Can Egypt be Turkey?

Slogan on sign: If Arabs had an Ataturk, they wouldn't have fallen behind. (Source: Radikal)

Turkey has been bandied about this past week as a model to be emulated by the new nations being born like small supernovas across the Middle East. Turkey was founded by a powerful military that doesn’t flinch from coups, but has also had a functioning and fair, if flawed, electoral democracy since 1950. The country currently appears to have found a place for Islamic piety within its political system without jamming any of its democratic wheels, although the process has been noisy and contentious. Its present elected government, under the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym AKP), consists primarily of politicians who see themselves as pious individuals running a secular system. Some Turks believe that their intentions are secular, some don’t, but the democratic wheels keep turning. The AKP government has managed to make Turkey’s economy the fifteenth biggest in the world in GDP, only lightly sideswiped by the global turndown. There’s another election coming up this June and AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised that if his party doesn’t win, he’ll leave politics. All indicators show that he has nothing to worry about, but the critical element of his promise is the assumption that his party could lose, and then he would leave. That’s the trick of democracy that “eternal leaders” in the Middle East haven’t come to terms with. You lose, you leave. What has to be in place for this simple equation to become as second-nature as it is in Turkey? I happen to be teaching a course on Turkey this semester, so I posed the question to my students: Would the “Turkey Model” work in the Middle East?  Here are some of the variables they came up with… (click here for the rest)

29 Responses to “Can Egypt be Turkey?”

  1. Why should they seek to emulate a transitional democracy when the real thing is out west? I almost think they view the idea as un-Islamic. If they have a problem with secularism, they have a problem with democracy; foisting religion on people is inimical to democracy. No-one ought to consent to this.

    If anybody wants to read a Turkish-American economist’s perspective, see Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy [PDF] If you don’t like maths, read Chapter 2.

  2. So the Turkish population is predominantly Muslim, and its institutions are somewhat democratic. And the principle is that if the incumbent leader loses in the general elections then s/he leaves power. And the ME countries should follow up its path? Is this the whole debate?

    What exactly are the steps that the others should follow if they want this Turkish model? Military coups? Waltz with religious orders? or both? I am sorry but this question does not make much sense to me unless I am missing a pivotal point.

  3. Why should we Turks put up with a transitional democracy if the real thing is readily available for picking somewhere?

  4. Nihat given how what goes on elsewhere is explained here (and vice versa) even if the real thing were available for picking I’d say it’d rot on the way after it is picked.

  5. Sure Bulent. Mine was a rhetorical question of course. These things hold only limited amounts of ‘academic/abstract’ water. In practice, the goose’s foot isn’t necessarily as it is thought to be. Aww! Don’t I love translating stuff!..

  6. Nihat,

    Of course these things hold academic water. You would be amazed how many people would put their hands underneath. Moreover, the subject feeds the symbiotic relationship alive. If we clarify this conceptual confusion, how can we invite certain know-it-all people from specific circles to debate on this topic? it is a typical “al gulum ver gulum” (you scratch my back, I scratch your back) type of deal. Do you not want to milk the East-West / Islam-democracy cow more? This milk never gets sour. You can make a milkshake, pudding, cocoa, hot chocolate, mocha, latte, and etc.

  7. Cingoz, yes, I once thought AI people were pushing it by constantly talking Tweety but that’s more or less a joke. It looks like in other disciplines things like ‘which way Turkey is looking’ is a real topic. (It is NW today, BTW.) Who’s paying for all this nonsense? This cannot be a hobby.

  8. Okie dokie, Cingoz. You too are right. I resent the fact that you excluded making yogurt out of this milk though. Here, nowadays they are pushing –with TV commercials and all– something they call Greek yogurt (thicker and with high protein content, and I believed it). I say what the bleep? Those damn Greeks invented democracy, philosophy, etc. Isn’t that enough? Why can’t they leave dairy products alone? It pisses the hell out of me.

  9. Especially when the word itself is Turkish (yogur + mak)

  10. There is also dolmades yalantzi (which may be a term that applies to some people and/or situations in this context). Makes your blood boil..

  11. I read the whole thing for my sins (it was very difficult, I admit). It’s a vapid and lazy piece full of cliches, falsehoods and inaccuracies:

    1. “although the syncretistic minority Alevi Kurds tended to support the new regime”: the author has probably never heard of Dersim.

    2. The author doesn’t recognize that the problem of women’s representation in politics is not specific to Turkey or Egypt. For instance, the author probably does not know that of 541 members of US Congress only 75 are female (about 13.8 percent), definitely not much better than Turkey.

    3. “Ataturk was an autocratic but beloved dictator”: and pray what’s the evidence for this? Turkish high school history books? A brutal dictator who mercilessly murdered his own people, but still popular?

    4. “who planned to institute elections when he thought the country was ready”: no evidence for this either, none whatsoever.

    5. “The upshot is that the founding myth of a military strongman who brings democracy (think, the Egyptian military at this moment) only works if the strongman has democratic intentions to begin with and is popular or charismatic enough to make the necessary changes in education, lifestyle, economy, and so on, that produce a productive, cohesive nation.”: this sentence betrays a deep-seated hatred of democracy.

    6. “and was pandering to Islam”: 1960 coup had nothing to do Islamism.

    7. “The Turkish army sees itself as the guardian of democracy.”: again the Turkish army may *say* so, but that’s no good reason to believe that it *is* so.

    8. “The army carries out a coup, rewrites the constitution, then steps back and allows elections.”: here you might want to elaborate on what kind of constitution the army writes.

    9. “Much depends on the personality and intention of the strongman.”: deep-seated hatred of democracy again, it depends on the people, not on the strongman, may I remind you.

    10. “Muslim dress, for instance, became national dress.”: the author for some obscure reason seems to be obsessed with lifestyle, clothing etc. What is muslim dress, by the way?

    11. Islam, islam, islam: there seems to be a mental blockage in western analysts of Middle eastern countries that prevents them from being able to say anything about the country without making reference to islam. These same or similar-minded analysts do not seem to analyze Latin American countries by making constant and annoying references to Catholicism and “Catholic culture”. This is a serious handicap.

    12. “Many of these were owned not by the secular Kemalist elites, but by pious businessmen from the provinces. Their success – the press called them the Anatolian Tigers – fed the development of an Islamic bourgeoisie with big houses and couture veiling, pious gated communities and vacation resorts, a whole Islamic lifestyle based on commodities and overlapping closely – and challenging — the tastes of the secular elite. “: this is the funniest one. The author probably never even felt the urge to go look at the list of 100 largest companies in Turkey (hey, what are cliches for, right?) and count how many of them are “anatolian tigers”?

    13. “satisfying economic transformation like Turkey’s that spreads the wealth and encourages entrepreneurship”: all indicators show that income inequality has risen in Turkey during the oh-so-prosperous AKP years, so what kind of “spreading the wealth” are you talking about exactly?

    14. “The nation was brought online slowly, so to speak, and there was time to write the program and tweak it before submitting it to the information shock of a multiparty electoral system. What country in the Middle East has that kind of time – or patience?”: what kind of person would describe a dictatorship as patience?

  12. Why should they seek to emulate a transitional democracy when the real thing is out west?

     
    AFAIC, any form of representitave (non-direct) democracy anywhere is transitional democracy.
     
    [...]
     

    Especially when the word itself is Turkish (yogur + mak)

     
    I hate to be the one to shoot us in the foot/feet; but I don’t think you can use morphology as an assistant to etymology.
     
    What I mean is this:
     
    ‘Yogur’ can be expanded as ‘yog + ur’.
     
    We all know that ‘yog’ is morphed form of ‘yok’.
     
    So, ‘yogur’ would mean –if we went by ‘morphology as an assistant to etymology’– ‘to make {something/someone} none/nil/void’.
     
    How would you fit THAT into what ‘yogurt’ is?

  13. Guys can you take a peek at the comments below the 3quarks article (Jenny’s linked from above). It appears that there’s some belief about us being unable to talk about Albania in Turkey. What might that be about? (The rest of the stuff the guy says might well be based on exaggerated things he heard from Turks, but I couldn’t figure out that Albania bit.)

  14. Nihat,

    Those damn Greeks invented democracy, philosophy, etc.

    Are you sure these “damn Greeks” are (descendants of) those “damn Greeks”?

    Why can’t they leave dairy products alone?

    Could it be because these “damn Greeks” are not (descendants of) those “damn Greeks”?

  15. Yeah, Bulent, that Albania bit gave me a good head scratch, too.
     
    CA, re: Greeks, are you saying they also invented the multifaceted society with elites cooking up sciences an all for mankind’s use for posterity and shepherds shepherding? I’d be darned!
     
    Btw, I checked with Nisanyan; he concurs with Emre’s claim.

  16. If they have a problem with secularism, they have a problem with democracy; foisting religion on people is inimical to democracy
    —————————————————————————
    I agree fully.
    About Turkey’s economically ‘boom’, just one company, a holding (Koç) made it to the Forune 500 on place 360.
    And how will the Middle East look at Turkey when the EU-Turkey relations are really stalled? A Turkey which is unable, due to religious sentiments – fueled by Erdogan – to incorperate and integrate in Europe?
    As Bloomber wrote 2 days ago (and HDN took it partially over: here the original one http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-01/turkey-is-biggest-loser-in-worst-emerging-bond-rout-since-2008-on-mideast.html
    Now you will see that all talk about Turkey can be a guide role, if Turkey doesnt keep its onw house in order.
    Here more from them: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-03-01/turkey-bond-yields-jump-to-highest-in-nine-months-shares-plunge.html
    And if indeed Erdogan crushed the EU talks, not many countries im the ME will think of Turkey as role model.
    Money is talking and governing. Religion can not!

  17. BM,

    I personally was not kidding. I have witnessed this “Al gulum ver gulum” process in action many times before; attended meetings to the best I could; and raised questions whenever I could. These events were organized and funded by prominent “professors” and organizations with some level of sympathy towards certain movements headquartered in the US. The atmosphere has almost been like “here, meet the Islamic circus freak. See, nothing to be fearful of. We are studying him. He is just a human being like us, and talks about democratic norms and principles”. A modern King Kong movie…

    Angry Turk,
    If one cannot find a genuine let alone an interesting topic to study, s/he can always create one. Moreover, after investing 5 to 6 years in a PhD program, and a thesis on an area to milk in the upcoming years, it is difficult to resist that one’s topic may not be that unique or interesting. So s/he has to market the topic under study. After all, academia has become a market.

    I have no idea what the issue with Albania is either. I should give a call to my historian friend of Albanian origin. May be we can squeeze an interesting story out of it too.

  18. Cingoz, if you [guys] are over there and in these fields perhaps you should find ways to expose this process. As a more or less complete outsider I can sense there’s something going on, but I cannot know the details. On the basis of the presentation of facts (ie just factual knowledge, no social science or whatever knowledge) and on basic reasoning/presentation (ie freshman English and PHIL 101 stuff) you can discount and discredit much of the stuff that emanates from the US. Yet, as I repeatedly say, that culture and the academics I am familiar with in other fields are not this ludicrous — far from it. Something is corrupting these particular people — that much I can see. The rest of the story needs to be told by people with inside knowledge.

  19. Hey, it’s a new day, and I remember all of a sudden that jokes and the like don’t always come across as such through emails, blog comments, etc. So, I hereby state that, in my above exchanges –with especially Cingoz and CA, and Greeks in absentia, I was kidding. I could probably find out and explain what triggered me to start kidding, but I don’t take myself that seriously.

  20. Nihat,

    that Albania bit gave me a good head scratch, too.

     
    More than a scratch here, it’s –AFAIK– totally baseless.
     
    I have never even sensed talking about Albania as sensitive issue –ever.
     
    If anything, Albania is quite unfortunate in that it’s always been irrelevant to Turkish public –save a handful hardliner commies.
     
    But, I do love seeing gullible foreigners falling for the first hoax a local pulls on them.
     

    re: Greeks, are you saying they also invented the multifaceted society with elites cooking up sciences an all for mankind’s use for posterity and shepherds shepherding? I’d be darned!

    I have no idea what I am meant to say; other than this: Don’t assume 2 people are the same when there’s long chronological gap between them. Take, for example, today’s Romans (people inhabiting Rome); they are hardly related to the Empire’s Romans.
     

    Btw, I checked with Nisanyan; he concurs with Emre’s claim.

     
    I do appreciate deference to (whom some think of as) authority, but I still prefer reason.
     
    ‘Yogurt’ roughly means ‘to get someone/something to make someone/something none/nil/void’.
     
    As a native speaker, how, in your opinion, does that correlate with that non-Newtonian white stuff?

  21. CA, if that ill-advised guy had to have a point, might that Albania reference be to the Caucasian Albania? Not that I see what the point would then be…
     
    I would have thought etymology had more to do the with tracing a word’s lineage than armchair reasoning. Nisanyan traces the word yogurt back to Kasgari & Uighur Buddhist writings. Good enough for me.

  22. I’m still scratching my head as to how he went from yogur to yok + ur (what “ur” is that, the German “primitive” kind?). That is like saying weirdo derives from “we”, idiot from “id”, etc. Etymology does not work like that.

  23. Nihat,

    if that ill-advised guy had to have a point, might that Albania reference be to the Caucasian Albania? Not that I see what the point would then be…

     
    I am not sure how widely ‘Caucasian Albania‘ is known in TR –I myself heard of it only recently and accidentally while browsing Wikipedia.
     
    Hard as I try, I can not think of any reason why we should remember the place so negatively when we don’t even remember or know of that tiny little land-locked piece of geography.
     

    I would have thought etymology had more to do the with tracing a word’s lineage than armchair reasoning. Nisanyan traces the word yogurt back to Kasgari & Uighur Buddhist writings. Good enough for me.

     
    I fully concur with your attitude towards ‘armchair reasoning’.
     
    Thankfully our self-proclaimed genius plus beligerent-with-little-cause friend Nisanyan does nothing of that sort when he essentially equates the word ‘cok’ (many/much) with ‘yok’ (none/nil/void) in his watertight analysis of ‘yogurt‘.
     
    I am glad that you find all that good enough –I suppose I too should go along with the herd and do the same.
     
    We wouldn’t, after all, want to be seen to be swimming against the stream of stories made up by ‘authorities’; would we?
     
    I say, let them do the thinking and reasoning for all of us, and be grateful that they do.

  24. Hans,

    And how will the Middle East look at Turkey when the EU-Turkey relations are really stalled?

     
    The answer is simple: They will think “if the EU cannot accomodate such mildly Islamic country as TR, what chance do we have?”
     
    IOW, they will not blame TR.
     

    A Turkey which is unable, due to religious sentiments – fueled by Erdogan – to incorperate and integrate in Europe?

     
    This sort of silly rhetoric would pass, say, about 20 years ago; but not anymore. If EU can accept Poland (with its large size and emphasis on Christianity) or Bulgaria with its totally corrupt governance, but keep putting on road-blocks against TR, it kinda gets obvious that EU’s focus isn’t on ‘religious sentiments’ or good governance.
     

    As Bloomber wrote 2 days ago (and HDN took it partially over: here the original one

     
    What’s the big deal. Hot money comes and goes. Same thing happens/happened to other countries and still do.
     
    Call it a ‘correction’ and move on. I did. And, profited handsomely too.
     

    And if indeed Erdogan crushed the EU talks, not many countries im the ME will think of Turkey as role model.

     
    Thank you for your obsession <G> with Turkey being a role model in ME; but I hardly think it is important at all.
     
    We have little interest in becoming a ‘role model’ when it means becoming a vassal.
     

    Money is talking and governing. Religion can not!

     
    Tell that to the EU people.

  25. “equates the word ‘cok’ (many/much) with ‘yok’ (none/nil/void)”
     
    I fail to see where this is done. Not that I think it matters..

  26. I fail to see where this is done.

    .
    Click on the word ‘yogurt’ in my prev post.
    .

    Not that I think it matters..

    .
    This is the most characteristic aspect of etymology.

  27. CA: I was not aware that you are so ill-travelled and ill-informed about Europe and in particular Poland.
    About Turkey: lets wait and see.
    As you understand, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and AKP are all nice and cozy with each other
    I can run, you cann’t!

  28. Hans,
     
    Here is a chart of church attendances for European countries.
     
    It is an inverse chart –meaning, the smallest bar represents the most-frequent church-goer country.
     
    There, you’ll see that Poland ranks 3rd after Cyprus and Greece –both of which are irrelevant, too small.
     

    CA: I was not aware that you are so ill-travelled and ill-informed about Europe and in particular Poland.

     
    You know what, the feeling couldn’t be more mutual ;)
     

    About Turkey: lets wait and see.

     
    Sure.
     

    As you understand, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and AKP are all nice and cozy with each other

     
    Israel was even cosier with Mubarak
     
    Actually, IL is infinitely more comfortable with dictators around it than democracies.
     
    What does that tell you?
     

    I can run, you cann’t!

     
    I don’t need to run.

  29. Aaah BM,

    Unfortunately, social sciences do not work in the way natural sciences do. The principle of Freedom of expression on nonsense applies extensively only to social sciences. Everyone has something to say on social phenomena. After all, we are social/political animals, and that somehow qualifies us to BS on any social/political topic. That is the wild card. Getting invited to university events is more of a political process, however. Believe me, ergenekoncu/statukocu vs. degisimci/demokrat debate has already been carried to academia. Remember the controversy at Boston University? Titles, principles, ethics, lectures on academic code of conduct, threats, name calling (in short, Cingene kavgasi) among the widely esteemed academics at the time? That is very common now, and no one can ask why the person who lectured on underdevelopment in the Middle East yesterday is lecturing on the Zapatilla movement in Mexico today. Now we have a group of young “ermis” people who act like drunk people at Karaoke bars. They love the microphone, and to sing to a foreign audience. They may be bad singers but they sing exactly what others want to hear. And it goes on and on and on…

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