A lot of this "Turkey as a model" talk has struck me as somewhat shallow, failing especially to take a look at how Turkey got to where it is today, as if the Turkish miracle was immaculately conceived. None of the newspaper pieces I read on the subject, for example, mentioned Turkey's European Union bid and how so much of the country's successful political reforms (such as reducing the military's hold on the political process) have come as a result of Ankara's engagement with the EU. If we look under the hood, the Turkish model has some significant parts that were made in Europe, which poses interesting questions about how to export it.
But what I've found especially problematic about much of the "Turkey as a model" talk is that it has a premature, "mission accomplished" quality to it. Although Turkey has made historic and laudable strides on the reform front in recent years, it remains a work in progress, with the country still facing huge challenges. A long-promised civilian constitution still needs to drafted and passed (no small task). The Kurdish issue continues to loom dangerously large, as do the stalled initiatives regarding Cyprus and Armenia. Improving a troubled educational system and its outdated, nationalistic curriculum, decentralizing the Ankara-dominated government and finding a way past the country's deep political and social divisions are some of the other significant and thorny items on Turkey's reform to-do list. Failure on any of these issues could pose a serious setback for Turkey's ongoing democratization efforts.
Egypt's and the wider Middle East's Generation Facebook, meanwhile, might also want to take a look at Ankara's recent record on new media and freedom of expression issues. Although certainly not in the same league as some of its neighbors when it comes to controlling and patrolling the internet, Turkey has shown some disturbing tendencies in recent times (there was even at one point a veiled threat to shut down access to Facebook), last year joining Russia and Belarus as countries "under surveillance" by Reporters Without Borders. You can read more about Turkey's problematic internet laws in previous posts here. Likewise, lawsuits by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other government officials against protesters and critical journalists and politicians and the increasingly heavy hand being used by Turkey's state television watchdog have raised some important red flags on the freedom of expression front.
Turkey can certainly serve as a kind of inspiration for the Middle East, but wise shoppers may want to wait for next year's improved model before they commit.
(photo: A 1974 Anadol, the first Turkish mass-produced car. Via Wikimedia Commons)