The Arab spring has brought to an end the post WW1 dictatorial architecture that long dominated the Arab landscape. The regimes of tyranny and dictatorship were established in the Middle East long before the likes of Mubarak and Ben Ali came to power. For most of the last hundred years the West has carefully engineered a political status quo established upon there own interests. With the failing of old colonial policies of direct intervention the likes of the British Empire shifted their attention to using proxy rulers and making contacts with elites in the region.
The uprisings across the Muslim world have led to old notions of political apathy and lack of political ambition being proven baseless. The questions are no longer about the Muslim world wanting change but what kind of change it is seeking. Questions like: What does the region want to live by? Does the region want Western Democracy and other Western values? As well as the role of the West.
The Arab Spring has seen many marches under the banner of Islam and many in the West are preparing themselves for the prospect of the Middle East achieving decisive power.
In amongst the search for answers the Turkish model of governance has gained much publicity and notoriety. This model of governance has been praised by many a Western politician and secularist who believe the fusion of some Islamic rules with secularism is something the West can work with and would like to see across the Muslim lands.
Interestingly within the Muslim world the only model Turkey is known for is the Caliphate which turned the Ottomans – a band of fighters – into the world’s superpower. However Western discourse is filled with praise and concern of an apparent Islamic revival termed the Turkish model. US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, view Turkey as a ‘model’ and an ‘example’ for the states in the Middle East and North Africa. President Obama has made similar statements, in an Italian newspaper he said “The fact that it [Turkey] is a democracy and a country that is mostly Islamic makes it a critically important model for other Muslim countries of the region.” The New York Times recently said: “More than any other figure, the new breed’s standard-bearer is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pledging that conservative Islam is compatible with individual liberties, Erdogan holds the rise of his culturally conservative but economically liberal political party as a beacon for a new Middle East.”
This article will analyse “The Turkish Model” and assess its Islamic credentials and whether it represents a model for the wider Muslim world.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP)
The rise of the Turkish model of governance has been parallel to the rise of the AKP and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The AKP led by Erdogan came to power in 2002, after the Ecevit government lost credibility in its handling of the Turkish economic crisis in 2001 which led to a deep recession. This resulted in early elections and through the use of Islamic slogans the AKP party won a massive majority.
Prior to the establishment of the AKP both Erdogan and Abdullah Gul were members of the Refah party. When Refah – True path coalition was overthrown in 1997 they both left the Refah party and formed their own party the Justice and Development Party in 2001. Erdogan is from a similar line of thinking as Turgat Özal, Prime Minister of Turkey between 1983-1989. Özal had some clear Islamic sentiments and followed the naqshbandi order in the early 1990’s.
Erdoğan was the Mayor of Istanbul from 1994. He was banned from office and sentenced to a prison term for reciting the text “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….” from a poem during a public address in theprovince ofSiirt on 12 December 1997. After six months in prison, Erdoğan established the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on August 14 2001.
On assuming power Erdogan led numerous government instituted reforms. The most important included:
- Cementing ties with the US through the Shared Vision Document signed between the Turkish and American government. Abdulla Gul and Condoleezza Rice confirmed: “The strategic vision document confirms Turkish-US consensus to translate our shared vision into common efforts through effective cooperation and structured dialogue.” Cooperation included: Supporting international efforts towards a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of a two-state solution. Supporting diplomatic efforts on Iran’s nuclear program, including the P5+1 initiative contributing to stability, democracy and prosperity in the Black Sea region, the Caucasus, Central Asia andAfghanistan. Enhancing energy security through diversification of routes and sources, including from the Caspian basin.
- Reforms also included expanding the government’s penetration of the National Security Council. In the name of democratisation the ruling justice and development party (AKP) introduced reforms to weaken the armies hold on the country. One of Erdoğan’s earliest actions was to curtail the jurisdiction of the National Security Council to interfere in government. Erdoğan altered the composition of this council to include civilian members. The National Security Council comprises the Chief of Staff, select members of the Council of Ministers and the President of the Republic – who is also the Commander-in-chief. Like other National Security Councils it develops national security policy.
The economy and foreign policy have been the most salient features of the AKP.
Since Erdogan rose to power he aligned himself with the business elite and has turnedTurkeyinto an export driven economy. Erdoğan travelled toChina,Brazil,India,Russiaand the African continent with plane loads of businessmen and women in order to promote Turkish business interests. Turkey has a foreign policy premised on ‘zero’ problems with neighbors which is a big departure for a country that had long endured conflict on its restive borders – with Syria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and Iraq and which had run a mostly statist, closed economy until the 1980s.
Turkey began liberalizing its economy and aggressively pushing trade with Central Asia and the Middle East under Erdoğan.
Europe remains the biggest market for Turkish products, accounting for 50% of the country’s exports. Most go to Germany, France, and Eastern Europe, where the Turks are among the leading producers of cars, televisions and home appliances. Erdoğan’s export-focused approach has included billions of dollars of business for construction companies building universities, malls and hotels for the governments of the Middle East.Turkey is the world’s largest cement exporter and its construction sector is second only to that of China.
The AKP’s most visible policies have been on the foreign policy front. Many have termed Turkish manoeuvring in its neighbourhood as Neo-Ottomanism. In the Middle East Turkey continues in its attempts to bring the various parties together with Israelon the two state solution. Turkey played a central role in ensuring the US constructed architecture came together in Iraq through a policy of maintaining contact with all groups in Iraq. Many of the Shi’ah and Sunni factions travelled to Turkey in order to form the Iraqi government. The Semi-autonomous Northern Iraq has seen over $5 billion in investment from Turkey. Turkish companies are the top investors in hotels, real estate, industry and energy in north Iraq. As one analyst put it: “Turkey has long facilitated the political stability in Iraq and hereafter Ankara would play a more critical role in Iraq’s political process because Ankara’s role in Iraqi politics balances the impact of Iran on Iraq.”
Turkey has also been attempting to extend its role in the Caucuses where it has long competed with Russia.
Turkey under Erdogan has maintained close economic and military ties with Israel. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in March 1949. Cooperation includes Turkey being Israel’s biggest trade partner in the region and it’s second-biggest in the world, following theUS. In the first three months of 2011,Turkey exported products worth $579.3 million to Israel and imported goods worth $397.3 million. While Turkey purchases high-tech defence industry equipment from Israel, amongst the goods they export are military uniforms and footwear for the Israeli army. Whilst military ties have soured of late the underlying relationship remains.
The West has been impressed by the AKP who they view as Islamic/conservative who run a secular nation. The Turkish army being staunch secularists accuse Erdogan of having a secret Islamic agenda which will be brought to the forefront when the AKP has completed its grip on all aspects of ruling.
In analysing the claim that the AKP represents an Islamic model of governance an examination of its key polices highlights that Islam has played no role in any of the AKP’s policies other then the rhetoric fed to the masses. The economy and foreign policy have been the main symbols of the AKP, and both are driven by factors other than Islam.
Turkey’s economic growth, development and trade have had nothing to do with Islam but short term pragmatic polices to shore up the AKP’s support. Whilst there is no doubt that under the AKP the Turkish economy has developed and there is more wealth today in Turkey then there was a decade ago it has all been built on the same non-sustainable Interest based debt driven growth that is slowly choking the Western world today. Erdogan and the AKP have not used foreign trade to propagate Islam, neither has it used its relations with the likes of China, Russia, Brazilor India to propagate Islam. In order to shore up support for the AKP Erdogan developed economic polices to bring money into Turkey whilst enriching the business elite.
Islam has played virtually no role inTurkey’s foreign policy. The most obvious example of this is Erdogan’s continuation of Turkish relations with Israel which is something Islam expressly prohibits. Whilst AKP officials continue to cite the surrounding neighbours as Muslim brothers and its own region as former Ottoman territories this is where the role of Islam comes to an end. Since coming to power the AKP has grown very close to the US, the relations with the US have not been with the aim of weakening the US policies against the Muslim world or complicating them. In fact the AKP has worked to implement US global polices and played the role of willing agent.Turkey has played a central role in indirect negotiations in 2011 between the Palestinian factions and Israel to bring a settlement to the issues which requires the abandoning of large swathes of land to the Israelis.
The AKP has not used Islam in any way in its foreign policy. Rather then rallying the Muslim rulers against Israel or even seeking to end the occupation of Al Quds itself – which Turkey is capable of – Erdogan has pursued a narrow set of pragmatic polices and littered them with Islamic statements.
The US continues to pursue a colonial agenda in the Muslim world but this has not stopped the AKP growing close to theUS. The AKP has in Iraq and Palestine strengthened the hand of theUS by constructing polices that aid them. Turkey has also sided with Obama and NATO against Syria and held a meeting for Syrian opposition groups in Anatolia.
Much of the rhetoric of Islam has not come from the AKP but from those opposed to them and from the West. Erdogan in his recent trip to Egypt expressed hope for “a secular state in Egypt,” he went further and outlined that “The Turkish state is in its core a state of freedoms and secularism.”
Erdogan’s domestic agenda has also been mainly to weaken the hand of the army on Turkish politics rather then creating a society based on Islam. Domestic reforms have centred on changing the composition and elections of judges and army personnel. Similarly the proposals for changes to the Turkish constitution are not for the Islam sources to become sources of legislation but to empower the role of the president, which Erdogan has his eyes on. Domestically rather than unifying with the Kurds who are mainly Muslims, Erdogan has carried out a combination of normalisation exercises whilst carrying out military action simultaneously. The killing of Muslims is something Islam expressly prohibits.
The West’s fascination of the Turkish Model
The Turkish model of governance is in reality one driven by nationalism and is pragmatic in nature with some Islamic slogans. As the AKP has been successful with the economy this has given it an aura of strength, however the economy has linked Turkey to the global economy and thus it is inevitable Turkey will go into recession as the global economy declines.
The praise for the Turkish model is mostly from Western capitals and this is because it is something the West can work with.Turkey under Erdogan has manufactured a sense of importance by allowing itself to become yet another tool of Western foreign policy. This pragmatic and non-Islamic position is what gets much praise in Western capitals.
The adoption of secularism allows one to choose which parts of Islam to implement. Erdogan has made some attempts in removing the hijab ban in Turkey, but for example has done nothing with regards to the legalisation of adultery or the removal of interest in banking.
All of these factors are what the West can work with and for these reasons the West cannot stop singing the praises of Erdogan. This pragmatic model in reality dilutes Islam by making it fit with pragmatic, nationalist and interest driven polices. All of this shows that Islam plays a very small factor for the AKP, Turkish interests is what has driven the AKP and this largely includes fulfilling US interests.
Turkey does not represent a new model of governance; it is in reality as secular and national interest driven as the nations of the West. As the Arab spring continues to take shape, what the region needs is not another Capitalist secular state with some Islamic rules but is largely secular in nature. This is because secular states have a number of issues which are common to all of them, such as misdistribution of wealth, political corruption and social breakdown.
Adnan Khan is a political analyst who specialises in international issues. His research also includes a focus how an Islamic system, particularly the Islamic economic system would function in the Muslim world. His research and analysis can be found at his website – http://www.international-issues.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.