Home | About | Documents | Previous Editions |Search |

Edition 5 Volume 10 - February 02, 2012

Is Turkey a model for the new Arab regimes?

Safeguarding Egypt's identity  - an interview with Muhammad Adly
Reality imposes itself on positions.

The AKP is a qualified model  - Mustafa Akyol
AKP is too Turkish, not too Islamic.

Is the AKP's success story reproducible in Tunisia?  - Amor Boubakri
Tunisian Islamists see in the Turkish experience a path to follow.

Dispensing with the Turkish 'model'  - Sinan Ciddi
Turkey simply has had a longer track record of being exposed to the conditions under which many forms of democracy thrive.

Safeguarding Egypt's identity
an interview with  Muhammad Adly

BI: Could Turkey serve as a model for the new Arab regimes, and for Egypt in particular?

Adly: No. The historical circumstances of Egypt, both recently and in the past, differ greatly from those of Turkey. And the social composition of the Turks differs greatly from that of the Egyptians. Egyptians have an active, fundamental partner in society--the Copts. The Turks don't have partners, they are about 99 percent Muslim, and so matters there can develop in a more or less singular direction. That's not the case in Egypt--Egypt has religious and ethnic pluralism; we have Nubians, the Berbers in Siwa, the people of the Sinai, Bedouin. We have religious, cultural and ethnic pluralism. A given people's experience, whether in development or politics, cannot be copied. Every people has its own nature and its own circumstances.

BI: Usually when the Turkish model is proposed for emulation, the reason is its embrace of Islamism within a democratic system.

Adly: The Islamist currents [in Egypt] have been absorbed by Egyptian democracy, and I hope that other currents will be also absorbed by Egypt's democratic sphere, because that's the only solution. That would produce an experience I believe would be even better than the Turkish model.

BI: Critics of the Turkish model argue that Turkey's poor human rights record marks it as a deeply flawed democracy.

Adly: The Turkish model of democracy is not a "direction of prayer" ["qibla"] for an Arab or Egyptian democracy. There is no democratic order that faithfully applies the philosophical notion of democracy. There is no perfect democracy, and the Turkish model has its problems. The Kurdish issue is a serious one, and Turkey's treatment of it has been marred by human rights violations. I believe that in Egypt we can create a democratic system better than Turkey's.

BI: When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Egypt, he was given a hero's welcome but then harshly criticized when he called upon Egyptians to build a secular state. Why was this so controversial?

Adly: When Erdogan came to Egypt, he came as the representative of an Islamist current considered a success when compared to political Islam here. For the Islamists here, he is considered a role model, and so was given a hero's welcome. But when he proposed ideas and visions more modern than the conservative perspectives held by some of the currents in Egypt, they saw him as calling for an exaggerated liberalization that could lead to a departure from a clearly Islamist orientation. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis welcomed him, and then were stunned when he made statements about secularism.

BI: How does Turkey's practice of secularism differ from Egypt's understanding of it?

Adly: There are phrases used in domestic and foreign politics today that can be interpreted in several ways. If a secular regime means separating religion completely and distancing it from life, then that is rejected. If it means that politics should not pollute preaching, then that is accepted. Our use of terminology is out of control; we need to rein it in. Liberalism, secularism, even a civil state--people who talk about a civil state today may be attacked by people who don't even know what it means.

BI: In Egypt, what is the difference between a "civil" and a "secular" state? What would a "civil Islamist" state in Egypt look like?

Adly: The term "civil state" isn't even clear in political science dictionaries. It doesn't have a singular definition. Here in Egypt, the man on the street might understand a "civil state" to mean a state that wages war on religion and Islamists, [or one] that stands in the way of religious approaches and Islamic sources of authority.

My vision of a civil state with an Islamist orientation is a state that is entirely normal, but that safeguards the country's identity. The identity of this country, as found on the street, is Arab and Islamic. It's the identity of language, culture, and thought. It exists, and doesn't need to be used as political propaganda or a slogan that we stand under.

BI: There are loud, persistent voices in Egypt calling for the application of Islamic law and the imposition of Salafi values on public life. How will Egypt's new democracy deal with that?

Adly: Speaking from within the kitchen, I believe that the Salafi current is developing rapidly. It has stopped issuing condemnable statements and has begun rethinking some issues. I've spoken with them. Clashing and fighting with "the other" is no longer acceptable to them. So I don't think the situation is an alarming one.

BI: But is this a case of media savvy or a real change of position?

Adly: A change of positions. Proof is found in the fact that they originally viewed elections as impermissible ["haram"] and Islamic law as prohibiting the very idea of parliament. That was their view at the beginning of the revolution. But with the opening up of parliament and elections, they competed with vigor and spent millions on their campaigns. Reality imposes itself on positions. They used to only speak within mosques, or from behind [prison] bars, or in closed spaces, but now they're in the street. The street will impose itself on them.

BI: The AKP presents itself as "conservative" rather than "Islamist". Do you expect there to ever be "formerly Islamist" parties in Egypt?

Adly: No. Egypt is now growing aware of its geographic position in the way that Turkey is. Turkey knows that it is adjacent to European democracies that it must deal with. It wants to join the European Union and it wants to benefit from these democracies economically and politically, [to have] political support to spread its influence in the Arab world: Turkish hegemony.

BI: What about Egyptian hegemony?

Adly: I hope that it returns, and I will push for that.-Published 2/2/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Muhammad Adly was elected as a member of parliament for the Wasat party for the Giza district in the recent Egyptian elections.

The AKP is a qualified model
 Mustafa Akyol

Is Turkey indeed a model for the new Arab regimes? My answer is, "yes and no". And here is why.

Let me begin with the negative. No, Turkey is not a model for Arab states, for every country has its own history, culture and political structure, which cannot be replicated. Moreover, the political history of Turkey is quite different from that of the Arabs--with a more definitive Ottoman legacy, continuous independence, a secular republic, NATO membership, and a European Union membership process (which is not very promising, yet still important). All of these make the modern Turkish experience somewhat "exceptional".

Furthermore, this exceptional history of Turkey has a very dark side, which, God forbid, should not be a model for anybody. From the ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 to the enforced "Turkification" of Kurds, twentieth century Turkey is full of gruesome episodes. The country also has seen four military coups in which elected politicians were executed or imprisoned. Until very recently, Turkish "security forces" were the masters of torture and summary executions.

However, there is a crucial detail here that often goes unnoticed: this "dark side" of Turkey emerged less from the Turks' traditional religious values and more from the "modern" ones that replaced them. The Ottoman Armenians, for example, had lived side by side with Ottoman Muslims for some six centuries until the rise of modern nationalism. Similarly, no one in the Ottoman Empire ever suggested that Kurds were actually "mountain Turks" whose true identity should be restored via cultural assimilation.

The Ottoman state had its own brutality, too, but its political system was much more pluralist when compared to the modern Turkish Republic. One third of the Ottoman parliament, for example, consisted of non-Muslims such as Greeks, Armenians or Jews. Throughout the nine decades of the modern Turkish parliament, however, the total number of non-Muslim deputies has amounted to less than a dozen.

The reason is that this specific Turkish modernity corresponded to what would be called in the West "the dark side of the Enlightenment", which produced militant forms of nationalism, including fascism, and an illiberal secularism that suppressed traditional religion. The bright side of the Enlightenment--liberal democracy--was the less travelled Turkish road. Therefore, if Turkey can ever become a good "model" for other Muslim nations, it can do so only by synthesizing the bright side of the Enlightenment--liberal democracy--with its traditional religious values.

When we look at Turkish history, we see that this synthesis was party realized not by the much-acclaimed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his Kemalist followers, but by their very rivals: the Democrat Party of Adnan Menderes (1950-60), The Motherland Party of Turgut Ozal (1983-93), and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recip Tayyip Erdogan (since 2002). All these political movements, which constitute the backbone of the Turkish center-right, emphasized economic development, democratic politics, and respect for traditional religion.

The latest party in this chain, the AKP, is also the most interesting one, for its founders such as Erdogan and Abdullah Gul (now prime minister and president, respectively) came from the Islamist line in Turkish politics, but gradually moved towards center-right. In other words, they embraced democratic rule, individual freedom, free-market capitalism, and even the secular state, as long as secularism also includes religious freedom. The AKP, therefore, emerged as the most notable case of a "post-Islamist" party in the Muslim world, and its economic and political success has captured the attention of other Muslims, including Arabs.

Of course, post-Islamism does not imply detachment from the Muslim identity, including sensitivity on global "Muslim issues" such as the Palestinian cause. But the AKP has combined its strongly pro-Palestinian stance with peaceful support for a two-state solution and rejection of anti-Semitism. It has also combined its continuing alliance with the West with a growing tone of independence, making the former more respectable in Middle Eastern eyes.

All of this has made the AKP a "model", or at least a source of inspiration, for the more progressive Arab Islamist parties that have emerged victorious from the "Arab spring", some of which, such as Ennahda of Tunisia, have explicitly acknowledged this fact. Therefore, instead of speaking of a "Turkish model" for the Arabs, it is more accurate to speak of an "AKP model" for the progressive Arab Islamists.

It is true that the AKP is criticized in Turkey these days for turning increasingly authoritarian. Not all but most of this criticism is to the point. Yet this problem has little to do with Islamism within the party. As I recently put it in the daily Hurriyet, "AKP is too Turkish--not too Islamic." In other words, its authoritarian tendencies emerge from the usual problems of Turkish politics, which existed in previous center-right parties as well.

Of course, the AKP should come to its senses and curb its temptation to unlimited power if it wants to keep on being a model for the would-be liberal Islamists. Meanwhile, its transformation to post-Islamism remains genuine and meaningful for the Arab Islamists, who are entering an age of power with which they have little experience.-Published 2/2/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Mustafa Akyol is a journalist and author of "Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty".

Is the AKP's success story reproducible in Tunisia?
 Amor Boubakri

For a large part of the Arab public, the Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a real success story, proving that moderate Islamism can successfully lead modern Arab societies. The AKP has made Islamists in the region proud of this experience, seeming to have opened the way for a similar experience holding power.

In Tunisia, a number of political parties representing the Islamist trend have even chosen to adopt the AKP's name and slogans. Hence, words like Justice and Development and their derivatives have become common after the 2011 revolution. Furthermore, during his visit to Tunis on September 15, 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was surprised by the large number of people flying the Turkish flag and waiting to greet him at Tunis-Carthage airport. This was the first time that a foreign official had been received in such a popular way.

The Turkish model has particularly impressed the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, which is likely to follow the AKP's path in its new experience with power. Rachid Ghannouchi, president and founder of Ennadha, returned to Tunisia on January 30, 2011 after many years of exile and declared that Ennadha was committed to a moderate Islamist approach and working within a democratic framework, comparing it to Turkey's AKP.

After Tunisian independence in 1956, Turkey was a model for modernism and secularism for the Tunisian ruling elite. Habib Bourguiba, the first president of the Republic of Tunisia (1957-1987), always openly expressed admiration for Kemal Ataturk, the symbol of secularism in Turkey and the founder of the new Turkish republican regime. Strangely, the same Turkey has now become a model and symbol of moderate Islamism for the Tunisian ruling elite.

What are the reasons behind this transformation?

The influence of Turkey on Tunisian political life reflects, indeed, a deep and historical relationship between Tunisia and Turkey. Tunisia was long a part of the Ottoman Empire. However, Ennadha's admiration is derived from objective causes. As an Islamist movement, Ennahda has faced immense challenges since the 2011 revolution related to its reputation as a fundamentalist religious party. It was vital, then, to reassure local and foreign actors that its project is respectful of the principles of democracy and human rights and an open and moderate approach to Islamism.

Besides, Tunisian society has similar characteristics to Turkish society in that they are both open and modern Muslim societies, attached to their identity but not willing to break with the advantages of modernity. We can say that the two societies are half-secularized. Thus, it would not be possible for a radical religious party to lead them. Tunisian Islamists see in the Turkish experience a path to follow of successful moderate and realistic Islamism that avoids reproducing the negative experience of radical Islamism in Tunisia.

From the public statements made by Ennahda's representatives, one can say that the ruling Islamist party in Tunisia is likely to be committed to a moderate Islamist approach that could ensure coexistence between Islamism and democracy. However, the risk comes from some small Islamist groups who sometimes act brutally against secular and democratic activists. These groups do not belong to Ennahda, which has always condemned such practices. However, they do represent a potential threat to the new democratic regime and could push the Islamist movement toward radicalism. Here, we do not find in Tunisia the same guarantees against such dangers as exist in Turkey where the judiciary and military play an important role in protecting democracy against any possible deviation.-Published 2/2/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Amor Boubakri teaches at the University of Sousse in Tunisia.

Dispensing with the Turkish 'model'
 Sinan Ciddi

Since the beginning of the "Arab spring", many observers, mainly from the United States, have portrayed Turkey as a "model" country that the newly liberated Arab states should aspire to emulate.

Led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002, Turkey is presented as a prosperous Muslim state with high levels of economic growth and political stability and the only Muslim country that has strived to consolidate the tenets of liberal democracy for over half a century, albeit with mixed results. This success is largely attributed to the ability of the country to be outwardly secular, with a strong sense of national identity and a willingness to embrace economic achievement, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to its Muslim heritage.

There are two immediate problems in successfully projecting this model.

Foremost is a lack of demand. Countries such as Egypt and Libya are reluctant to draw on characteristics of the Turkish blueprint. On a recent visit to Egypt in September 2011, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted warmly by crowds of Egyptian citizens, but only until he called upon them to adopt a "secular" state model. If the recent elections in Egypt are anything to go by, there is strong public backing there for the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the ousting of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, the transitional government there has hinted of its intention to base a new constitution on Islam.

Simply put, the Arab world has been impressed with Turkey's recent ability to take a tough stance against Israel, and countries of the region are equally impressed with Turkey's ability under Erdogan to create an economic powerhouse in the region. However, this does not readily translate into a desire by regional countries to adopt a state-society model based on Kemalist secularism.

More recently, Turkey's own democratic credentials have come under increased criticism. Since the 1940s, the country has achieved penetrating changes in broadening freedoms. Turks are infinitely freer today then they were even 10 years ago to express their religious, ethnic and even sexual identities. Despite this, there are increasing worries that the country's judiciary is jailing numerous individuals and delaying the process of fair trials. Recently, this pertains to the arrests of numerous journalists, academics, even military officials, all of whom have been accused of belonging to a clandestine organization, "Ergenekon", that is allegedly involved in trying to bring down the government. Similarly, despite bold promises by the government to resolve the Kurdish question, a recent unintentional bombing and killing of 35 civilians of Kurdish origin has heightened tensions between the Turks and Kurds.

Beyond these issues there lies a more deep-seated problem. Even if there were Arab interest in the Turkish model, this still might not be sufficient to help transform post-revolutionary regimes such as in Libya, Syria and Egypt into state formations typified by procedural and institutional democracy. Turkey simply has had a longer track record of being exposed to the conditions under which many forms of democracy thrive--procedural, institutional and liberal.

Turkey transcended into competitive parliamentary politics in 1946. Prior to this, the country experienced a prolonged period of single party rule (1923-46) initiated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during which time a complex process of social engineering attempted to transform the country from a theocratic empire into a modern state. It was during this period and the subsequent years that Turkey emerged as a state entity typified by secular legal, educational, judicial and social structures, and saw the demise and eventual subjugation of religion and religious authorities to the state.

All this accepted, one must not make the mistake of thinking that Turkey's ability to internalize and institutionalize secular structures and practices was entirely the work of the country's Kemalist elite. Kemal and his associates were the last in a long line of revolutionaries who were successful in consolidating opportunities initiated during the nineteenth century. A cursory look at the Ottoman Empire at that time shows that the seeds of questioning absolutist government, the birth of skepticism and empiricism, ideas relating to modern statecraft as witnessed in the creation and training of new bureaucratic and military elites, and the powerful forces of nationalist zeal were all experienced in the last great attempt to reform the empire.

The question of "how to save the empire" from final dissolution throughout its last century of existence led to a great reform effort known as the "Tanzimat". It was during this era (1839-76) that swathes of intellectuals and revolutionaries came to realize that the age of empires had to give way to the age of states. Ottoman lands, and Turks within political and economic administrations, had concrete experiences with secular institutional arrangements, particularly throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. This included the creation of an Ottoman constitution and the opening of an Ottoman parliament, as well as promulgation of secular trade laws.

While none of these institutional arrangements can be described as having established democratic governance, the seeds of questioning absolutist government were compounded by a growing disdain in the minds of the elites for religious ruling classes. Suffice it to say that Turkey's imperfect democratic model has had the benefit of nearly two centuries of development, while Arab countries emerging from dictatorial regimes have had no comparable experience.

Turkey first opened its national parliament in 1920, in wartime, without external assistance and based on its own will. That parliament's legitimacy has never been questioned; its longevity is a testament to the strength of the country's process of political and institutional modernization. In contrast, it has been approximately one month since the US military pulled out of Iraq, and that country's ability to ensure its unity and parliamentary system looks uncertain at best. It is likely that many countries of the Arab spring will experience slow and painful change, typified by weak democratic governance and even possible transitions into new forms of elected authoritarianism.-Published 2/2/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Sinan Ciddi is executive director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He authors the politics section of the Economist Intelligence Unit's monthly country report on Turkey.

Notice Board