Turkey wasn’t a bad model for Muslim countries during the twentieth century. Kemal Ataturk carried out a secularization and modernization process in his country, which soon drew Turkey near to the West. First under his leadership, and then with the military, Turkey’s stability and its economic and political progress contributed to make Ataturk widely regarded among allied democracies, and to turn his country into an ally of the United States and a NATO member. Naturally, that Turkey could be a model for many countries, and, in fact, that was the case with more than a handful of countries. The Egyptian Army has played a similar role in Cairo, and is still trying to do it after Mubarak’s fall.
When Erdogan came to power in Ankara, some of us warned that he’d put at risk the role played by Turkey in giving stability and security to the region. Nonetheless, his ascent was lauded and he was labeled as a moderate Islamist; Erdogan was depicted as the living proof that Islamists could be integrated into the democratic world. Today, as he’s presented as a model to be replicated in Arab countries, it’s time to stocktake what he’s been up to.
Domestically, during recent years the country turned toward Islam – if not Islamism – putting at risk Turkey’s national structures and its linkage with Europe. Promoting ranks based on political criteria and the Islamization of the country have both provoked a sense of malaise and a rift within the armed forces – the backbone of Turkish secularization. Erdogan’s electoral reforms took away power from the most secular parties; he appealed to the more rural and Muslim-driven parts of the country and pushed aside urban, modern Turkey. His institutional reforms follow only one direction: a larger, more pronounced Islamic presence in the structure of the State.
Internationally, Turkey’s distancing from Europe due to religious issues brought its EU membership bid to a grinding halt. Turkey vetoed some NATO maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea citing Israel’s participation as the reason behind its decision; Turkey lobbied against the missile shield being aimed at Iran. We could witness two of the worst incidents just last year: the flotilla of Islamist activists against Israel setting sail from a Turkish harbor – followed by an escalating spiral of rhetoric and diplomatic innuendo against the Jews – and the stunt along with Brazil’s Lula to protect the Iranian nuclear program from being supervised by the international community.
What with one thing and another, domestically and internationally, ethnic and religious minorities are suffering increasing pressure: Christians are more intensely persecuted by the day, and Erdogan has had no problem repressing the Kurds in a savage way. It’s all part of an aggressive and nationalistic process of re-Ottomanization, seeking to place Turkey as a model country for the Muslim world and a commanding force in the region.
The balance is fewer liberties, the repression of minorities, the re-Islamization of a secular state, an alliance with the Iran of the Ayatollahs, but a break in friendly, traditional relations with Israel turned now into confrontations. That’s the state of affairs in 2011 thanks to Erdogan, “the moderate Islamist” – so heartily praised in his day. Why should this Turkey be portrayed as a model to follow?
Because Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists, as well as others in European Islamists circles want it to be so: Erdogan is succeeding in his effort to send modern Turkey back to the days of the Ottoman Empire – and he’s doing it in plain view and without generating any opposition. It’s a complete strategic success. What’s different – and even more outrageous – is to see the Europeans praising as a success the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to emulate Erdogan’s ways in Egypt – as if that organization weren’t going to do the same as he did in Turkey: To destroy the secular structures that are still standing in there.
We were right about Erdogan from the beginning and we won’t be wrong now by saying: If any kind of power is granted to Egyptian Islamists, disguised as “moderates”, it’ll only worsen Egypt’s chances. The more power Islamists get, the worse things will be for Egypt. We’ll come to regret it if we don’t exclude Islamists from the democratic process.
Erdogan is a bad model – at least for those of us who want to see a freer, more stable Egypt as well as a safer Middle East region.
©2011 Translated by Miryam Lindberg