East and West differ on Turkish election results

East and West differ on Turkish election results

Analysis about what the June 7 election represented, and expectations as to what should happen now, vary depending on whether you are looking from the west or the east. The view from the west is easy to figure out. 

Erdoğan, an anti-western Islamist, was given his comeuppance and will now have to stay within the bounds of Turkey’s secular constitution. This is the view of Austin Bay, for example, who is the author of “Atatürk: Lessons in Leadership from the Greatest General of the Ottoman Empire.”

“Turkish voters rejected President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ‘soft Islamist’ power grab. In doing so, Turks strengthened their secular republic’s democratic system and provided the globe with an example of democratic temperance,” Austin wrote in a piece on the Turkish election.

This clearly revealed a latent paranoia about Turkey turning away from secularism and towards an Islamic form of governance. The “eastern interpretation,” particularly Arab ones, of the election results, however, was not based on such a fear. They were more concerned with Turkey’s role in the Middle East as a predominantly Islamic and Sunni power. 

Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the U.S. who is currently the general manager of the Al Arab News Channel and a columnist for various Arab publications, for example, does not accept that Erdoğan was put in his place by the voters in these elections. 

He argued that reports of Erdoğan’s political demise were exaggerated and he foresees a strong return to power by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) before the year is out.

“The AK Party [AKP]… has clearly declined, but [Erdoğan] is still in a leading position, being the former prime minister with the biggest parliamentary bloc. The three largest parties behind the AKP can form a coalition government, but it would not last long. That means new elections would take place in less than a year, and the AKP would return to power with the majority of votes,” according to Khashoggi.

He clearly considers it good that Erdoğan will return to the helm and expects Turkey - together with Saudi Arabia - to play an important role in keeping Iran at bay. This has nothing to do with the fears concerning democracy and secularism in Turkey.

Eyad Abu Shakra, from Asharq al-Awsat, also believes Erdoğan is “the best regional option” with regard to “checking the Iranian onslaught,” adding that “from a strategic standpoint, Erdoğan’s Turkey and the Arab world are fighting the same battle.” 

This is clearly not a battle for democracy and secularism, but for regional influence among the undemocratic regimes. 

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi, a writer and journalist for Gulf News, for his part lauded the fact that “the Turkish elections showed the Turkish people’s maturity, their understanding of true democracy, and that the nation and its domestic and foreign interests come above all else.” But he also revealed what many establishment Arabs expect of Ankara now.

Arguing that Turkey’s regional interests remained the same, Al Harbi said an important difference now is that Ankara “will not side with the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of others in the Syrian arena.” Again, the concern here not so much the fate of Turkish democracy and secularism, but the fact that Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the nemesis of undemocratic Arab regimes, should decline now.