True democracy is the only way forward

True democracy is the only way forward

No one is arguing that the coup in Egypt spells the end for political Islam. Islamists are here to stay and any true democracy worth its name has to acknowledge this. But those opposed to undemocratic attempts by Islamists to impose their world view on others are also here to stay. Any Islamist claiming to be a true democrat has to accept and respect this fact.

Many Islamists are warning now that if the deposed government is not reinstated in Egypt the kind of violence that cost Algeria tens of thousands of lives could also occur in that country. The implication is that Islamists will resort to the gun and the bomb. Sure, things could go the Algerian way.

But Islamists have to consider whether anything was gained in the final analysis, despite all the senseless blood that was shed in that country. No one can argue that inhuman tactics emanating from radical Islamic quarters – which was met with similar tactics from the government - helped better the lot of normal everyday believers who simply want respect for their faith, and to get on with their lives.

Our EU Minister Egemen Bağış recently quoted Abraham Lincoln and said “the ballot box is better than the bullet.” This is a tautology that no one in their right mind would dispute. But there is more to it than just that in the modern world. There is also “good democratic governance” based on the awareness that even if you gained 50 percent of the vote, this is still not 100 percent. In other words, there are others whose interests can not be disregarded.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s understanding does not appear to be in line with this basic fact of democracy. Otherwise he would not have uttered insulting things after the Gezi Park protests such as “where is it seen that the feet have taken the place of the head?” According to an Irish saying “Anything that keeps a politician humble is healthy for democracy.”

Looked at from this perspective, the democratic experience under Islamists has not been a good one generally. Hamas’ electoral victory did not improve the lot of the people of Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt was marked with serious and undemocratic bad governance.

Meanwhile, successive electoral victories by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have not provided Turkey with the “advanced democracy” that Erdoğan constantly talks of. Turkey is seen today by the world, not to mention the 50 percent that did not vote for the AKP, as a country with the largest number of journalists in prison. It is also considered a country where the law is used in a skewed manner to favor the government, and where the country is increasingly run by an authoritarian person whose intention is to gain more authority in order to impose his religious world view on those who do not think or live like him and his supporters.

This will not work in a heterogeneous country like Turkey given its ethnic, religious, and social diversity. One has to also acknowledge, of course, that a large segment of Turkish society feels it has been wronged under previous secular administrations because of its faith. But the answer to this in a democracy, once Islamists gain the political upper hand, is not to immediately switch to a revanchist mode.

The main question for Islamists today is are they prepared to live in a modern society where their rights and beliefs are protected – as in any genuinely secular and democratic country - but where those who do not believe like them enjoy the same rights. For example, can Islamists accept that while it is their right to observe all the stipulations of their faith during Ramadan, they do not have the right to interfere with the habits of others who may also want to drink their wine even if it happens to be during Ramadan?

If the answer to this is affirmative, then there should be no problem and it means the democratic mode of government has been accepted. If not, however, it means there is more trouble up ahead.