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Much ado about 'Turkish interference'

HDN | 2/10/2011 12:00:00 AM | SEMİH İDİZ

The model Turkey really provides is an example of a predominantly Muslim country that has managed to opt for a democratic secular system.

Israel was angered over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s call for it to not interfere in Egypt. It responded with a cynical barb by recalling that Erdoğan is the holder of the Gaddafi Human Rights Prize, and pointing to the fact that the Egyptian government has reprimanded Ankara for meddling in Egypt’s affairs.

It is however an open question as to whether “interference” in Egypt by Turkey and Israel can be compared in any way. When one looks at the question objectively, “the nature of the beast” is fundamentally different in the two cases.

In the case of Israel it is clear that it has an interest in seeing the surge of “people power” in Egypt slowed down, if not brought to a standstill altogether, because of its inbuilt fear of loosing another ally in the region to an Iran-type regime.

Therefore, if we speak from the perspective of the masses that have taken to the streets across Egypt it is clear that Israel’s potential “interference” in that country is essentially a “negative” thing. On the other hand if we look at Turkey’s “interference” from the eyes of the anti-Mubarak protestors, it is clear we are dealing with a qualitatively different matter.

Turkey’s “interference” entails, after all, a call for the Mubarak regime to not prolong the pain and risk further chaos, but to opt for a new constitutional setup, with a new law on elections and political parties that will turn the regime in Egypt into a truly representative one. In other words it is an open call for democracy.

This is of course “interference” for the Mubarak regime, but whether it is “interference” for the man on the street is another matter all together. So it seems, at the end of the day, that the only one who does not want “interference” by Turkey in Egypt are really Israel, Mubarak and his cronies, as well as other regional dictators who are no doubt shivering in their boots.

Even the Obama administration, while cautious in its statements and approach to developments in Egypt, is coming around to seeing that the only way forward for the country after this stage is precisely what Turkey is recommending; namely a truly representative democracy that respects rights and freedoms.

It is highly questionable, therefore, if one can describe calls for democracy in Egypt – something that the West did in the case of Turkey for decades in the past – as “interference” in the true sense of the word.

As an aside here one cannot help wonder if Israel would have the same reaction to “people power” if it was not Egypt that was involved but Iran where people had taken to the streets in their millions to topple the regime.

The bottom line is that Israel is less concerned out democracy in the region, no doubt believing in its heart-of-hearts that Arab’s cannot make such a regime work, and more concerned about its own security interests, even if this means millions of people have to suffer under oppressive regimes.

In the meantime there is much talk about the “Turkish model” for the Middle East where the masses are clamoring for more democratic societies. This is also seen by pro-Mubarak elements within and without Egypt as “interference.” The basic argument here is that Turkey is trying to export its regime to another country much the way Iran tried to export its regime to countries in the region in the past.

The “regime” that Turkey is said to be trying to be “export” in this case, however is a secular and democratic one. Neither is this type of regime an invention of the Turks’. Turkey took it from the West as it went into its process of modernization, and is what the West has always wanted anti-democratic governments to adopt anyway.

This in turn brings us to the argument that questions whether Turkish secularism and democracy are so successful that they can be emulated or presented as a “model” to start off with. While it is more than apparent that Turkey has still much to do to in order to achieve a democratic and secular system that meets European standards, this argument still misses the point by not seeing the forest for the trees.

The point is that no one is asking any country in the region, or anywhere else for that matter, to adopt the Turkish system as it is. Clearly each country has its own political idiosyncrasies and even European democracies vary in detail from country to country.

This does not mean however that the Turkish model does not provide a basic “template” for other countries to be filled in according to their social and cultural specificities. This template, on the other hand, is ultimately a Western one and not something invented by Turkey on its own.

In the meantime what Turkey really provides is an example of a predominantly Muslim country that has managed to opt for a democratic secular system, for all its current deficiencies and shortfalls. It is this aspect that is attracting increasing attention in the region among people who want more democracy and freedom.

Otherwise it is not a case of Ankara actively interfering in developments in Egypt by overt or covert means. This does not mean, however, that if for example the Islamic Brotherhood, a group which is the cause of much fear in Israel and the West, approaches the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for advice and recommendations, the Erdogan government will refrain from giving this.

But this “interference” is much more likely to be done with a view to playing a moderating role over such groups, rather than an agitating or radicalizing one. Judging by what some Western diplomats here in Ankara are saying, it seems that if Turkey were to “interfere” and play such a moderating role, this will even be welcomed.

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