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25th Anniversary series: 1998 – Foresight of cultural change in Turkey

February 25, 2015

This blog is based on a case study, written by Adam Scott and Adrian Davies of SAMI, and published in Scenarios for Business by Gill Ringland

Back in 1998 SAMI was involved with a project to look at possible cultural changes within Turkey. At that time, the country was governed by a fragile coalition of the Welfare Party and the True Path Party and rampant inflation got most attention although, on the ground, there seemed to be a vibrant economy. Alongside this, the National Security Council had spoken with the government about the need to undertake a range of anti-fundamentalist measures with the aim of maintaining and emphasising the secular nature of Turkey’s democracy

The client, a multinational group, was interested to explore the impact on their business of possible changes in the political, social, cultural and religious environment and to identify, where possible, any warning signs of significant change.

Working with desk research, a set of interviews with well-informed individuals from academic, business, journalistic and political backgrounds and information gleaned from working lunches with groups of senior politicians and business leaders, a set of initial data was gathered.

This dataset was reviewed and analysed, taking into account as far as possible the likelihood that the sources of data may not have been as broad as could have been wished for, in order to develop a suitable structure for a 2 day ‘issues workshop’. This workshop mapped the issues not only on the usual mapping of importance and uncertainty, but also influenceability and the ability of the client to cope with a range of different outcomes.

By the end of the 2 days we had produced a table of positive and negative forces acting on Turkey both externally and internally. From these a set of forces for change were identified – either further towards the secular state as originally envisaged by Ataturk or towards a more Islamic state. The scenarios developed from these forces had one set of axes that were around Turkey becoming more integrated into the European (or Western) style versus being isolated from this and the other set ranging from tolerant and democratic to less tolerant. All the while, though, there was a central area in which the various forces were battling for dominance and how this developed would be key to which scenario became the most likely preferred direction.

The 4 scenarios were:

Turkey scenarios

  1. Unreformed Kemalism

The central grey area in the diagram denotes the base case and consists of alternating governments between different coalitions, guided by the Army with the intention of avoiding formal confrontation and intervention by the President. Opposition is likely to be uncoordinated and ineffective, with the economy remaining fragile.

  1. Charismatic technology

A new 4 party coalition emerging as old leaders phased out, maybe with external help. The Army would work in support and the coalition would act on issues of social justice, as the economy was managed through a programme to reduce the deficit.

  1. Islamic experiments

A new coalition with an accommodation with Islamic politicians, concentration issues of social justice of concern their electorate and with the government keen to demonstrate fiscal competence and prudence.

  1. The Turkic corner

Turkey turns in on itself politically and diplomatically, after aspirations to full EU membership opposed. Stabilisation sought through the use of the resentment against the EU.

In the 15 or so years since this project was carried out there have been many changes in the region, including the ‘Arab Spring’ and wars in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine. These have all added to the uncertainty over how Turkey wishes to position itself in the future, given its geographic location across the borders between Europe and Asia. Future EU membership is uncertain, not least because public opinion is moving away from it.

The elections this year could have a significant influence on Turkey’s future direction; as will the security situation, including spill over from ISIS and progress on the Kurdish peace process.

Written by Cathy Dunn

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