Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has said that Turkey's democratic reforms give the entire Muslim world hope for the future of the Arab Spring.
Ibrahim discussed on Thursday the overlapping roles of Islam and democracy in the reforms sweeping North Africa and the Middle East at this month's Alliance of Civilizations meeting in İstanbul. “The Muslim masses want leadership,” Ibrahim said. “The Muslim world needs an effective voice to represent the call for freedom and justice.” Turkey's role and influence in the Arab Spring is “critical,” Ibrahim stressed, adding that both the Western and Muslim world are looking to Turkey and Indonesia, another flourishing Muslim democracy, at a time of great political change.
The developments in Turkey, Indonesia and in the Arab Spring countries offer the Muslim world a fresh voice, Ibrahim said.
The Malaysian politician described the excitement that bubbled among the masses and the complete silence of the leaders of the repressive regimes of countries that witnessed the Arab Spring uprisings. “This is why I was excited when the prime minister came out and presented the issue of human rights, the issue of freedom for all and the issue of dignity for all men and women as a universal construct, not just a Turkish or Western construct,” he said. “It was timely that the prime minister took a position that no leader can continue without representing the sentiments and aspirations of the people.” “I remain optimistic about the Arab Spring and the future of the Muslim world. We see how Turkey has navigated [successful democratization efforts and reforms],” said Ibrahim of the Muslim world’s generally positive view of Turkey. “Keep up the good work,” he encouraged.
Democracy is often heralded as an ideal that belongs to the West, but Ibrahim disagreed.
“Democracy is not just a Western construct,” Ibrahim said. “Do you realize that Indonesia, the largest Muslim democracy in the world, had free, democratic elections in 1955?”
Ibrahim said he used to joke with former US Vice President Al Gore that Indonesia’s elections in 1955 were far more democratic than Florida’s in 2000. “Why do you think Muslim countries have risen up against exploitation, imperialism and colonization? Because they honor freedom,” he told the crowd gathered at the prime minister’s office in Dolmabahçe Palace.
“The Arab Spring will not be successful if it follows a Western model,” Ibrahim emphasized. And on the question of what sort of government should be established in the place of the toppled regimes, Ibrahim said simply, “Let the Arabs decide.”
But there are universal principles, Ibrahim said, that will not be compromised. “The freedom of expression, the freedom of speech and the battle against corruption and greed … these values we will not compromise,” he said.
Contrasting Turkey, Malaysia’s ‘democracies’
“Turkey is a democracy. Malaysia is not,” Ibrahim said matter-of-factly. Ibrahim argued it is wrong to call Malaysia a democracy. “There is not one free media outlet in Malaysia,” he said.
On Thursday morning, Ibrahim said he read on the front page of a Turkish newspaper a stringent criticism of the prime minister’s most recent comments. “This is what a democracy is all about -- the right to disagree,” he said.
“I often joke that in Malaysia we have freedom of speech, but not after speech,” said Ibrahim, who was fired from his position as deputy prime minister and arrested after speaking out against the Malaysian prime minister.