Tuesday, September 02, 2014


For Egypt, Do All Roads Lead To Turkey?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a onetime radical Islamist, has won praise for his party's transformation of Turkey. But is this an accurate portrayal of his party's role?
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a onetime radical Islamist, has won praise for his party's transformation of Turkey. But is this an accurate portrayal of his party's role?
By Robert Tait
Rarely has Turkey been such a source of inspiration. Once known during the dog days of the Ottoman Empire as the "sick man of Europe," it now proudly lays claim to that envied international status -- the role model to which all others must aspire.

With Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak vanquished by the forces of popular rebellion and much of the Arab world in varying states of political ferment, suddenly all roads lead to Ankara -- or perhaps more suitably to Istanbul, the former Ottoman capital and, with its dazzling array of mosques, spiritual home of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).

For it is the AKP, a conservative party rooted in political Islam, and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- a onetime radical Islamist and ex-mayor of Istanbul -- who have won praise for supposedly modernizing and democratizing this country of 73 million and forging ahead with an European Union membership bid.

Central to this has been a quest to weaken the role of the Turkish military, whose traditional role as arbiter in the country's politics has seen it unseat four elected governments in the past 50 years.

In September 2010, Erdogan's government was hailed by the EU and other Western sources for a series of constitutional amendments -- passed in a referendum -- that allowed for trying previously untouchable army officers in civilian courts and lifted the legal immunity of senior top brass implicated in a bloody coup in 1980.

Turkey's demilitarization process holds particular resonance for Egypt, where the high command of the still-popular and mighty armed forces holds power after the resignation of Mubarak on February 11. Egypt's armed forces now must decide how far democracy and the transfer to civilian rule should proceed in the face of a varied political spectrum that includes the pro-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turkish Way

Cengiz Aktar, professor of EU studies at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, sees symbolic importance -- and potential inspiration for Egypt -- in the fact that former Islamists are demilitarizing Turkey.

The AKP is often accused of having a secret Islamist agenda, inside Turkey as well as abroad.
"Demilitarization has taken place in various forms in the Mediterranean. We have had the Spanish, Portuguese, and Greek cases," Aktar says. "In Turkey that has been achieved, and it's still in the course of being achieved, by political Islam, because there was no other force to do it and, as the military rhetoric and ideology had always designated political Islam as an enemy of the country, so political Islam has become, maybe involuntarily, the political force who [sic] had to demilitarize and normalize Turkish democracy."

At the same time, the AKP -- which will be seeking a third consecutive term in this year's forthcoming general elections -- deserves praise for widening democracy, Aktar says, thus allaying fears that the election of an Islamist-based party necessarily means the advent of Shari'a law.

"Political Islam in Turkey allowed marginalized groups, ostracized groups of believers, to be actors in the public life of this country. Those groups were literally excluded from the political life and from the economic life," Aktar says. "Political Islam was extremely instrumental to bring [sic] those people in, therefore widening the base of the social and societal constituency."

Intolerant Of Dissent

Yet for many, this view is, at best, incomplete and omits a multitude of transgressions by Erdogan's government.

Far from liberalizing and democratizing Turkey, the AKP's opponents charge it with plotting to subtly undermine the country's secular political order, bequeathed by the modern republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The AKP vehemently denies that accusation and sometimes underlines the point by serving foreign journalists alcohol when holding media briefings.

But more troubling is a track record that has seen a crackdown on media freedoms -- including the jailing of scores of journalists -- and the jailing of hundreds of serving and retired military officers over two related alleged coup plots whose veracity has yet to be proven.

Turkey's foreign policy has become increasingly anti-Western, as has popular opinion.
Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based specialist on Turkish security matters, says that far from Turkey being a model for Egypt, the two countries resemble each other in their use of police repression.

"What we've seen recently in Turkey is a clampdown on the opposition media, which included massive tax fines on the main independent media group [Dogan] totaling over $2.5 billion. We've seen the government force some of its critics to lose their jobs in some of the other newspapers," Jenkins says.

"We've seen a lot of cases where people have arrested people and accused them of doing things which very often they manifestly haven't done. So we've seen the police or government sympathizers within the police force being used to suppress opposition to the governing party in Turkey."

Democratic, But Only For Now?

Certainly, Erdogan -- Turkey's prime minister and a man once jailed for reciting an Islamist poem -- seems an unlikely democrat and friend of the West. As Istanbul mayor in the 1990s, he compared democracy to a street car. "You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off," he said.

Even as recently as 2010 -- having supposedly moderated his views -- he appeared ambivalent on democracy's value in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal," describing it as a "tool."

"The goal is the happiness of the people," Erdogan said. "Democracy, all the other systems, and all religions -- they are all tools for the happiness and peace of the people. I am not saying only democracy, and I am talking about all the systems, all the government types, religions -- all of them. All of them are tools."

At the same time, Erdogan has boosted his -- and Turkey's -- standing among Arab and Muslim states by adopting anti-Western stances such as attacking Israel and vocally defending Iran's nuclear program. Days after calling on Mubarak to listen to the protests against him, Erdogan visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose anti-Western regime has been criticized as even more repressive than Egypt's.

"When one looks at what has been happening in Egypt, where you have an oppressive regime, you have an elite which has enriched itself at the expense of the mass of the people, we've seen exactly the same thing happen in Turkey, where the people close to the ruling elite now pick up all of the government contracts, Jenkins says.

"And of course, the government itself has really achieved its regional predominance, or preeminence, by attacking the West. It's one of the ironies really that people are holding up Turkey as a model when [if] you look at all the individual criteria, all of these benchmarks, then Turkey has actually been going backwards over the last few years."

Sidelining The Military

No less ironic is the fact that the now-discredited armed forces -- along with the judiciary, which has also been odds with the AKP -- have traditionally been a Westernizing influence in Turkey, as Ataturk intended.

One charge frequently leveled by the AKP's critics is that a program of domestic political reform -- publically justified as necessary to meet EU membership criteria -- has been little more than a front to enable it to undermine the military and its secular allies in the judiciary.

The results, Jenkins says, have been a demilitarization process that has not led to greater democracy but that, if anything, paint Turkey as a model for Egypt to avoid rather than copy.

"What we've seen in Turkey over the last few years is a demilitarization of the political sphere, but we haven't seen an improvement in democratization and I think it's very dangerous, when we look to a society like Egypt, which has been dominated by the military, to assume that if they go you are necessarily going to get a democratization," Jenkins says.

"This is not what has been happening in Turkey, where in many ways [what] we've been witnessing in the last few years is a shift from a military-dominated authoritarian regime to a civilian-dominated one."
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Comment Sorting
by: Zafer Yirmibesoglu from: Istanbul, Turkey
February 15, 2011 16:49
Wonderfull analysis. Please find below my comment recently posted in a disscussion on Al Jazeera:

AKP regime is an unlawful and oppressive one-man show. This man's only aim is to become the next dictator in the region.

There are hundreds of innocent journalists, students, professors and politicians who have been in jail arrest, some for over two years; with "manufactured" allegations and police planted "alibis"!

Just yesterday, an internet site owner and workers have been taken into custody for publishing a video showing police "digging" arms, allegedly buried by alleged military coup planners. Everyone knows by now that those arms were buried in several places by the police themselves under orders from AKP so that hundreds of people can be mass arrested under allegetation of planning a military coup. I ask you, where on earth journalists, proffessors, (anti-militarist) politicians have ever planned/performed a military coup?

Now it is the turn of the Constitutional Court. The only and final institution which could prevent this oppressive man to take Turkey who knows where?

Things are not as it may appear to the outside world. I strongly urge all people to take a more in-depth look at the state of affairs in Turkey.
In Response

by: Murat from: Canada
February 16, 2011 08:03
Those atudents, journalist and professors should be happy to be on trial by the authorities under the government of AK Party. If it was before AK Party, like those the "guards of the secular state" they would have been disappeared by now and we would find their bones only if a ruling party like AK party would comes in power later, that's only if.

Yep mate! You know exactly what I am talking about

by: TRUTHlover from: Sydney
February 15, 2011 17:53
What an stupid article. Does that guy understand something about democracy? Democracy means the will of the people, and not the will of the military. It is obvious that the author never lived or even visited an authoritarian regim. He might then would understand, what it means that the military has its say in every decision the government makes.

The author is either completely misinformed, or much more I have the impression he even intentionally misinforms the readers.

The current government has done for Turkey more, than any other government since declaring the republic, that means approx. 90 years.

It has implemented many changes: administrative, judicial, political & social.

The first government that indeed tried to increase the live sandards of the population and to negotiate minority rights in real terms.


In Response

by: Zafer Yirmibesoglu from: Istanbul, Turkey
February 15, 2011 19:05
Dear TRUTHlover from: Sydney,

Sydney is thousands of kilometers away from the subject country, Turkey, where I live. I doubt the recent and most unfortunate natural disasters in Australia have prevented you from better analysing the facts on the ground here.

I also doubt anything I or any freedom lover would say could impress your obviously prejudiced, ignorant and fanatic views.

Do read my initial comment. Believe you me, there is nothing worse than a military dictatorship than a civilian one.

Cheers and Best Regards.

by: fatih from: ankara
February 15, 2011 19:50
We have seen how terrible secret agenda of military authorities can be in recent investigtions both in sledgehammer and ergenekon cases. Besides, we have seen how so called Cumhuriyetçis' (republicians) love for these deep-state supported coup promoters can be. Those who does not want a true democracy in which each individual has equal rights independent of one's sect/nationality/politicial ideas carry on doing bogus claims that the current government has a secret agenda and they will bring about sheria law demolishing entire democratic structure in the counry. What piece of nonsense! One does not simply pave a way that they will certainly demolish later. AKP unlike other politicial parties has a mosaic structure in itself which makes this claim invalid beyond absurdity.
Military and deep state supported origines have created a society that tremble before every nonbeliever of his/her case and called them traitors by building a "state of fear" which dictated our heartes before our minds every time we have fought for freedoms and democracy. Long legacy of that fear state has finally come to an end. Do not try to make us believe these pieces of nonsense by telling us "democratic for now(!)" AKP has done more than we have ever imagined in many terms.
By the way, I was almost forgetting about telling you about another nonsense: Can you believe that, not so far only several years ago, 1.5 millions so called republicians gathered and chanted: "We don't want to vote for president as public, please DO NOT GIVE THAT DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO US!!" Those, the very same people chanted in that way, now claim that the very same goverment that made arrangement for public to vote for president have a secret agenda beyond democratization of Turkey.

to Zafer Yirmibesoglu: I have read your comment in aljazeera too, I have realize how wise man you are(!) please make a favor for us and do not paste the same comment to another place.

by: Murat from: Montreal
February 16, 2011 07:40
What a stupid article, the article contradicts itself. I live in Canada and here in this "democratic" country the elites who are closest to the government gets all the contracts and I believe it is the same in any other "democratic" country. Even a kid will know that. That has been said, now, what matters is that AKP has done for the peoples happiness more than any of those so called secularists or the gun lover guards of a "secular state" Turkiye has never been more secular, more democratic, economically more stable, internationally more recognasible, before the period of AK party. Proove me otherwise. As a Kurdish origin Turk I never loved my homeland as much before. This is how my homeland should be. May god be the guide of those who put themselves into the service of their public. The honest and hard working will always prevail. AK party serves as an example!

by: Murat from: Montreal
February 16, 2011 07:46
Forgot to add, YES, INDEED, ALL ROADS LEAD TO TURKIYE, EVEN FOR EUROPE. Give me an alternative otherwise. Cheers!
In Response

by: George from: Brixton
February 16, 2011 08:03
No, Europe doesn't want Turkey. I think you should get that into your head already.
In Response

by: Murat from: Canada
February 16, 2011 09:08
A typical much knowing ignorant european. I must say when i saw your article i laugh and thanked you because you just prooved me right. Who told you or what make you think I want or majority of Turks want Europe? To be honest with you. I dont want your cracking Europe with its cracking, economy, human rights, and money, as well, but truth hurts buddy. Your work force lacking, economically falling, some of it member states in the brink of bankrupcy Europe needs Turkiye and you know it. Truth hurts buddy but I should still remind you to help you heal, all roads lead to Istanbul!!
Cheers my dear friendly European. I leave you with your beloved falling Europe.
In Response

by: Turgai
February 18, 2011 08:38
Murat and George: no, Europe doesn't want Turkey and neither do many Turks want Europe.

'Europe' is indeed the dream of part of Turkey's establishment, europhile intelligentsia and indeed some parts of the population. But after being hold on line and humiliated for decades, I don't understand that even they are still keen to be part of a club that obviously does not want them. I mean, if I wanted to be part of a club or association and I am treadet this way, I'd have said f*ck *ff for long already.

Imho, Turkey's best bet is that of a political and economi pole in its own right both in the Black Sea region (e.g. it is one of Georgia's major trade partners) and in the Muslim Ummah (where it's appreciated by many public opinions).

by: Orhan Ertugruloglu from: the Netherlands
February 16, 2011 13:53
Unfortunately Turkey is a bad example for Egypt.
In Response

by: Turgai
February 18, 2011 08:40
Maybe it was a better example under the cleptocracy of Tansu Çiller?

by: Nuri from: uk
February 17, 2011 05:47
George- I think it is you, who doesn't want Turkey in Europe, but the rest of Europian loved to have Turkey in Europe.
Orhan - you have been blinded by Western sweet talks of democracy and freedom of speech, open your eyes and look around you to see what is happening in the world.
Have a bit of patrotism.

by: Angel from: Canada
February 21, 2011 08:52
In Canada government contracts are required by law to be publicly advertised and awarded to the company which offers the best quality and price. It is much more difficult in Canada to for the government to do shady business or to arrest journalists and professors. They can't get away with it. Canadian judicial system contradicts the Government if they act unlawfully. Our courts strike down unconstitutional laws. For example in Canada marriage is now available to anyone who wants to marry, regardless of their gender, because the Government can be taken to court. Turkey and the Middle East are so far away from constitutionally supported Human Rights and judiciary. I would not want to live there. It is a false or superficial model of democracy. So many of the politcal moves of The Turkish Islamist Government point to their waiting for the right moment to turn Turkey into a Burka-wearing Theocracy. I hope the people of Turkey are very vigilant.

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