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A Success Story or a Flawed Example: The Anatomy of the Turkish Model for the Middle East

A Success Story or a Flawed Example: The Anatomy of the Turkish Model for the Middle East
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   NE  W P E R  S P E  C T I   V E  S  O N T  UR K E Y  A success story or a flawed example? The anatomy of the Turkish model for the Middle East İlkim ÖzdikmenliŞevket OvalıAbstract This article argues that it is fallacious to promote the Turkish demo-cratic experience under the Justice and Development Party ( Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi , AKP) as a model for the emerging Arab democracies. Despite the early political reformism of the AKP, an empirical analysis of the government’s recent crackdown on basic rights and freedoms dem-onstrates that the “Turkish model,” defined as a marriage of Islam and liberal democracy, cannot respond to the demands of Arab reformers. In this regard, the article falls into three sections. In the first section, assets of the “Turkish model” according to various actors are examined, which casts doubt on the emancipatory discourse underlying the promotion of the model. The second section proposes the term “leader democracy”—or, more specifically, “Erdoğanism”—as a way of denoting the govern-mental structure of Turkey as of early 2014. The final section depicts the current Turkish democracy in terms of the state of checks and balances and of basic political and social rights.Keywords: Turkish model , Turkish democracy ,  Justice and Development Party , RecepTayyip Erdoğan , leader democracy. 5 New Perspectives on Turkey , no. 51 (2014): 5-33. İlkim Özdikmenli, Department of International Relations, Dokuz Eylül University, İzmir, Turkey,Şevket Ovalı, Department of International Relations, Dokuz Eylül University, İzmir, Turkey, are thankful to Simten Coşar for her seminal and detailed comments on an earlier version of the article. This article is a revised and improved version of the paper presented at the 54th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA). We thank panel discussant Ersin Kalaycıoğlu for his invaluable suggestions. Lastly, we thank all three anonymous reviewers of New Perspectives on Turkey  for their guiding comments and suggestions.     N   E   W    P   E   R   S   P   E   C   T   I   V   E   S   O   N    T   U   R   K   E   Y Introduction We have witnessed the development of a literature that defines the transformation in Turkey over the last decade as a revolution. An amor-phous “periphery,” politically led by the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party ( Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi ,   AKP), is referred to as the social agent of that revolution. 1  One extension of this evaluation with regard to the “Arab Spring” has been the new discourse developed around the concept of the “Turkish model.” 2  Turkey under the AKP has been held up as a model country that provides what peoples of the Mid-dle East and North Africa demand; namely, political liberalization and economic development, without denying the demands and values of pe-ripheral social forces.Turkey’s active engagement in Middle Eastern affairs and its identifi-cation of itself with the “Muslim cause,” which started prior to the Arab Spring, had by 2010 already laid the groundwork for the country’s pop-ularity in this regard. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rebuke of Israeli president Shimon Peres at the 2009 Davos meeting, together with his subsequent reaction to Israel’s attack on a Turkish aid flotilla in 2010, “ranked Turkey highest on the outside players’ score sheet.” 3  Frequently 1 The concepts of “center” and “periphery” were first used by Şerif Mardin to describe social segments that enjoy a privileged status in the state apparatus in terms of bureaucratic, economic, and political power, as against those segments that were excluded from such influential circles; for further informa-tion, see Şerif Mardin, “Center-Periphery Relations: A Key to Turkish Politics?” Daedalus  102 (1973), 169-90. The periphery, as defined by current studies, is comprised of the Anatolian bourgeoisie, the urban poor, Islamists, liberals, socialists, and Kurds. The center is no less amorphous: it may be the secular establishment in Turkey; namely the military, the judiciary, the so-called Istanbul bourgeoisie, university professors, and Alevis. For analyses of the peripheral forces on which the AKP’s electoral victories have relied, see Menderes Çınar, “Explaining the Popular Appeal and Durability of the Jus-tice and Development Party in Turkey,” in  Negotiating Political Power in Turkey: Breaking up the Party,  eds. Elise Masicard and Nicole F. Watts (New York: Routledge, 2013), 37-55; Ali Çarkoğlu, “The Rise of the New Generation Pro-Islamists in Turkey: The Justice and Development Party Phenomenon in the November 2002 Elections in Turkey,” South European Society and Politics  7, no. 3 (Winter 2002): 153. For two successful critiques of employing the center-periphery perspective, see Mustafa Şen, “Transformation of Turkish Islamism and the Rise of the Justice and Development Party,” Turkish Studies  11, no. 1 (March 2010): 59-84 and Evren Hoşgör, “AKP, State and Capital: A Class-Theoretical Re-interpretation of the Conflict Between the ‘Centre’ and ‘Periphery’ in Turkey”   (PhD Dissertation, Lancaster University, 2008). Also see the work of Bedirhanoğlu, who regards AKP rule not as a break, let alone a revolution, but rather as a continuation of the authoritarian state structure in Turkey: Pınar Bedirhanoğlu, “Türkiye’de Neoliberal Otoriter Devletin AKP’li Yüzü,” in  AKP Kitabı: Bir Dönüşümün Bilançosu , eds. İlhan Uzgel and Bülent Duru (Ankara: Phoenix, 2010), 41.2 There is no single “Turkish model.” For instance, a certain pro-military wing of Egyptian politics adopts the “Turkish model” as it once was in the pre-AKP period; i.e., a secular country with a politi-cally strong army as the protector of secularism. However, throughout the present text, the “Turkish model” refers to Turkey’s experience of AKP policies that were designed to reconcile Islamic values with democracy and a neoliberal economic development program, which had hitherto been consid-ered incompatible value systems. 3 Hugh Pope and Peter Harling, “Are there ‘Zero Problems’ for Turkey?” The Daily Star  , November 29, 2011. 6İlkim Özdikmenli and Şevket Ovalı   NE  W P E R  S P E  C T I   V E  S  O N T  UR K E Y  cited surveys of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation ( Türkiye Ekonomik ve Sosyal Etüdler Vakfı, TESEV) 4  revealed that the peoples of the region had quite a favorable opinion of Turkey. Until that time, Turkey had maintained close relations with Arab dictators in the name of avoiding problems with its neighbors, and in 2011 the country quickly managed to adapt itself to the changing political atmosphere in the Arab world. Taking advantage of its popularity in the eyes of Arabs but refraining from using the word “model,” which might alienate post-colonial societies, Turkey began supporting opposition movements and left the back door open for the Turkish model debate.Even though Ankara seemed reluctant to openly represent itself as a role model in the wake of the Arab Spring, certain Western and Arab political circles addressed Turkey as a source of inspiration. Western leaders, such as US president Barack Obama and former French presi-dent Nicolas Sarkozy, cited Turkish democracy to prove that Islam does not necessarily pose a barrier to liberal democracy. 5  The “Turkish mod-el” has also been highlighted in the popular media in the West, 6  with the spread of “modernist Islam” in Turkey being regarded as an opportunity for Western governments seeking a settlement in the Middle East.The Turkish model, as a source of inspiration, also became popu-lar among certain Arab reformers. The peaceful accession to power of 4 For the latest survey, see Mensur Akgün and Sabiha Senyücel Gündoğar, The Perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2013  (İstanbul: TESEV Publications, 2014), accessed online on January 29, 2014, Previous surveys are also available at The 2013 survey confirms that Turkey is still perceived as a model by half of the par-ticipants, but that sympathy for Turkey has dropped by 19 percent over the last three years, especially among Egyptians and Syrians, who perceive hostility from Turkey toward their governments. 5 Obama described Turkey as “a great Islamic democracy” in an interview with Corriere della Sera , and stated that alliances with Turkey could potentially be very good for the West “if they embody a kind of Islam that respects universal human rights and the secular state, and can have a positive influence on the Muslim world;” see “EU Pushed Turkey to Look Elsewhere,” The Jerusalem Post , August 7, 2010, accessed online on December 25, 2013, Although he is known as a fierce opponent of Turkish membership in the EU, Sarkozy also praised Turkey’s role as a democratic country that can build a bridge between Europe and Asia; see “Sarkozy Is Criticized on a Visit to Turkey,” The New York Times , February 25, 2011, ac-cessed online on December 25, 2013, Also see the evaluation of a European commissioner: Štefan Füle, “One Year after the Arab Spring,” Europost , January 28, 2012, accessed online on December 25, 2013, 6 See Frankie Martin, “Turkey Can Model Democracy for the Arab World,” CNN Opinion , February 16, 2011, accessed online on December 25, 2013,;   Benjamin Har-vey, Gregory Viscusi, and Massoud Darhally, “Arabs Battling Repression See Erdogan’s Muslim De-mocracy as Model,” Bloomberg News , February 4, 2011, accessed online on December 25, 2013, 7     N   E   W    P   E   R   S   P   E   C   T   I   V   E   S   O   N    T   U   R   K   E   Y a political Islamist party in Turkey was of interest to political Islamists, many of whom sought ways to emulate this process. 7  To name just a few, Rashid al-Ghannouchi, the co-founder and current leader of Tu-nisia’s newly legalized Islamist movement Ennahda, stated several times that Turkey was an example, inspiration, and model to the Arab world, especially because of the peace it had established between Islam and mo-dernity. 8  Though there are contradictory positions within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, reformist younger generations are fascinated by the Turkish example. 9  For instance, Mohammed Badie, a leader of Mus-lim Brotherhood in Egypt, stated that “Turkey is a model for the other countries [in the region]”. 10  Among the others who have made positive mention of the Turkish model are Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the head of Tunisia’s Islamist party; Hamzah Mansour, Secretary General of the Is-lamic Action Front, the largest opposition group in Jordan; and Mustafa Abdel Jalilare, head of the Transitional Council of Libya. 11 Initial doubts about the Turkish model have centered around the problems of the concept of “model” itself, the distinctness of the Turk-ish and Arab contexts, and the heterogeneity of Arab reformers. One direct critique of the discourse of the so-called democratic revolution and economic miracle of the AKP only emerged in 2013, following: (i) the decline in the growth rate in 2012 and other indicators of a fragile economy; (ii) the impulsive approach of the AKP government toward Syria, which had started to threaten Turkish citizens, an approach that also clashed with the more cautious stance of Western governments; and (iii) the massive Gezi Park protests against the government in June and 7 Sadık J. Al-Azm, “The ‘Turkish Model’: A View from Damascus,” Turkish Studies  12, no. 4 (December 2011): 638-39.8 “Tunisian Islamist Leader Embraces Turkey, Praises Erbakan,” Hürriyet Daily News , March 3, 2011, accessed online on August 23, 2012,; “Ghan-nushi: Turkey Is a Model That Merges Islam and Democracy,” Today’s Zaman , October 7, 2011, ac-cessed online on August 23, 2012,; “Ennahda Leader Says Turks Are Model, Inspiration for Tunisia,” Today’s Zaman , July 15, 2012, accessed online on August 23, 2012, Tariq Ramadan, “Democratic Turkey Is the Template for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” Huffington Post , February 8, 2011, accessed online on August 23, 2012, “Muslim Brotherhood Debates Turkey Model,” Hürriyet Daily News , September 14, 2011, accessed online on July 27, 2012, See Harvey et al., “Arabs Battling Repression.” Also see “Libya’s Transitional Council Calls Turkey Model for Arab Spring Countries,” Today’s Zaman , February 13, 2012, accessed online on July 27, 2012, 8İlkim Özdikmenli and Şevket Ovalı   NE  W P E R  S P E  C T I   V E  S  O N T  UR K E Y  the ensuing split in the conservative bloc. However, as this study argues, the debate on the Turkish model, which has predominantly hinted at a story of success under the AKP, has turned a blind eye to the flaws of the so-called model. These flaws, which existed long before 2013, rendered the Turkish model far from responsive to the demands being made in the Arab streets for bread, freedom, and dignity.Our study falls into three sections. First, the underlying factors be-hind the promotion and popularity of the “Turkish model” are exam-ined, with an emphasis on the credentials of the model according to different actors. What makes interpreting this promotion of the model as an emulation of a success story highly questionable are the interest-based approaches of the Turkish government, extraregional political actors, and Islamist politicians in Arab states. Since, in this study, we focus on and test the democratic credentials of the model, the second section theoretically dwells on the democratic deficit in Turkey in terms of political configuration. The concept of “leader democracy” is adopted and tailored to the leader-centered and neo-populist character of Turk-ish democracy under the AKP. Finally, the political landscape in Turkey during the period in question is depicted in order to show whether or not the AKP’s Islamist leader democracy complies with current world-wide standards of liberal democracy in terms of individual and collective rights and liberties, such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to unionize, gender equality, and so on. Political credentials of the “Turkish model” The idea of promoting Turkey as a “model” country dates back to the early 1990s, when the statesmen of the time envisioned it as a model for the newly independent states of Central Asia. Emphasizing the “signifi-cance” of Turkey through metaphors like “buffer,” “bridge,” and “model” has long been a foreign policy instrument. 12  Though these srcinally referred to a democratic and secular Western ally with a functioning market economy, a shift in meaning arose after the 9/11 attacks. Argu-ing that “Turkey demonstrates that a democratic system is indeed com-patible with Islam,” 13  in 2002, one month after the first electoral victory of the AKP, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz 12 Yanık traces these metaphors back to the Cold War; see Lerna K. Yanık, “The Metamorphosis of Meta-phors of Vision: ‘Bridging’ Turkey’s Location, Role and Identity after the End of the Cold War,” Geopoli-tics  14, no. 3 (2009): 531-49.13 Paul Wolfowitz, “Building Coalitions of Common Values,” (address by US Deputy Secretary of De-fense Paul Wolfowitz to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, December 2, 2002), accessed online on May 12, 2012, 9
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