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July 24, 2007



The AKP movement is a very interesting phenomenon that I'm not sure anyone understands very well, even in Turkey. Not least interesting is its implementation of aggressively free market, pro-business economic policies. These have spurred old and new business classes of Anatolia, who tend to have traditional, religiously oriented political and social views. In AKP's view, economic freedom promotes political freedom. I am not aware that Arab Islamist parties like Hamas or the Jordanian Brotherhood have economic agendas that go beyond unrealistic interest-free "Islamic" economics.

How much of AKP's example is specific to Turkey? Turks are the first to insist that they are not a model for Arabs. Still, some of the divisions that Turkey is after a century starting to overcome can be traced back the Ottoman Empire and its dismemberment. Turkey shares this history with much of the Arab world, so perhaps there are lessons Hamas and other can learn.

Abu Tabakh

It’s been clear for a while that the AKP phenomenon in Turkey fascinates many in the Arab world. When I was in Saudi Arabia in April/May, everyone wanted to know what was going to happen in Turkey AND, importantly, how the United States and the EU would respond to a coup. My Saudi interlocutors clearly saw Turkey as a test case for the way in which the West deals with Islamist political power.

What’s more interesting, however, is the possibility that AKP’s victory represents the beginning of post-Islamist politics in Turkey. In the run-up to the election Erdogan replaced a large number of parliamentarians closely associated with an Islamist agenda (such as it is) with 30 and 40-something liberals who previously had little to do with the Islamists, but have thrown their lot in with AKP because they want to live in a democracy. Of course, Erdogan’s move could be seen as a tactical ploy to keep the the General Staff at bay, but with a 13 point improvement over his 2002 returns, Erdogan likes the makeup of his parliamentary delegation and would be reluctant to push an agenda many new and dynamic members would likely oppose. Also, at the most basic level, AKP wants to get into the EU because it wants to forge a truly secular order in contrast to the present Jacobin laicisme (laik) system. In other words, they want to be able to pray however they would like without the state being involved. The most oft-cited example of this among AKP people is the United States. In the context of Turkish politics, this is revolutionary, but it is a far cry from an Islamist agenda.

Great Success!

Turkey's elections are like Iran's - it doesn't matter who wins because real power lies elsewhere; in Turkey's case with the military and secular elite.

Anyway, why do Arabs need to look to Turkey to see a Muslim democracy in action, when there's an Arab state which has regular elections and has an elected executive: Iraq. Its even got an Islamist government. Why are democrats so shy in heralding its successes?


@Great Success

"Turkey's elections are like Iran's - it doesn't matter who wins because real power lies elsewhere..."

Not true - in fact, what we have seen through these elections is that their influence seems to finally be waning:

Yiorghos Leventis writes here:
Abdullah Gul, who defied the clear warnings of the Turkish military establishment by reaffirming his decision to run for president, declared: “I cannot be expected to ignore the will of the people … The will of the nation is reflected in the election ballots.” This prompted the e-warning of coup d'etat, that caused so much stir. Yet, the Turkish military has yet to follow through and probably won't do so.

The EU did absolutely the right thing by supporting Erdogan and encouraging him to keep walking the road towards further reform - they have robbed the military of one of their rimary excuses for acting against the AKP. After all, if the secular EU support the AKP so forcefully, can they really justify removing them on the same grounds, suffering isolation and removing any prospect of EU accession as a result?

As for the case that Arabs should look to Iraq for a functioning democracy - well, Iraq has an elected Islamist government, so far so good. But even admitting that, it is blatantly obvious that the country is going up in smoke. Kind of reduces it's potency as a good example for anything, don't you think?


AKP are not Islamists, they are just a political party that does not make it a point to insult practicing Muslims (like CHP), or Kurds, Albanians, Bosnians (like the ultra-nationalists). Also, they've worked hard trying to keep the US happy. Turkish Islamists, the Felicity Party got like 1-2%. While the AKP is a welcome sign for Turkey (less corrupt, less insulting to their population), it is not a sign of rising Islamist popularity.

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