Two perspectives on Turkey
Recently I read two interviews in two different Turkish newspapers. In them, I found two perspectives on Turkey, so far apart yet so complementary. The first interview was with Brazilian football star Alexsandro de Souza at Habertürk, the second at Hürriyet with Lebanon’s current Prime Minister Necip Mikati. Though both are foreigners I will refrain from saying two foreign perspectives. Alex played for our Fenerbahçe football team for the last 8 years and Necip Mikati, after all, is a Levantine. Both interviews delve into the men’s impressions of Turkey. Reading one after the other can be rather perplexing. Ours is a country with a history of serial transformations and the ability to break with its past, not once but many times. Yet, it is a country with constant impediments to change, especially looking at the lives of ordinary young Turks. Are these conflicting views on Turkey? Definitely not.
Turkey has both a conservative as well as an innovative element.
Let me start with the Alexsandro de Souza interview. Alex held a special place among celebrities. In 2012, while he was still with Fenerbahçe, a statue of him funded by his fans was unveiled in Istanbul.
Then he left the team after a rift with the coach. In the interview, Alex compares Turkish football with the leagues in Brazil. In Turkey, coming of age is hard, he says. The priority is given to old players, while in Brazil it is the other way around. He notes that if Lucas, the young star of Sao Paolo who recently transferred to Saint German, had been in Turkey, he would be sidelined for a while. That makes it hard for the youngsters to show their skills. We are resistant to change. Yet here we have a country that has been and currently is transforming. That perspective I see in the Mikati interview.
When asked whether Turkey could be a model or a source of inspiration for Arab transformations today, Mikati only underlines the different characteristics of every national transformation and the difficulty of replicating one experience in another context. While quoting Turkey’s outstanding economic performance in the last decade, he identifies an 8-decade long reform at the heart of the Turkish transformation, namely the Civil Code reform. The secularization of everyday life was the first transformation in Turkey that paved the way for today’s remarkable performance. Mikati is right in pointing out the Civil Code as the major difference between the Turkish and Arab transformations. The Arab Spring has a long way to go. Remember how Islamists got angry when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he is privately a devout Muslim but publicly the prime minister of a secular state? The difference lies in our Islamists and theirs.
In the early 20th century, modernization dreams were similar in Cairo, Beirut and Istanbul. Those dreams became reality in Istanbul, but shattered in Cairo and Beirut. That was the first major Turkish transformation. Then we did it again in 1983 with late former President Özal. Then again in 2002 with Erdoğan. The rapid pace of change overpowered the hurdles along the way thanks to the adapting capacity of Turks. I find that rather remarkable.