Turkey writing a constitution amid intense internal disagreements
Two Muslim-majority countries, Tunisia and Egypt, have had very instructive recent experiences in writing a new constitution.
On a trip to Tunisia in March 2012, I observed how relations between Islamic and secularist parties were very civil. Abdullah Gül, who was Turkey’s president at the time, suggested that the Tunisians would be able to write their constitution much more easily than us. Egypt, however, has gone through a very tense period in recent years.
So two opposite results emerged from these two different examples.
In January 2012, Tunisia had held elections for its constituent assembly. Everybody participated and after two years of work, a new constitutional text was submitted to the assembly. It was passed with the votes of 200 members, with just 12 rejections and four abstentions.
The contribution of civil society to this process was enormous. In fact, the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize was given to four Tunisian NGOs for their work.
In Egypt, however, continuous fights erupted at parliament, which the secular opposition eventually left in protest. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood movement and its President Mohamed Morsi, instead of trying to moderate the environment, obtained new powers for itself and tension rose further.
Because the opposition withdrew from parliament, the draft constitution was written only by the Muslim Brotherhood. It was voted on in a referendum on Dec. 26, 2012. The opposition boycotted the vote and turnout was as low as 33 percent. Still, the new charter was accepted by 64 percent of voters. After this, there was more tension, a bloody coup and government-designed courts.
At the level of economic and social development that Turkey has reached, we can say that the era of coups has been closed forever. Turkey’s continued institutional ties with the democratic world are another obstacle to coups being carried out.
However, the risk in Turkey is that the government’s push for a constitution written by one party carries the threat of current polarization turning into a constitutional crisis. This is a political and social risk.
Although unifying values such as the almighty name of Allah, Rumi, Yunus Emre, and Atatürk are referenced in the introduction of the constitution, this is not enough to enable that the charter is a unifying one. In fact, if these mighty concepts are used in political conflicts to exclude others, then tension will only rise further.
A constitution cannot be unifying if its authors are not unified while writing it.
“Under conditions of intense internal disagreements,” U.S. scholar Hannah Lerner has written, “constitutional debates risk turning into a political battleground, emphasizing differences between the various positions rather than bridging them. Foundational disagreements may be inflamed. “
The Egyptian and Tunisian experiences confirm this academic opinion, don’t they?
The risk in campaigning for a unifying constitution and being dragged into sharper polarizations is severe.
Isn’t it true that Turkey is not as homogenous as Tunisia, so we need to be more reconciliatory and develop a more reconciliatory style?
As I wrote recently, the right course of action would have been leave the debate to “brew a little” and calm down, but unfortunately things does not seem to be going in that direction.