Do Arabs know what the Turkish model is?
The latest opinion poll commissioned by “The Doha Debates,” indicates that “72 percent of respondents in the Arab world believe Turkey is a good model for post-revolutionary Egypt, Tunisia and Libya,” according to a report in the Gulf News. This result forces one to question whether Arabs are fully aware of what the Turkish model actually entails.
The findings of this poll contradict the results of an earlier poll, conducted among the audience during the latest Doha Debate, held in Istanbul Feb. 12, so indicates confusion on this score.
What compounds the confusion is the fact that 45 percent of the 1001 people questioned by YouGov, in the latest poll, also expressed fear that Islamists would adopt the Turkish model as a stepping stone for a government run under the banner of Islam.
On the other hand, according to this poll, Arabs favor the Turkish model because they believe Turkey is close to the Arab world in terms of culture, religion and traditions, and also “because it has integrated Islam into politics.”
There is of course an affinity between Turkey and the Arab world in terms of culture, religion and traditions, although this point should not be pushed too far. However, despite its predominantly Islamic population, Turkey has also been a secular state based on a gradually improving parliamentary democracy for over 80 years.
So the notion of “Islam having been integrated into politics” is wrong if we are talking about the “system itself,” rather than the fact that an Islamist government has come to power within this system. In fact, the Turkish model is based totally on Western systems of government. The success of the Turkish economy that we see today is also the result of western models that were adopted gradually over the past century.
So, while there is an “Islamist government” in power today, this has not always been the case in the past, and there is no guarantee that it will be the case in the future. The mark of true democracy is not just being elected by popular vote, but also knowing how to go if the electorate does not want you anymore.
I have argued in this column that Turkey’s heterogeneous ethnic, social and religious make-up indicates that it is only a secular democracy that can maintain social stability in this country and keep development on track. Tampering with that system will cause turmoil, and we see some evidence today to prove this.
Seeing as the Arab world’s interest in the “Turkish model” is growing, it is time for Arab opinion formers to educate their masses about just what the model they appear to like so much is really about.
I believe strongly, in the final analysis, that the Turkish model is not just valid for the Arab world as a matter of preference, but also of vital necessity, if the Middle East is ever to achieve peace and stability by overcoming ethnic, religious and sectarian strife, and start a development process that has been stymied for so long.
In doing this, the Arab world is going to have to eventually make peace with the concept of “secularism” as a crucial element of political, economic and social development in the modern world. But there is no magic wand that will bring any of this about instantly.
And this is where the “Turkish model” gains real relevance for the region, because it points to massive political and social obstacles that have to, in time, be overcome in order to reach the level of development Turkey has attained today, despite its glaring shortcomings when judged by E.U. standards.
The bottom-line is that Turkey continues very much to be a “work in progress” as it tries to modernize itself further, while much of the Arab world has not even started this long and arduous journey yet.