And then there was promise with Egypt. But then Nasser went all anti-Israel, and soon the country became a property of the military.
A contrast to all that is the case of Turkey, which has slowly outgrown the Kemal Ataturk version of society and governance. As the Arab Spring bloomed--even in Egypt--and as the rest of the world started wondering whether indeed democracy will take firm roots in the Islamic countries, eyes turned to Turkey as the role model.
Of course, there are some lingering problems within Turkey. The treatment of Kurds is one serious issue, among others. But then which country doesn't have problems within its democratic structure.
We need to keep in mind a unique aspect of Turkey's history, which Bernard Lewis pointed out back in the early 1990s:
Turkey alone, it is argued, was never colonized, never subject to imperial rule or domination, as were almost all the Islamic lands of Asia and Africa. The Turks were always masters in their own house, and, indeed, in many other houses, for a long period. When their mastery was finally challenged, they won their war of independence, and are therefore able to achieve a degree of realism, a detachment, and of self-criticism that is not possible in countries where political life was dominated for generations by the struggle for independence, and in which freedom and independence become virtually synonymous terms, to the detriment of the former.So, yes, the odds were in Turkey's favor. But, there was more to the country's democracy:
In Turkey, democratic institutions were neither imposed by the victors, as happened in the defeated Axis countries, nor bequeathed by departing imperialists, as happened in the former British and French dependencies, but were introduced by the free choice of the Turks themselves. This surely gave these institutions a much better chance of survival.
Successive governments of Turkey wisely did not attempt to introduce full democracy all at once, but instead went through successive phases of limited democracy, laying the foundation for further development, and, at the same time, encouraging the rise of civil society.Democracy works really well as a political structure only when it is home-grown. It does not mean all the home-grown ones survive either--Pakistan is a prime example here. But, the probability of democracy taking hold seems to be higher when it comes from within than from the outside.
Which is all the more why the Arab Spring was, and continues to be, so promising.
But, at the same time, some of the developments in Turkey are not necessarily encouraging:
Politically Turkey has changed more in the last ten years than it did in the previous eighty. For generations the army was able to enforce strict secularism in the tradition of Ataturk, but a new ethos, more open to religious influence, has changed the terms of politics and public life. Erdogan prays daily and his wife wears a headscarf. In some Turkish towns, Justice and Development mayors have sought to restrict the sale of alcohol or establish single-sex beaches. This has alarmed many secular-minded citizens. Erdogan could help calm their fears, but instead he has become increasingly strident. Turkey has emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions. Whether it is moving toward an era of European-style freedom or simply trading one form of authoritarianism for another is unclear.The NYRB article concludes thus:
Turkey has great potential as a twenty-first-century power, but can only fulfill it by reuniting its own fragmented society.The latest development is quite a head-scratcher for me--the military chiefs quit en masse. On the one hand, it could be a sign of the weakened military being subordinate to the democratically elected government. But, on the other hand, given the relative strengthening of religion in politics, are there enough institutions for the checks and balances that are needed for a successful democracy?
I bet Egypt and Tunisia and the rest are closely following the developments.