when this bill was discussed. That person was a former Aksaray deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ali Rıza Alaboyun. He also served as the Energy and Natural Resources Minister in the temporary cabinet formed before the November 1, 2015 general elections.  

Alaboyun has been a deputy for three terms and he is no stranger to the parliament. What made his presence in the committee weird was another detail in his qualifications. Alaboyun was the head of the executive committee of Bera Holding. If you ask what Bera Holding is, the answer is that it is one of those holdings, popularly called the Islamic Holdings, that promise halal gains —  without interest — through accession partnerships. With these promises, they have collected and evaporated the savings of many religious laborers, especially those living abroad. One of the best known of these holdings was the Kombassan Holding. Bera Holding is the same holding as Kombassan — it just changed its name.

In the speech he delivered in the committee, Alaboyun did not hide this connection. “As soon as it was heard that this topic would be discussed in the committee, while the Istanbul stock exchange market lost one percent of its value that day, our shares reached a peak. An expectation exists, especially from foreign investors,” he said.

The committee did not call anyone who was a victim and who would be further victimized due to this amendment to the law, but the boss of a holding that has thousands of complaints against it was called. With his natural familiarity with Islamic market language, he mentioned share peaks and foreign investors to the committee so that the law would pass as they desired.  

It was very much like our latest Ponzi scheme, the Çiftlikbank incident. It had the same functions, such as the money collecting process, the mention of “foreign investors,” exploiting religion and selling dreams.

The former boss of the former Kombassan Holding (with its new name, Bera Holding), Haşim Bayram, spoke at the Ayasofya Mosque in Hannover, Germany. His speech was made to collect money. It was recorded by someone in the mosque and the video was broadcast on the “32. Day” news program on TV in 2005, in a file prepared by Rıdvan Akar. The speech Bayram delivered on May 7, 1993, while sitting at the minbar as if he was a religious authority, was “very exemplary.” Bayram was saying they were planning to launch a TV channel: “We will watch it with our family, with our children and relatives.” He promised that it would be a profitable business model and that the congregation members who invested in him now would also profit from this.

The tax bill in 2019 was already blocking the way of the victims of Islamic Holdings to seek their rights, but the parliament did not listen to the victims: they listened to people directly connected to these establishments that caused this victimhood. It was like a lion’s den. The victims of the holdings were trying to make their voices heard at the time. They spoke to the press. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Muhammet Demirci from the European Turks Solidarity Initiative said the money was collected from around one million people with promises of profit shares, but these shares were not paid to them. He said the estimated amount of money collected was around 30 billion euros. He added, “We have been cheated. We are claiming our rights in court. Now, they are changing the law and telling us we cannot claim our rights.”

What Demirci said is what happened. The law was changed and legal remedies for many people were blocked.  

This omnibus law that passed at the end of 2019 is of course another clear example of how the AKP-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance makes laws that cater to certain segments of society. This is connected to the veterans and family members of the deceased from the coup attempt in July 2016 who were trying to learn what happened to all the donations collected in their names and were beaten in front of the AKP headquarters last week.  

It started like a sweet dream in the 90s: several concepts such as profit partnerships and participation shares were introduced that were all halal-based. Some one million people were involved, and their savings — estimated to be around 30 billion euros — evaporated in this whirlpool. This was a devastating shock in terms of political Islam. Together with other things, this shock led to the shattering of the party of the “Milli Görüş,” the “National Vision” movement at the root of a series of Islamist parties, including the AKP.

But to put it more accurately, the party did not even shatter. A new reformist wing was born that appeared to object to what was happening. This wing was able to activate the remaining supporters with new hopes. It was able to successfully address people’s disappointments.

Several objections that seem to be leaking from more than one point can be seen as a similar disintegration. One of the building materials of the regime, the “the Turkish-type presidential system,” was the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

In terms of this building plan, the veterans of July 15 have the role of a “living myth.” They were used endlessly as symbols. Besides this ideological build-up, the physical building was so bottlenecked that “the symbols” hit the streets in the end, in a time when the concept of the street itself is so criminalized. This action, which was small in terms of the number of participants but a giant event in terms of its meaning, was stopped with what the protestors called “a comma, not a full stop.”

It is difficult to know in advance what these negotiations over this “comma/full stop combination” will lead to in the short term, and how and who it will involve. But the failures in the economy, the unemployment rate that has been modified through a lot of mathematical games, the unrest of the small business owners, and the issue of the severance pay, all together point to a new, huge crisis in right-wing exploitation politics. Maybe these are signs that a segment of society that both the government and the opposition thought was “in the bag” has lost its appetite.

This may have some connection to the “dark face” of Anatolian conservatism. Until the left wing identifies this phenomenon and communicates with this part of society, they are expected to adapt to this new right-wing phenomenon too. Nevertheless, the growling of this segment of society should not be just disregarded.