14 Şubat 2011 Pazartesi

What can Turkey do for the Middle East’s freedom-seeking peoples?

Mehmet KALYONCU*      Today's Zaman

About a century ago, Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire in a campaign masterminded and guided by the Europeans in order to allegedly liberate themselves from the Turks. About half a century ago, Arabs revolted against the Europeans in a campaign led by nationalist Arab leaders in order to liberate themselves from their European colonizers.
Today, Arabs are revolting against their leaders in a campaign led by ordinary citizens in order to liberate themselves from leaders that have long been backed by the Europeans and the US -- and they have just deposed one in Egypt who had long seemed to be the most invincible. What is odd, if the foregoing is not, is that today Europeans are suggesting that Arabs should take Turkey as a model for development and democratization. A recent Financial Times editorial has suggested that the European governments help the Arab countries to evolve into free societies following the example of Turkey. Perhaps, it is better just to leave the Arabs alone, and let them figure out the best way forward for their countries.

However, the frequent references to the so-called Turkish model in the aftermath of the third Arab revolt have brought to the fore once again Turkey’s potential role in the democratic transformation of that region by presenting a model of success which has combined Islam and democracy. Can Turkey really serve as a model for the Arab countries in the Middle East?

Various commentators have readily suggested that the Egyptian generals follow the example of their Turkish counterparts without questioning whether it should be the army generals leading Egypt’s transition in the post-revolution period. Without implicitly condoning the meddling of the Turkish army, or of the Egyptian army for that matter, with politics, the United Kingdom’s former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband and Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria suggested that the Egyptian generals emulate their Turkish counterparts in terms of stepping back into their barracks after their intervention in country’s political process. Similarly, Soner Çağaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy praised the Turkish military for serving as an effective restraint on the civilian governments.

As Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations rightly put it, however, modernization and democratization in Turkey have developed not by the grace and leadership of the army, but despite the rogue elements within the army, which has traditionally dominated politics. Three-and-a-half different military coups, one of which led to the execution of a democratically elected prime minister and two ministers of his government on the charges of treason, speak well to that fact. So obviously, it is certain that with its historical attitude toward civilian governments, the Turkish military cannot set a commendable example for the armies in any of the Arab nations seeking democracy and freedom. Yet, it may certainly do so if it acknowledges its rightful place subordinate to the democratically elected civilian government, and acts accordingly. Thankfully, it seems to gradually be becoming the case in Turkey.

A model of success?
And how about the civilian governments of Turkey, and specifically the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government? Do they provide a model of success for the Arab governments? Is the AK Party government in a position to advise its Arab counterparts on the way forward toward creating democratic and free societies? It goes without saying that the civilian governments that ruled before the AK Party came to power and under the heavy control of the rogue elements within the Turkish military can present only bad examples for their counterparts in the region. After all, it was the complacency of these civilian governments that enabled those rogue elements to roll time back for Turkish democracy. Yet, the case seems somewhat different with regard to the AK Party government’s ability to present a model of success.

According to Robert Fisk of The Independent, Turkey, with the AK Party government at the helm, presents the ultimate success model where Islam and democracy coexist. Similarly, Joshua Walker of Brandeis University thinks that its unprecedented economic success and hyperactive diplomatic dynamism has brought Turkey back to the region, from which it has long remained detached, as “kingmaker.”

Probably, such optimistic views of the Turkish model have led Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to join President Barack Obama in calling upon Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to listen to the demands of the Egyptian people, do the right thing and step down. Perceiving it as interference in Egypt’s internal affairs, Cairo was quick to react to the prime minister’s advisory comment.

Whether such a call amounts to interference in another country’s internal affairs is open to interpretation. After all, as foreseen by the UN agreements, the protection and promotion of human rights transcend the national boundaries as the lack or violation of fundamental human rights constitute the core cause of extremism and violence, which consequently pose threats to regional and global security. However, such a reaction to the prime minister’s remarks clarifies one thing, and it is that the contemporary political structures of the Middle Eastern states do not tolerate any sort of political engagement with them that defies the regional and national status quos, which were established during the Cold War and are of either a patrimonial, nationalist or so-called Islamist nature. Nor will it be any different so long as the same political elites rule, even if the leader is no longer in control.

Under the current circumstances, the best Turkey can do for the freedom-seeking peoples of the Middle East is not to advise them on the way forward, but to re-energize its own political and economic reform process, which would ensure individual freedoms and respect for human rights, as well as respect for multiculturalism and minority rights to an extent that would dwarf even those available in the European countries. Doing so, Turkey will not only get the Arabs to question how Turkey has transformed itself in a period as short as a decade, but also inspire them to build their own types of democracy in a similar fashion. Today it is more obvious than ever that the Arabs who revolutionized their countries need, not advice, but inspiration, and they realize that they may suffer from the same problem a century from now unless they seize control of their countries today.

*Mehmet Kalyoncu is an independent political analyst. 

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