In the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and the continuing protests against ruling regimes throughout the Middle East, a debate is under way about whether Turkey’s path should stand as an example for Muslim governments.
While some secular Turks regard the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as populist and Islamist, Western observers in Turkey view the country’s model as desirable, now that Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah announced they back Egypt’s protesters.
Today’s Zaman pundit Mumtaz’Er Turkone argues that the ordinary people gathered at Tahrir Square in Cairo are the people in power in Turkey. « Egypt is traveling towards the position Turkey has attained after a long and adventurous quest for democracy. »
« On the one hand, Ankara and Prime Minister Erdogan have increasingly spoken of Turkey’s desire to see democracy flourish and justice prevail in the Middle East, » writes Yigal Schleifer.
But Erdogan’s call for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to « satisfy the people’s desire for change », he argues, was at odds with Turkey’s close support for the autocratic regimes in Syria and Iran. The embattled Mubarak finally heeded that call and stepped down on Friday (February 11th).
Schleifer concludes that the turmoil could give Ankara another chance to put forward « the ‘new Turkish model’ — democratic, Islamic, economically vibrant and rapidly shedding the influence of the military — as one for other countries to emulate ».
But Turkey must first overcome the critic’s argument it is not an Arab country. « The best (and perhaps only) way to do this is to emphasise its Islamic identity, which may explain why in his parliament speech, Erdogan used a distinctly religious tone in his appeal for Mubarak to step down. »
Author and blogger Jenny White discusses a new Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) survey showing trends that may help explain Turkey public’s opinion on the debate.
More than 65% of respondents said they « felt Turkey could be a ‘model for the region' ». Asked why, 15% listed Turkey’s Islamic background, 12% Turkey’s strong economy and 11% its democratic government.
Another 10% listed Turkey’s stance in support of Palestinians and Muslims.
Of the ones who rejected the idea, 12% listed Turkey’s secular political system as the reason, while additional 10% the country’s ties with Western nations.
Journalist Frederike Geerdink argued that events in Egypt could actually strengthen Turkish democracy.
« As I write this, news is coming in that Egyptian state TV is claiming that countries which once occupied Egypt are now plotting against it. Besides the USA, Britain and Israel, of course Turkey was named — well, the Ottoman Empire is long gone, but we see the point. Erdogan has spoken out against Mubarak, basically saying that he should listen to the voice of the people and step down immediately. «
Geerdink argues the so-called « Ergodan effect » may have even contributed to the uprising in Egypt.
« A democracy with a majority Muslim population daring to speak out against the USA and against Israel, that is rather remarkable. Besides that, Turkey has a rapidly growing economy, and is pushing through democratic reforms while under a so-called mildly Islamic government. »
Should the Middle Eastern countries remodel after Turkey, they will « make Turkey’s democratisation process stronger », she concludes, proving that a majority Muslim population and democracy really can go together.