The real big story Turkey tells

A week has passed since the “historic” general elections in Turkey. However, discussions over how the Justice and development Party (AKP) achieved a landslide political victory are gradually heating up both inside and outside Turkey. And it doesn”t look like that will end soon. The Turks, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Muslims and the Jewish world including Israel are confused. Where will Turkey head next? What will be the reverberations of the election results beyond Turkey? The geopolitical significance of Turkey as well as political developments in the country will to some degree create international ideological resonances. In his article published in the Gulf Times, a Jordanian commentator, Usama Sherif warns the Arab World quite interestingly:

Turkey”s election choice on July 22 does not mark a final disengagement with secularism as some enthusiastic Islamists in the Arab world believe. The victory of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose Islamic roots were too obvious for the country”s secular establishment to ignore, opens a new chapter in Turkey”s long search to redefine its identity in the 21st century world. That transition may have led to the birth of a hybrid political as well as socio-cultural animal: secular Islamism.”

A rightist Israeli political analyst and Turkey specialist Barry Rubin points his finger at the “fear of Islam” in his evaluation of the Turkish elections.

Israeli commentators who are on the same wavelength as extremist American neocons see the protection of “secularism” as the guarantee of Turkish-Israeli relations. They advocate the use of the bayonet over Turkish democracy if necessary to maintain the secularism of the Republic under the guardianship of the Turkish Armed Forces.

Rubin”s assessment

The following lines by Rubin were published in the Jerusalem Post:

“The AKP”s resounding victory means that the Turkish republic originally shaped as a secular state by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s is dead. However, this does not necessarily mean that Turkey will become an Islamic, must less an Islamist, country.

There are two sets of questions that must now be answered. First, what does the AKP want? Is it a conservative party of good government that seeks equality for Islam in the public sphere, as its leaders usually suggest, or is it an Islamist wolf in moderate sheep”s clothing, as its enemies fear?

These alternatives are not necessarily contradictory. The AKP contains people with both views. Moreover, it might be that the party will push as far as it can until it is stopped by the fear of a military coup or a rejection of its program by the voters.

That leads to the second question: how far can the AKP go in changing Turkish society?

The problem is that unless there is a viable opposition, the only check on the AKP will be its own conscience and a crackdown by the still secular-oriented armed forces.”

Sherif”s assessment

However, Sherif of Jordan, next-door neighbor to Israel, pens the following perspective analysis, although unlike Rubin he is not a specialist on Turkey:”Thus it is simplistic, and factually wrong, to make comparisons between, or parallels with, Turkey”s strong election mandate for the AKP on the one hand, and the rising influence of political Islam in the Arab world and elsewhere on the other. The AKP”s victory at the ballot boxes, the second since the 2004 elections first brought it to power, was a triumph for the country”s democratic principles and institutions before anything else. But essentially it gave the last word on the future of Turkey to the Turkish electorate and not the military establishment.

If the AKP is intrinsically an Islamist party then it is fair to say that we, in the Arab world, have nothing that comes even close to its founding principles, populist objectives and seemingly laissez-faire politics. Not only is it functioning in an entirely different domestic environment than, say, that of Jordan, Egypt, Algeria or Tunisia, but it also departs completely from the agendas of the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and other Islamist political movements across the Arab world and beyond.”

The astounding election results of Turkey were a good lesson to some American administrators who failed to grasp the situation in Turkey after the e-memorandum issued on April 27 and called it a tremendous “shame for democrary.” The Dan Fried-Matt Bryza duo in the U.S. State Department had exhibited an “unprincipled attitude” like “neutrality” amid democracy-military intervention.

Which of the Washington-based think tanks had a reliable Turkey department came to light with the election results.

The Washington Institute and the Hudson Institute flunk, while the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) passed the exam. Some Turks cannot grasp the following appropriate understanding of this Arab commentator: “The AKP”s leader and Turkey”s charismatic Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to respect the country”s secular foundations. During the previous government he made sure that his policies did not challenge the tenets of Turkey”s secularism. His policies of free market economic reforms, closer relations with Europe, including his genuine campaign for Turkey”s EU membership, maintaining contacts with Israel and tolerant views on globalization, put him more in the league of Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy than in that of conservative leaders of most Islamist parties.”

In what may be Turkey”s most important political event since the founding of the Republic in the 1920s, how the AKP in particular and the country in general will reconcile Islam and secularism is the real big story.

Keep your fingers crossed and follow the real big story that is Turkey”s political future…