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Turkey: a success story of tripartite coexistence 4 mai 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Nation (Thailand) May 4, 2012, p. 13A                                      Türkçe

Imtiyaz Yusuf *

It is generally thought that Islam, secularism and democracy are incompatible. Such a biased view is based on hearsay rather than study of political history in the Muslim world. Muslim societies have been engaging in the debate about the relationship between politics and religion since their early history.

The history of Turkey since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 is a good illustration of a Muslim country grappling with such issues as republicanism, the power of the military, secularism and the role of religion in socio-political space. The current Turkish political scenario where an Islamist party leads the government in a secular state presents a good example for other Muslim countries.

Today, Turkey is a secular state with no Islamic reference. It offers an open political space that allows for all political ideologies to compete freely. The present three-term government led by Islam-based Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – has an impressive economic, political and foreign policy performance and illustrates that religion is not opposed to secularism nor development. Today, Turkey has an 8.5 per cent growth rate with $US10,500 GDP per capita and is the 16th largest liberal economy in the world.

The AKP government has pursued the goals of becoming an EU member, upholding the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and a foreign policy based on the principle of equality. Some critics have labelled this political situation as « neo-Ottomanism » under the rule of « Sultan Erdogan ». However, this is unfair, as it does not recognise the operative political philosophy of modern Turkey.

All countries are proud of their historical high points, and this should not be seen as a threat. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan – a republican – would not have been elected repeatedly if he wanted to be a Turkish sultan or to govern like one. Modern Turkey’s elections are not contested on the issue of a return to Ottomanism, but on republicanism.

The Middle East countries look upon Turkey, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, as democratic models worthy of emulation. But each Arab country will take its own path to republicanism, suitable to its history and socio-political makeup. For example, Saudi Arabia will have to deal with matters such as its Wahhabite political theology and its various interpretations; the political status of its monarchy and the divergence in thinking between the younger and older generations. The Arab Spring countries, as seen from the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, will opt for a state model based on an Arab Muslim identity, with layers of political and social pluralism.

Today, Turkey is a secular state with no Islamic reference. It offers an open political space that allows for all political ideologies to compete freely. The AKP government has pursued the goals of becoming an EU member, upholding the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and equality.

These developments demonstrate that there cannot be one hegemonic model of secularism. Turkey’s political and economic success has been an inspiration for the Arabs, who earlier had a deep disdain for the Turks, which some commentators thought would never go away. Now the current Arab democratic movements look upon Turkey as an inspirational model, and today the Arabs visit Turkey in large numbers.

Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Southeast Asia go back to the 16th century relations between the Ottomans and the kingdom of Aceh, or the days of the pepper trade. In 1873, Aceh sought military help from the Ottomans when it was attacked by the Dutch.

Thailand and Turkey have established ties for the last 54 years; their current trading volume is at $1.7 billon; 40,000 Turkish tourists visited Thailand in 2011; there is also high-level contact between the educational institutions of both countries, and there is a talk of starting free trade negotiations between the two. Turkey is now also expanding its diplomatic relations to South American and African countries.

This expansion of Turkey’s international relations is the result of its current « Zero-Problems Foreign Policy » initiated by its brilliant academic turned foreign minister Dr Ahmet Davutoglu. This nine-year-old foreign policy approach was tested by the rise of the Arab Spring movement. As a democracy, the Turkish government gave support to the people’s movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, yet holds the position that it is the Arab people who will decide the future of their respective countries and not outsiders including itself. Thus, comments in the press that Turkey will determine Syria’s future does not hold water.

Turkey’s position is based on its third foreign policy principle of « proactive and pre-emptive peace diplomacy », aimed at preventing conflicts from reaching critical levels; security for all; political dialogue; economic integration and interdependence; and multicultural coexistence that is crucial for the future of the Middle East. This is especially true in regard to regional issues such Turkey’s relations with Israel, the fate of the Palestinians and the Sunni-Shia relationship.

Turkey’s support for the « Friends of Syria » campaign against Bashar Assad has come under criticism but Turkey opines that its engagement in Syria is on the basis of humanitarian considerations and that it is the Syrians who must decide their own future. Turkey has also been accused of supporting the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq.

As a leading democracy in the Middle East, contemporary Turkey is committed to supporting people’s movements in Arab countries; it sees the resulting changes as a means to end conflicts in the region that go back to the time of the Second World War, and as a way to building cooperation and bringing peace and development to the region.

Over the decades on the home front, Turkey has shown itself to be a vibrant parliamentary democracy with a healthy economy. It has gone through many social and economic transformations that have resulted in strengthening its credentials.

Currently, Turkey is also engaged in the process of drafting its new constitution, which President Abdullah Gul says should have a distinct philosophy and spirit but should not carry the stamp of a specific idea, party, ideology or doctrine.

The present constitution, framed after the 1980 military coup, with its stress on authoritarianism and bureaucracy, has now become irrelevant. Turkish minorities expect that the new constitution will recognise them as equal citizens. All four Turkish political parties represented in the present parliament will participate in drafting the new constitution, which will be completed this year.

Turkey’s political and economic progression is the result of its own struggles. It can serve as a model of inspiration for Middle-Easterners but they will have to produce their own models of democracy fit for themselves. The larger world, instead of indulging in Islamophobia, should appreciate how Turkey and the majority of Muslims desire good governance and development, which have been denied them.

* Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf is professor of Islamics and religion at the Graduate School of Philosophy and Religion, Assumption University, Bangkok.

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