News / Middle East

Can Arab States Mimic Turkey’s Blend of Islam and Democracy?

Turks rally at the mausoleum of secular Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk in Ankara (file photo)
Turks rally at the mausoleum of secular Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk in Ankara (file photo)
Davin Hutchins

Can the burgeoning democracies in Egypt and Tunisia learn from Turkey’s legacy of having a decades-old functioning democratic system? If you ask politicos around Washington D.C., the answer is yes… and no. Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, argues yes. This week, he wrote in the Washington Post that “Turkey is an exemplar of Islamic democracy that can serve as a role model for these newly liberated states, especially as its democracy evolved from a hybrid regime - with generals and politicians sharing power until recently.”

However, other experts on Turkish politics are skeptical it would work in the Arab world. This week, the Brookings Institution - a Washington think tank - convened a panel called “Turkey as an Alternative Democratization Model for the Middle East.” The panelists discussed a so-called “Turkey model” but urged caution when making generalizations about applying Turkey’s lessons to morphing countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

Since its founding in 1923 from the remnants of the Islamic Ottoman Empire decimated during World War I, Turkey’s founding fathers and their dynamic leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, strongly rejected Turkey’s Islamic roots. Ataturk founded a staunchly secular, democratic state which relied upon a strong military to guarantee stability.

Subsequently, Turkey endured three coup d’etats in 1960, 1971 and 1980 and ousted former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997. So Turkey’s status of a continuous democracy since its founding is a matter of interpretation. Today, the military answers to the National Security Council which is subordinate to the office of the prime minister.

Yet, throughout its modern history, Turkey remained a majority Muslim country where conservative and moderate Muslims could participate in the political process, although official Islamic parties were often banned citing constitutional secularism.

But in recent times, moderate Islamic sentiment has led to the ascendance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) through parliamentary elections and an absolute majority since 2002. The AKP exhibits traits of a reverence for Islam, pluralistic democracy and pro-business capitalism.

At the panel in Washington, Semih Idiz, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper in Istanbul, said he defines the Turkish model as a primarily Western approach that just happened to mesh well with Turkey’s Muslim population.

“When I talk about the Turkish model I am referring to a Western template: one that is based on parliamentary democracy, secularism,” says Idiz. “It was adopted from the West and was implemented and filled in with Turkey’s own realities. So here is a country with a 99 percent Muslim population that is implementing a Western template, showing that factors that are considered to be dichotomous do not have to be so. I am referring to the fact that Turkey has an Islamic society and is able to maintain a democracy.”

However, Henri Barkey - a professor of International Relations at Lehigh University and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says applying the “Turkey model” to Arab countries is not realistic.

“Turkey as an end state model – sure, who in the region wouldn’t want to be where Turkey is today,” says Barkey. “It is the 16th largest economy in the world, it has a resilient society, it is a democracy with contested elections, and it is now a country of consequence. So in all these respects, as an end state, Turkey is something one would like to emulate. However the devil is in the process. If you are Egypt, how do you get from where you are today to where Turkey is today? And that’s where I find the question of a model to be problematic.”

Barkey argues that if the Arab countries began implementing what Turkey did in the 1980s today - namely economic and political reforms - it would still take 30 years for those countries to emerge to a democratic standard that the world would recognize and accept. He says that in the search for models for the Middle East, one should look at Indonesia or Latin American countries - especially Argentina - for examples of more rapid transitions to democratic rule.

The panel also brought up the question as to whether the traditional role of the armed forces as a guarantor of a secular democratic political system could be applied - or even should be applied to countries like Egypt, where the military is acting for the moment as a stabilizing force during political upheaval.

Steven Cook is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He points out that the military in Egypt, for example, is closely associated with the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his predecessors. He also questions the wisdom in encouraging a model like Turkey where the military has a dominant role in creating and defending the political system. He suggests genuine democracy akin to Western models are more desirable.

“If we want to promote democracy in Egypt, we should promote democracy, not some authoritarian solution to current instability and hope that the officers are ultimately democrats, despite themselves. I don’t think that that is a dynamic we are likely to see,” says Cook.

In a recent interview, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Turkey might best serve as an inspirational focal point for Arab countries instead of an exact blueprint. He said that Turkey’s history proves that secularism, moderate Islam and democracy can co-exist in a vibrant political system.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid