Monday, February 14, 2011

Test Driving the "Turkish Model"

There's been a lot written in recent days about how the Turkish experience might serve as a model for post-Mubarak Egypt (here's just one sample). Omer Taspinar and Steven Cook both do a good job at breaking this suggestion down and looking at some of the structural differences between Turkey and Egypt, as well as some of the areas where Turkey's experience might serve as an inspiration for Egypt. And this Foreign Policy piece, by Nuh Yilmaz and Burhanettin Duran, asks the important question of just which Turkish model Egypt could end up following: "The old authoritarian Turkey under military oversight or the new democratic Turkey with its dignified foreign policy?"

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 Improving a troubled educational system and its outdated, nationalistic curriculum, decentralizing the Ankara-dominated government and finding a way past the country's deep political and social divisions are some of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)


Anonymous said...

A great blog. I hope you continue to cover Turkey with such insight, even though you have apparently left these borders...

Re: "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..."

After a long absence from my own blog, I am now wading back into the mire because of this very issue. i.e. the AKP government's -- particularly PM Erdoğan's -- 'disturbing tendencies', even though I have been a long-standing supporter of their (erstwhile?) EU- inspired democratic reforms. Or rather,in short, their now apparent & increasing authoritarianism.

My latest post on a 22-year-old student blogger facing a 2 year jail term for 'insulting' Erdoğan on his own blog, can be found at:

Hugh Pope said...

This post is spot on the money (as usual) in drawing attention to the missing EU element.

It is not always appreciated by the Middle Eastern street – or by Turkish popular opinion either – how much Turkey’s EU convergence process has made possible the advances that made Turkey the regional leader in past 10 years.
For instance, three quarters of foreign investment in Turkey comes from EU states (less than a tenth of such investment comes from the Middle East), four million Turks live or work in Europe (compared to 110,00 Turks in the Middle East), and half of Turkey’s exports go to the EU market (compared to one quarter going to the Middle East).

I think that if Turkey lost the EU accession process by some accident, it would also lose the underlying source of much of its regional charisma. All the more reason for Turkey to brush aside any hostility of the current EU political leaderships and keep working hard on keeping the process going -- and doing something daring on Cyprus.

Meanwhile, let's not be too hard on the old Anadol! (Which, to give the US its due, has a Ford engine under the bonnet). Production may have stopped in 1991, but, especially in its pickup version, this rough and ready model is still thriving and surviving on the mountain roads of rural Turkey...

Yigal Schleifer said...

Jim, Thank you for your comment. Will take a look at your blog and the case of the blogger. Hugh - I have nothing but respect for the old Anadol!