The so-called ‘Turkish model’
Though countries of the so-called “Arab Spring” are reluctant to embrace it, particularly the secular aspect of it, for some ambiguous reason people love talking about Turkey as a model for its Muslim and Arab neighborhood. Is the so-called Turkish model, the “secular democracy,” being gradually replaced in Ankara with a post-modern model of the Caliphate confederation utopia of Sultan Abdülhamid, or the latter itself?
There is some degree of confusion in this discussion, as most of the participants in this “Turkish model for Arab Spring discussion” are totally unaware – if not ignorant altogether – of what indeed they have been debating. First of all, each and every society has its own developmental pattern socially, culturally, historically and even as regards the perception of religion despite the fact that many of them subscribe to the same religion or religious philosophy.
What may appear a perfect and just fit for one society might be too loose or tight for another almost identical society. This was one reason that throughout the past nine years this writer, for example, has been so adamantly opposed to claims Turkey under the current political Islamist governance would become a second Iran, or a second Malaysia or second whatever. Turkey shall always be a Turkey, yes, with some deviances reflecting the changed political climate. That is all.
The fundamental difference between the Turkish and the neighboring Muslim societies is not the language or the script. Even though the current Islamist political elite of the country might hate to concede it, the republican revolution of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk succeeded in transforming Turkish society from being subjects of a divine sultan into individuals, with individual preferences in all walks of life and thus, agendas of their own. That is, the fundamental difference between Turks of the Turkish Republic and the Arabs of the neighboring region is that they have nothing in common beyond subscribing to some nuances to the same holy book and living under the same sun. Over the past nine years Turks have become individuals, while Arabs culturally remain a tribal society as they have always been, since and before the dawn of Islam.
Now, if anyone hopes to believe a handful of individuals in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and not the tribal network would decide the future of the huge Arab country, I would only say I wish it would be the case. If Egypt and other countries of the region, particularly neighboring Syria, could have societies composed of individuals, rather than ethnic, religious or whatever clans, indeed there might be a spring, a dawn heralding the start of a new and democratic era in the Middle East. Unfortunately, that is not the case. And it will not be the case unless Arab societies start taking action to liberate themselves on an individual basis from the chains of tribalism.
For Turkey, breaking those chains and becoming individuals has been rather costly. Indeed, after 87 years or so there is still some residual tribalism, particularly in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country. This is due to the extravagant political concessions of conservative governments who preferred to buy votes from the feudal sheikhs rather than try to answer the demands of the individuals.
And, despite all those great successes of the Republic, sometimes an oppressive tyranny may rear its head from the shadows of the past. That head of the oppressive tyrant can be seen in the detention in one week of some 46 journalists and the subsequent court arrest of 36.
In the end, democracy is the regime where the minority is not just protected but encouraged to make demands on the majority.