Democracy Experiment of Turkey, Harvard and the Fate of Egypt

OPINION: Prof. Dr. Hüsamettin İNAÇ*

Last week I was a panelist in an international conference which has been held in Harvard University. The title of Conference was “As Goes Egypt So Goes the Middle East: Change Begins with Me” whose one of the sponsors is TAMJA (Turkish-American Media Journalist Association). In this event, I presented a paper about the Tukey’s experience of democracy and its influence on Egypt and whether Turkey can be an inspiring model for the Middle East. In this article, I will try to summarize my proceeding for the readers with headlines.

1. What is the Turkish experience of democracy?

a.) Secularism: Turkey is the unique country who could combine and harmonize the Western values and Islamic standpoints within one body within fifty seven countries whose majority population is Muslim. Turkey can be distinguished from this perspective form the other Muslim countries. In this way, the state positions in an equal position to every belief and does not try to control the religious affairs for the sake of any religious tendency. Thus, contemporary Islamic forces in Turkey are neither inherently hostile nor confrontational to the secular republic. However, the Islamic identity gradually transformed to have a recent friendly compartmentalization between state and religion. Under his comprehension Islamist has been integrated with the different segments of society with the European Union values and negotiation process. For instance, contrary to her predecessors, AKP (Justice and Development Party) defines herself as a conservative democratic party who based her ideology on the acceptance of secularism.

b.) Having international factors in facilitating the democratic reforms: International influences have also been an important aspect of the Turkish experience of political reform. For instance, Turkey’s transition to multi-party system in 1947 was a response to international demands and changes as well as external transformations and incentives. On the other hand, the changes in the international conjuncture favoring liberal ideas and pressures on Turkey to transform the regime in a democratic way and be a member of the newly established global organizations such as United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and European Council. In December 1999, as a result of Helsinki Summit, European Union officially declared Turkey as a candidate country to full membership. In line with this development, in 2005, Turkey transformed into a negotiatory state.

c.) Democratization process has become the most significant element of the Turkish model as it represented one of the few examples in the Middle East and the Muslim world in general. Turkey’s political reform process goes back to the constitutionalist movement in nineteenth century. The ideas of reform/westernization led to the adoption of a constitution in 1876 and the opening of first parliament in 1877. The limitations on freedom of expression were relaxed and led to the proliferation of newspapers throughout the Empire. In addition, the notions of legality, equality, and individual rights became part of the political discourse. However, these issues were discussed openly in the new parliament. Again many of the Middle Eastern countries went through the same process as part of the Ottoman Empire. In this context, Egypt has followed a different trajectory. As an ottoman territory Egypt has been invaded by Napoleon and get up western influence as a very closest soil of the Empire to the West. Therefore, some novelties derived from the westernization had been adopted from Egypt to the Empire. However, during the state formation years of 1920s and 1930s, Turkish polity was characterized by increasingly authoritarian single party-rule. Unlike many of its counterparts to the region, Turkey was then able to make transition from a single party regime to a multi-party one in 1947, a process which culminated in the coming to power of the opposition Democratic Party in 1950. Competitive elections have been the rule in Turkish politics. However, this does not mean that Turkey’s democratization process was trouble-free. On the contrary, the consolidation of democracy has proved quite different and there have been military interventions in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. Yet, unlike many developing countries, the military coups of 1960 and 1980 were short lived with relatively smooth transition to civilian rule. Since the first proper multi-party elections in 1950, the process of democratization in Turkey has been consistently interrupted by military coups and judicial interferences. For decades, the system of tutelage led by the Turkish military and judiciary controlled the political landscape and made decision on which rights and liberties would be granted to Turkish society at large. In this tutelary system, the judiciary helped the military control the entry into politics and prosecuted politicians and intellectuals that challenged the premises of state ideology. The military and the judiciary engineered the political system in the country while the military controlled the media and “civil society organizations” (NGOs) attempted to shape the public opinion. This tutelage in Turkey created its own middle class of bureaucrats and a crony capitalist system where a small group of businessman enjoyed special privileges. When the military considered this tutelage system insufficient or when the civilian political sphere was getting “out of control”, it directly intervened in polities through military coups. Actually there were two factors behind the military interventions: Cleavage reflex of state (Sevres Syndrome) as a result of ethnic, religious, and political separatist movements and reactionary Islam which implies the “Sheria” as internal factors and secondly, when Turkey is getting “out of control” and shift her conventional foreign policy, the super powers imposes/invokes the internal powers to attempt to military intervention. For instance, immediate after the 1980 coup, all political parties were banned in Turkey and all prominent political actors were prohibited from running for office. The military designed a new Constitution that granted it more power and established institutions that would guarantee its continued influence after it transferred power to a civilian government. Since the restoration of democracy in 1983, the Constitution has been amended at times drastically to eliminate the vestiges of authoritarianism. Turkey’s relations with the European Union accelerated the process of reform and seven reform packages containing numerous “harmonization laws” have been adopted in 2002, 2003 and 2004. All these reforms led to the extension of fundamental rights and liberties and relaxed the limitations on political, social and economic rights. Civil-military relations have also been redefined. Civilian membership in National Security Council increased and a civilian diplomat replaced the military head of the Council.

TURKEY DID NOT ACCEPT TO BE A “MODEL COUNTRY” UNDER THE CONDITIONS OF THE GREATER MIDDLE EASTERN PROJECT / INITIATIVE DEVELOPED BY THE USA FOREIGN MINISTER C. RICE IN 2004. BECAUSE THIS PROJECT AIMED TO SEPARATE THE MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES SMALL PART AND LOSE THEIR SOVEREIGNTY FOREVER. 

2.) Can Turkey be an Inspiring Model for the Middle East?
Can Turkish experience be therefore a model? In other words, can she serve as an example or standard for comparison? Or to take it further can Turkey act as a soft power to attract and persuade others to adopt political reforms? The answers to these questions requires an analysis of Turkish experience through three elements: Assets, will and credibility.

a.) Assets: Turkish experience, in fact, goes beyond demonstrating the compatibility of Islam and democracy and promote the ongoing economic welfare onwards. It raises the issues as regards secularism and democratization. Turkish model also shows that secularism is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy and thus underlines the importance of secularism within the democracy. However, Turkey has increasingly became an example of this modus vivendi.

b.) Will: However, having assets is not enough to be a soft power. There should be the will to act? Does Turkey have the will to capitalize on those assets? Does Turkey want to turn its assets into a soft power? The answer is very frankly. Turkey is ready for this role with its own steady and successful model of development, her place in the western world, and her rich historical legacy and multicultural identity. Turkey will be a symbol of the harmony of cultures and civilizations in twenty first century. In line with this fact, Turkey will achieve this not merely through its economic and military power, but her ability to make to the universally accepted values and facilitate the interaction among the various parts of the world.

c.) Credibility: In recent years Turkey has more positive image in Muslim world with some political reasons: Turkish parliament refusal to allow the United States to station its troops on Turkish soil to open a second front against Iraq in 2003. Erdogan’s criticism of Israeli policies further increased Turkey’s credibility. In addition to this, Turkey just only unique country who protests and blames Abdelfattah Sisi regime as being anti-democratic and illegitimate in Egypt within the world. However, Turkey is a unique country who wants to solve the problem pertaining with the Syrian civil war by offering very prudential ways such as “security heaven” and “no-fly zone” and sheltering more than three million refugees in her frontiers with comfort and peace.

3. Conclusion:
In spite of the all enforcement and impositions, Turkey did not accept to be a “model country” under the conditions of the Greater Middle Eastern Project / Initiative developed by the USA Foreign Minister C. Rice in 2004. Because this project aimed to separate the Middle Eastern countries small part and lose their sovereignty forever. Instead of this, Turkey attempts to be an inspiring country by sharing her experience in respect of establishing democracy, promoting human rights/human dignity, and enhancing economic development rapidly and steadily for Muslim countries. In addition, Turkey has very valuable experience in transition period from military regime to democracy and civilian governments. As a concluding remark, I should remind that Turkey is a unique county among the states whose majority of population Muslim fifty seven societies. Today Turkey is at the stage of promoting her democracy by preparing a new, democratic and pluralistic Constitutions and establishing democratic institutions and systems to make the democratic decision-making mechanism much more effective and efficient such as presidential systems.
*Head of Political Science and International Relations; Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Dumlupinar University

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