Hiwar Speaker Series

Ece Temelkuran discusses the rise of authoritarianism and the future of democracy

March 23, 2021

Award-winning Turkish novelist and political commentator, Ece Temelkuran, discussed the rise of right-wing populist movements and the process of rebuilding democracy through determination at Northwestern Qatar’s Hiwar Speaker Series.

Northwestern Qatar Dean Marwan M. Kraidy introduced the new speaker series, noting that “Hiwar means dialogue in Arabic, and we hope that the new Hiwar Speaker Series at Northwestern Qatar will be a platform for experts in journalism, media, the social sciences and humanities to engage in dialogues on some of the world’s most pressing issues.”

Throughout the conversation– moderated by Professor Banu Akdenizli – Temelkuran, author of the award-winning book How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, highlighted the common global patterns of right-wing populist movements and their aim to consolidate power by eliminating voices of dissent and establishing policies that ensure their survival.

“ We don’t have faith to change the world anymore. ”
- Ece Temelkuran

When asked about the emotional toll of living under authoritarianism, Temelkuran said, “What I have noticed in the last several years… it’s not that we don’t have anger enough… it’s not that we don’t have real reasons to act against authoritarian regimes… and it’s not the fact we are afraid of something; it is that we don’t have faith to change the world anymore.”

Crippled by increasing political aggression and the absence of alternatives for democratic change, Temelkuran said that citizens and opposition groups under populist rule turn to deliberate forgetfulness and cynicism to remove themselves from the harsh reality of life under authoritarian regimes. 

Amid the increasing success of populist leaders across Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Temelkuran said that these policies of oppression include eroding democratic institutions and forcing “a collective national amnesia,” a state-implemented policy that pushes citizens to forget about their political causes.

Temelkuran emphasized that choosing determination over hope is central to restoring faith in humankind and inspiring collective action, underscoring the importance of turning the prevailing sense of cynicism into a resistance tool that will help amplify progressive voices and achieve political change.


Drawing a connection between the rise of right-wing populism and the spread of misogyny, Temelkuran discussed how authoritarian leaders throughout history have targeted women in political spheres and their daily lives by adopting policies that force women to conform to the regime’s ideas of an ideal female citizen.

“What strikes as amazing when I look at women and women movements is that they do not let that understanding of power intrude their movements and organizations,” said Temelkuran, stressing the need for the new progressive movements to embrace democratic ideological choices and promote equality by adopting the horizontal organizing structure employed by the feminist movements in their activism.

Temelkuran was ranked as one of the most-read political columnists in Turkey. Her reporting has appeared in The GuardianThe New York TimesNew StatesmanFrankfurter Allgemeine, and Der Spiegel. Her novel, Women Who Blow on Knots, won the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book award and the Ambassador of New Europe Award.