A Turkish model for Arab politics?

A Turkish model for Arab politics?

Many are watching closely legal developments in Turkey.  A government prosecutor is seeking to ban for five  years more than 70 members of the Justice & Development (AK) Party. The charge: contradicting the tenets of secularism guaranteed in Turkey”s constitution.

The outcome of this case, according to a panel held last week at the Century Foundation, could have repercussions for similar parties in Arab countries. 

The Constitutional Court for Islamist Activities is currently considering the case against the ruling party, one often seen as a model of a political party bridging secular politics with Islamic principles.  The case has hurt the Turkish economy.

The AK Party won re-election last July, and claims the case is politically motivated.  It was launched in late March after parliament passed a constitutional amendment seeking to reverse the ban on university students wearing the hijab, the Muslim headscarf.

If successful, the case could have a momentous impact on Turkish politics. It would ban Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former AK Party-member President Abdullah Gül from running with the AK party.  They may have to run as independents or in a different party, according to Erdoğan. 

Despite important differences between Turkey and Arab states, political activists in parties with a Muslim orientation are also deeply concerned.  Abderazzak Makri, a member of the Movement for the Society of Peace in Algeria, said that this closure would send a negative message to the Arab world.  It would benefit extremists who work outside political systems.

The panelists focused on the question of what they can learn from the AK party.

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, of Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood, values the AK”s agreement to play by the political rules of the game.  He pointed out that they adapted their own notion of secularism, one at odds with Kemal”s, the founder of modern Turkey.

Mohamed Yatim, the Deputy Secretary General of the Party of Justice and Development in Morocco, is a party very similar to the AK party. As one of the most powerful parties in Morocco, it is seeking reform.  It is advocating for democratization since the electoral system is flawed.

Yatim saw such parties as joining religious values with “modern” politics.  They see such Islamic parties as similar to Christian Democratic bodies in Europe – they are committed to the national political systems, and retain their religious beliefs.

Makri told the audience his party advocates for liberalism.  The Movement for the Society of Peace in Algeria”s platform also includes combating electoral fraud and corruption.  He also claimed that more than 25% of their members are women. Makri, and the speaker from Egypt”s Muslim Brotherhood, see their parties as more democratic than the systems they operate in, making for a promising potential.

Abdulhamit Bilici, a Turkish journalist and editor of the English language daily, Today”s Zaman, warned against seeing the AK party as a “model,” but rather an inspiration.  After all, Turkish society is different.  Secularism is a constitutional ideal. In many Arab states, Islamic law is a core basis in their constitutions. 

Western states, including the United States and the European Union, are showing concern in the AK party”s fate.  The EU is very critical of the case.  It suggested this case could threaten Turkey”s accession to the regional group.  It would be seen by many as an anti-democratic measure.

The Century Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that conducts public policy research and analyses of economic, social, and foreign policy issues, including inequality, retirement security, election reform, media studies, homeland security, and international affairs.