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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora