Looking at a 'Turkish role model' in the light of the last developments in the Middle East

If we are talking about Turkey as a 'model state' in the Middle East, we should take this context into account. Otherwise, we can not see the whole picture.

Looking at a 'Turkish role model' in the light of the last developments in the Middle East

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

The last developments in the Middle East have brought "model state debates about Turkey" into question. Although following developments of Tunisia Uprising and explanations of some Tunisian leaders recall us the success of 'Turkish model' experience, Lebanon experience should read as a diplomatic/practical failure. In the following passages, we will explain what we mean in this context in depth.

As we know that, during his visit to Turkey, U.S. President Obama emphasized that Turkey as a "model partnership" between the West and the Muslim world. In addition to this, we also know that Obama administration prefers to use 'liberal', 'soft', and 'pluralist' language in its foreign policies.

So, 'Turkey' name is not a coincidence. Turkey's AKP model is perfectly suited for America's international interest in the Muslim world. As we mentioned in the past analyses, U.S. is very worried about Iranization of Middle East and they prefer to secular Turkey as a land of new caliph.

In this picture, conservative-democratic identity of Turkey's Justice and Development Party is very useful for global pluralism and new American foreign policy. About this issue, "the ascent to power of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in Turkey has been seen as an example that not only demonstrates the compatibility of Islam and democracy, but also the ability to integrate Islamists into the system." says Professor Meliha Altunisik.

Actually many people are aware of this reality in Turkey and so, many secularists are uncomfortable about this issue: "The hypothetical 'Muslim democracy' or cohabitation of democracy and a milder version of Islam as opposed to radical Islam holding development as hostage in the vast Muslim geography and such products of the global policymaking allusions of the United States have been creating nerves for a long time among secular sections of the Turkish society." says Yusuf Kanli, from Hurriyet Daily News. "Though, many secular Turks firmly believe that at least since the late 1990s – that is immediately after the Feb. 28 'post-modern coup' of 1997 against Necmettin Erbakan, the first Islamist prime minister of Turkey – 'a new program' has started to be executed in Turkey: Helping to create a milder Islamist party and bring it into power."

The Changing Structure of the Global System

In post-modern era, we come across different political methods and ways. In the last period, soft power is very popular and cultural-social norms are very important in the change of regimes and political actors. We witnessed "hard power" and "wars" in Bush administration; but, the methods of Obama administration seem very humanistic. In my opinion, we should not overlook that every era has its own conditions and all these conditions should be questioned one by one.

Here, I want to focus on the article of Ertugrul Aydin, from World Bulletin. In his article, entitled "What is the Future of Laïcité in Turkey?", he mentions the changing structure of secularism in Turkey and in the world. According to him, "With the imposition of liberal values, Turkish laicism is in transition period from French version to Anglo-Saxon secularism. Legal pluralism was among the hot topics before years when there was no official party willing to listen. But with a more powerful civil society actors operating in a flexible secular political environment, supported by the private capital and an official party willing to listen the demands for legal pluralism, the debate may end up with legal pluralism while still saving the secular character of the Turkish state."

When we look at the global political scene, we see same pictures in parallel to changing structure of secularism. Because U.S. has seen that it did not rule out Islamic movements through its hard rules, it began to prefer flexible ways and Turkey has become a focus point in this plan. Today, many Muslims forsook their ideals and they started to talk about cultural/political and also religious pluralism. And this process is very related the changing structure of secularism: "A retreat from militant or fundamentalist French laicism toward Anglo-Saxon secularism in which legal pluralism is possible, would be seem to be a better choice and much easier task. If Muslim conscious do not experience a heavy tension between sacred and profane in a secular system, the future of that system may be longer and relatively peaceful for both seculars and Muslims."

So, if today we are talking about Turkey as a 'model state' in the Middle East, we should take this context into account. Otherwise, we can not see the whole picture.

Iran vs. Many of the Gulf States

"Rising Iranian prestige in the region in consequence of Hezbollah-Lebanon victory was preventing US's strategic plans. Looking at the issue from this point, in terms of Arab regimes and US-Israel ally which want to break Iranian effect, there is no any obstacle in rising of Turkey's prestige." says Akif Emre, a columnist in Turkey's Yeni Safak Newspaper. "Heroism of Sunni Turkey which has good relations with Israel and the U.S., tries to enter EU and is a member of NATO, was very limited compared to Iran which is out of the system and has a Shiite identity."

In other words, U.S. tries to isolate Iran which is the symbol state of anti-imperialism in the Muslim world and it creates a new popular power, Turkey, which is both Muslim and democratic and accepts pluralism. As Yusuf Kanli says, "anyone with some understanding and knowledge of Islamic theology would of course underline the impossibility of coexistence of Islam and democracy in any form as long as the state is firmly shielded with secularism as unlike for example Christianity, Islam could not undergo a renaissance or could not develop a sense of secularism within itself. It coordinates life in all aspects from birth to death." But, in last period, 'cohabitation of democracy and a milder version of Islam' has become popular not only in social context, but also political context.

This liberalist viewpoint serves to American interests in the region because Turkey prefers to be on superpowers' side in this game. In her analysis, Dr. Arzu Ekinci emphasizes Turkey's 'model country' function. According to her, although the US is not completely approving Turkey's new foreign policy dynamics, it does not strongly antagonize for them. I think this is very important reality which should not overlook. "As a successful model, Turkey will leave a positive impression in the region by the means of its successful relations with regional countries. In this way, Turkey will serve to advance a global values system which is shaped by the West." says Dr. Ekinci.

Today, we know that main target for America in the Middle East is Iran. In addition to this, because many Gulf States are on America's side, they prefer to NATO member, Sunni Turkey as a regional power in the Middle East. "Beyond seeing Turkey as a modern and developed country, the Sunnis support Turkey's diplomatic, political and cultural expansion policy established by the AKP Government for relations with the Middle-East countries. On the other hand, some of the Sunnis who underline the influence of Iran believe that Turkey is the only regional power to break the influence of Iran." says Veysel Ayhan.

As one of the most powerful countries in the region, Saudi Arabia prefers cooperating with Turkey because of its function. "STRATFOR's thesis is the Saudis are looking to Turkey to act as an ally in restraining Iranian pretensions to regional hegemony. The Turks have their own leadership aspirations which involve pursuing a neo-Ottoman strategy that joins Sunnis and Shias under enlightened, of course, Turkish leadership."

So, today's developments in the Middle East should not be evaluated independent from these realities. Firstly, we know that global political structure moves towards to 'flexible', more liberalist form and secondly, U.S. tries to re-produce its power over 'role model Islamic state'. Neither Lebanon nor Tunisia can be read independent from this picture.

Turkey as a Role Model for the Arab World?

"Turkey's exemplary role as a model for moderate Islam's potential to partner the West in an alliance for peace against global threats, while providing a middle way between radical Islamism and a hardly credible "state Islam", has been as much of a favourite subject among Western politicians, as it has been with the religious-democratic conservatives of the Turkish AKP government." says Loay Mudhoon.

When we look at the comments on 'role model Turkey', we generally come across emphasis on the West and the U.S. because Western norms and values are used as a justification means for 'model state'. Actually, it is possible to mention 'complexness'. The words of Egemen Bagis are not very different from this context: "Not only the 20 million in Europe, but also the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are closely following this [Turkey's EU membership] process, and the Islamic world is looking for a role model. Not only those in Europe, but Muslim youth worldwide are looking for a role model. There are those who try to be a role model by resorting to terror, violence and discrimination. On the other side, there are those who exert efforts for glorifying democracy, human rights and freedom although they suffered wrongly from their democratic efforts -- like [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and [President Abdullah] Gül. In my opinion, the EU should make its choice concerning which role model it will turn its spotlight on."

On the other hand, we know that Turkey has become a model state through these realities in the Middle East. According to Paul Salem from the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, "Turkey is the only successful nation-state in the Middle East... Turkey has been more successful than other countries in striking a balance between Islamists and secularists and dealing with issues of religion, secularism and gender equality. The resonance of popular Turkish TV series in the Arab world is also due to the interest shown in seeing Turkish families dealing with issues of day-to-day life."

Moreover, according to Meliha Altunisik, "most liberals in the region sided with their countries' regimes in the early 1990s out of fear that Islamists would benefit from any political liberalization and that secular authoritarianism would transform into religious rule. This perspective has been changing in recent years. The creation of alliances between some liberals and leftists and Islamists since the establishment of the AKP has been seen as evidence that Islamist movements can become moderate and learn to accept the principles of democracy."

As is known, "a historic turning point for the Arab image of Turkey came at the beginning of March 2003, when the Turkish parliament voted against giving their support to the US-led invasion of Iraq." After this date, there were "positive reactions to the successful 'AKP experiment' by moderate Islamists in the heartland of Islam".

In addition to this, speeches of Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu were/are very effective in being accepted "role model" of Turkey. As we can remember, "in the Third Ambassadors' conference organized by Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Davutoglu has pointed out that existing world order does not reflect a fair distribution of power capabilities; that it has not so far contributed to the transformation of the root causes of current imbalances and injustices; that it mainly reflects the wishes and priorities of the victorious powers of the Second World War; and that Turkey, as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, has a historical mission and responsibility to help put its neighborhood in order and stability."

"This role model, as argued by Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, denotes that Turkey should have a visionary diplomatic perspective with respect to any issue that concerns international stability and order. Turkey should come up with a well-argued, clear and legitimate global vision that could potentially help the international community evolve into a more prosperous, peaceful and stable environment." says Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tarik OGUZLU. "One of the key aspects of such a role on the part of Turkey is that Turkey should be seen as one of those wise-counties across the globe whose opinion really matters in international politics and whose involvement in any particular conflict could lead the way to the solution."

In a conclusion, Turkey has become a "role model" for the Arab world; but its function is to reproduce the order rather than becoming order-creator. In other words, while Turkey and the leader of the AKP are becoming a hero in the Arab world, at the same time the U.S. finds opportunity to cerate its own oppositions. America prefers to liberal, NATO member and the worker of the global political system Turkey as "a role model" for the opposition of the Arab world.

What is the relationship between Tunisia Uprising and the Turkish model?

I prefer to call the last developments in Tunisia as an "uprising" rather than "intifada" because there is no any qualified attempt to provide radical changes in Tunisia. It even seems, in some ways, the part of American project. This does not mean that America cause to this uprising; but this should not be overlooked that there is an important relationship between Tunisia and Turkey's role model debates. In my opinion, the last period can be identified as "a retreat from militant or fundamentalist French laicism toward Anglo-Saxon secularism in which legal pluralism is possible."

"Our thought is similar to that of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey, currently in government. Indeed my books have almost all been translated into Turkish and are widely read there. However I have no political aspirations myself, neither for standing as a minister, for parliament or president. Some are presenting me as a Khomeini who will return to Tunisia – I am no Khomeini. "says Rachid Ghannouchi, exiled Islamic leader of Tunisia's Nahda party.

Actually, his words explain the "competition" between "Iranian and Turkish model" very clearly. He focuses on a "democracy" rather than Islamic norms and he accepts to live under secular state as a Muslim. These entire changes stem from Turkish role model and every person knows that Iranian model requires struggling persecutor superpowers. Turkey's method seems "to be a better choice and much easier task."

"And from 1981 to this day, there have been many changes to the Muslim world, democratic thought has spread and Islamists have realised the danger of dictatorships, and the benefits of democracy. And they have also realised the harm of Islamic regimes that are not democratic such as the model seen in Afghanistan under the Taliban and Islamist Sudan." says Ghannouchi. "I believe that my thoughts, these ideas have been adopted by the mainstream of the Islamic movements. For instance, the Ikhwan, the largest Islamic movement, have accepted democratic principles and they have since issued many papers on the principles of pluralism and political participation of women. In the latest political programme of the Muslim Brotherhood (of Egypt) they have adopted these ideas although there remains some reservation on women as the head of state and on non-Muslim heads of state, Coptic Christians for instance, and where scholars oversee the legislative process. I openly criticised this stance on television and also in an article on Al-Jazeera in which I said that we should embrace the principles of citizenship as the basis for running the state. And since women and Coptic Christians are citizens they have the right to run for any position and there should be no overseeing of the legislative process by scholars.

In addition I should also actually add that this project published by the Muslim Brotherhood (of Egypt) was circulated for general discussion, it was not final. When they met with internal opposition they realised the error in this. Especially after the latest events in Egypt, many such as Ibrahim Munir (Secretary General of the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood) have stated that they do not oppose the standing of Coptic Christians for head of state and have retracted their previous statement. This would otherwise undermine national unity, so we see a gradual development taking place. So we see a gradual evolution, we (Nadha) drank the cup of democracy in one gulp back in the 1980s while other Islamists have taken it sip by sip."

Ghannouchi's explanations summarize the 'gradual evolution' of the Arab Islamist under the America's liberal projects in the region. And, of course, Turkey, in this process, is the most important "model" for the Arab world. Today, many uprisings take aim at becoming a democratic state rather than Islamic state. If we want to understand the structure of this shift, firstly, we should focus on "the Turkish model".

'Turkish Role Model' Lost in the Lebanon

As you can remember, we said in the previous analysis that because of the importance of Lebanon, Turkey's examination in this region is very crucial. If it accomplishes this function carefully, Turkey will take important steps in its 'zero problem' policy and Turkish leaders, in this way, can strongly became a hero in the Middle East. But we should say that although 'Lebanon is a logical choice to implement' Turkish foreign policy rationale, at the same time, it is a very dangerous game.

We know that some of the Sunnis who underline the influence of Iran believe that Turkey is the only regional power to break the influence of Iran. And in this way, Hariri supported the existence of Turkey in the region. But, today, we see that Turkey backed the wrong horse in the region.

We warned previously that "Erdogan's last visit led to some speculations in the media. According to some columnists, Erdogan came only a month after Iranian President's visit and this means that while Iran represent Shiite in Lebanon, Turkey will represent Sunnis. When we read this picture with some suggestions, this warning can be crucial. For example, Erdogan mainly visit Sunni region in Lebanon. In addition to this, although he met with leaders of many parties, he did not meet Hezbollah General Secretary Nasrallah, but its president in the parliament."

In the last period, although Davutoglu met Hassan Nasrallah, Turkey has lost its esteem in Lebanon to some extent because Turkey preferred to support Lebanon's stability over Hariri; but this actually means that Turkey is on America's side. Every person knows that Hariri is the biggest ally of Saudi Arabia and in this way America.

After all, all these attempts of Turkey were not acceptable for Hezbollah because Turkish role model moves against the Iranian role model. Thus, it turned the play in its favour and they "moved into position to control the next Lebanese government".

Then, how can we explain the meeting between Nasrallah and Davutoglu? As we know, today, many Arab leaders accept Turkey's role in the region and they are pleased to see Turkey's assistance in order to solve their crises. Turkey's active role in the region is very important in the emergence of this picture. So, in my opinion, although Turkey knew that it will not attain solution which is suited for it, it attended this process with active participation because Turkey tries to have the right to speak in Lebanon in the future. .

In present situation, we witnessed that Turkish role model has lost in Lebanon and this model is not strong predictably.


"Despite the references made to Turkey as a model for political reform in the Middle East, this argument has never been clearly elaborated on beyond stating that Turkey was an example of the compatibility of Islam and democracy. This ambiguity, in fact, led to a debate in Turkey as to what all this meant for the country and whether the US was imposing a role on Turkey." says Meliha Altunisik.

Today, we are witnessing that Turkey is playing a model role for the Muslim world but it does not move independently despite all these claims. Unfortunately, Turkey is not an order-creator, but a means for superpowers. When we look at the speeches of Turkish leaders, we can not understand this dependency; but the practices show us that Turkey's mobility in this political scene is limited by big play-makers.

So, if Turkey is playing a pawn role for bigger play makers, explaining Turkey's 'zero problem' policy in terms of AKP's Islamic identity becomes very absurd.

Today, Turkey does not support Islamic values, but the values of the 'order' and the global 'system'. It is indisputable fact that many Arabian countries and Islamic movements take Turkey as an example. While some of them accept a 'gradual evolution' in their viewpoints, the others support Turkey to protect America's benefits in the region.

While we witness a 'gradual evolution' in Ghannouchi's explanations, we see that Turkey is a very good role model for these movements. But, at the same time this does not mean that Turkey is the only alternative in the region. We also saw this reality in Lebanon. Today, Iranian role model is powerful as Turkey's role model as.

Here, we should be careful that if Iranian model represents 'anti-imperialism' and Turkish model represents the protection of this unjust global system, this will be very important sin for Turkey in the region...

Maybe this picture can cause to unrepairable errors... Turkish leaders should think on this issue again and again...

Last Mod: 05 Şubat 2011, 12:30
Add Comment
middle-easter - 10 yıl Before

Don't forget that all of new situations in Turkey and Middle-East are consequences of 1979 Islamic (not Shiite or Sunni) Revolution of Iran and the main competitors are Islam and Secularism not Shiite and Sunni !!

safdar hussain  Pakistan
safdar hussain Pakistan - 10 yıl Before

I think now its time that Turkey should play its role in Muslim world,who is largely respected and acceptable in Muslim world because of his historical background and current stance on the issues of Palestine,Iran,Egypt and many others,