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January 30, 2012, Monday

Turkey, rising Middle Eastern democracies and the West

Rick Perry was one of the American GOP presidential contenders. In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News he exposed the level of his ignorance of world affairs that is unacceptable in the league he plays in.

 Is it a coincidence that international affairs, especially that of the Middle East, are much more complex than what the American Republicans (especially the neo-cons) believe they are?

Following a loaded question that Baier delivered holding the incumbent Turkish government of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responsible for “… the increase in the murder rate of women by 1,400 percent, decline of press freedom to the level of Russia, close relations with Hamas, and Turkey’s military threat leveled at both Israel and Cyprus.” Mr. Baier went on to ask whether an “Islamist-oriented party” like the AKP [Justice and Development Party] “... still belongs in NATO?” Perry responded: “Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists. . .” We know the dictum that “apprentice barbers learn shaving on the face of others,” but Mr. Perry’s knowledge of world affairs seems to be far below than that of an apprentice barber.

No doubt Mr. Erdoğan’s party came to power as part of an opposition political movement composed of conservative and religious peripheral masses (the majority) that has been kept subjugated by a statist-military Jacobin ruling elite that has stifled democracy and economic growth for decades. The new middle class supported by an assortment of urban Liberals that brought the AKP to power owed little to the state and the old ruling elite. As this coalition became entrenched in politics the nature of public policy and debate changed. A more diversified political and diplomatic agenda began to shape Turkey’s public life.

Turkey mediated between Iran and the rest of the world. When it became obvious that Iran was dragging its feet Turkey consented to the stationing of an advanced radar system on its territory to track missiles from Iran. After failing to reconcile Israel and Syria, Turkey tried to protect Syria from the wrath of non-regional powers. But after realizing that the dictatorial nature of the Syrian administration does not allow any change in this country’s internal and external politics, Turkey decided to invest in the future of Syria. In line with the trend ushered in by the Arab Spring she began to support (and host) the Syrian opposition. Turkey also took part in the joint NATO operations against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. Despite its conservative cultural background the AKP single-handedly amended Turkey’s constitution to push back the bureaucratic tutelary system. These amendments expanded rights for women, ethnic minorities and working populations. Are these enough? Not at all. For Turkey is rapidly advancing. The rate of economic growth (that tripled in the past 10 years), social diversity, expanding civil society, urbanization (85 percent of the population living in cities) and effects of globalization rendered Turkey into a complex society with many demands to be met simultaneously. Its outward expansion allowed Turkey to be more influential in its near abroad. This has increased its versatility and allowed it to forge new alliances with countries that were out of question only a decade ago.

All of these changes have made Turkey a more volatile country for friends and foes. The US on and off became a rival or a close ally for Turks just as the opposite is true. These fluctuations sometimes please both sides or infuriate them in turns.

While the US government will face a more complex country to deal with in the case of Turkey so will it in other parts of the Middle East when the Spring turns into Summer and democracy comes to fruition. Relations with democratizing Muslim countries will be more stable and more predictable, but it will be much harder and more intricate because one-man administrations are over.

The West, especially the American political class, has to free them from the fear of Islam. As democracy and political diversity sets in together with increasing economic wealth, Islam will take its rightful place as a belief system rather than a political ideology. In fact, the politicization of Islam and its role in the making of a political opposition against a cruel and unpopular secular Jacobinism is coming to an end. Politics as a search for justice, democracy and the rule of law is rapidly becoming a secular activity. This process emancipates religion from the throngs of politics as a divisive, contentious competition for the management of daily life.

No doubt there will be a similar trend concerning “new and upcoming Middle Eastern democracies.” They will all be influenced by Islamic movements that were the only opposition organizations at times when society was kept under leash by secular autocrats and Jacobin pro-American generals. Hence, we must all get ready to deal with such “Islamist-oriented” administrations in the first decade of Middle Eastern democracy.

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