Turkey’s shift in strategy – in the international arena – has brought into question the role of the so-called “Turkish Model” in the ‘New’ Middle East. A nascent model, claiming leadership for the post-Arab Spring “democracies” has faced many challenges following the turbulent events soon after the AKP took power. A recent turn of events however, which is not to be downplayed were the events which shook cities across Turkey – representing a growing trend of opposition to the AKP. The main contentions of the protestors revolved around Erdogan’s increasingly ‘authoritarian’ policies and what they perceived to be creeping “Islamization” vis-à-vis the AKP’s “conservative agenda”. And while the protests are in no way similar in magnitude to those which shook (and continue to shake) Egypt, Syria, Libya and Turkey, they have nonetheless left both Erdogan’s regime and the internationally community wary of a seemingly unclear future after having experienced a decade of relative calm and popularity. What makes these protests all the more significant is that they pose a challenge to two-key pillars of Erdogan and the AKP’s success; its economic “miracle” and its regional “soft power”.
The Function of the “Turkish Model”
The Bush Administration soon came to understand that stability in the Middle East i.e. the continual provision of internal and external security would not be achieved from the presence of long-standing Authoritarian regimes which only exacerbated existing antagonisms in the Arab-Muslim world. Political colonialism and the native-elites who protected the colonial status-quo needed an extensive make-over. Accordingly, the Greater Middle East Initiative, later to be known as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative began to seek partnerships in the Middle East which would help promote “human rights” and “democracy” i.e. perpetuate a neo-liberal discourse. However, in order to avoid another scenario in which an alien discourse created a mass/elite bifurcation (leading the emergence of Authoritarian regimes) the U.S and its European allies sought to “domesticate” neo-liberalism as to make it in harmony with the religious and cultural sensitivities of the populations in the Arab-Muslim world. Surely enough, the so-called “Turkish Model” served as an optimal example of such for it represented a “conservative” and domesticated Secular model cloaked in a semi-Islamic rhetoric. Paul Wolfowitiz, a neo-conservative ideologue explain;
To win the war against terrorism, and, in so doing, to shape a more peaceful world, we must reach out to the hundreds of millions of moderate and tolerant people in the Muslim world. We must speak to those people around the world who aspire to enjoy the blessings of freedom and free enterprise. Turkey offers a compelling demonstration that these values are compatible with modern society — that religious beliefs need not be sacrificed to build modern democratic institutions.
Similar statements were made by the former secretary of defense Hilary Clinton and the President of the United States Barak Obama. This enthusiasm, as well as the vision was also expressed by Erdogan who explained;
Turkey in its region and especially in the Middle East will be a guide in overcoming instability, a driving force for economic development, and a reliable partner in ensuring security…. I do not claim, of course, that Turkey’s experience is a model that can be implemented identically in all other Muslim societies. However, the Turkish experience does have a substance which can serve as a source of inspiration for other Muslim societies, other Muslim peoples.
In a extensive study funded by the Department of Defense and the U.S military the RAND think-tank outlined the strategic importance of the Turkish Model, warning
Furthermore, Turkey’s geopolitical importance made it an all the more suitable ally; it lay between Europe (the Balkan and Eastern Europe) and the Middle East and thus it would serve as both an ideological and geographic bridge between the “backwards” Middle East and the “civilized” West.
How Sustainable is the “Turkish Model”?
The ideological foundations of the “Turkish Model” however remain largely unknown and ambiguous to the Muslim world – as a matter of fact the “Islamic” credentials and ideology of the “Turkish Model” has not been articulated nor elucidated. And thus it fails to provide the Muslim world with the visionary leadership needed in post-Arab Spring as it provides neither a coherent ideological framework and the Islamic credentials needed to find legitimacy with the Muslim populations.
Furthermore, the popularity of the Erdogan is not to be misunderstood as popularity of the ambivalent “Turkish Model” in other words the popularity of Turkey’s leadership is not based on the “Islamic” credentials of the regime nor its ideology but rather the political rhetoric and charisma of the iconic Recep Tayyib Erdogan. Charismatic leadership, largely based on rhetoric and publicity stunts serves as an un-sustainable and weak basis for popularity. The growing gap between rhetoric and policy however is likely to undermine Erdogan’s popularity. Despite his anti-Assad rhetoric, for example, Erdogan was left unable to respond to an attack on Turkish border town of Reyhanli killing at least 40 people , Syrian intelligence was blamed for the attack and Davutoglu promised that “action would be taken” however the promises went unfulfilled. Erdogan’s credibility was further undermined when his publicity stunt involving a small confrontation with Shimon Peres at the Davos Panel at the World Economic Forum. The question emerges, what happens to the “Turkish Model” after Erdogan?
An economic “miracle” in Turkey has been put into question following the recent protests which shook Turkey, with a large body of the protestors belonging to workers unions who were discontent with Erdogan’s aggressive capitalism and economic liberalization. An unpopular policy which resonates across the Muslim world, most evidently in Egypt and Jordan. An indicator of neo-liberalism’s success in perpetuating economic disparities is the rapidly increasing inflation rates which fluctuate between 4% – 10% with its external dept mounting to $336,900,000.
The economic landscape in Turkey makes the model difficult to ‘export’ considering its “unique economic assets” which include (1) its strategic position between Europe and Central Asia (2) its strong manufacturing basis, and (3) a pre-existing stable economic framework.
A post-Arab Spring will require transformative and visionary leadership which transcends the scope of rhetoric and charisma, and most certainly, politico-economic dependency. A failure of neo-liberal economics across the Arab-Muslim world and a growing dismay with political passivity makes the future of the “Turkish Model” bleak especially when the pillars for its self-sustainability and continuity have yet to be clearly articulated. This leaves one asking what form of policies the U.S will pursue after having devastatingly failed in employing its ‘hard power’ to contain “extremism” and have now witnessed the downfall of the “Moderate Islamist” in Egypt – whom they saw as actors within the GMEI and channels for the proliferation of “soft-power”. The “Turkish Model” and its bleak future as a “Model” is thus representative of a staggering an American empire whose pillars are crumbling – one of the last of which is the “Turkish Model”.