Turkey's dangerous message to the Muslim world
A court ban on the most pro-Western party would be a big mistake.
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A ban on a party that nearly half of the country supports could spark violence – which Turkey's secularist generals might then use as a pretext for a direct military intervention. Regardless, senior EU figures have criticized the closure case and warned that banning the AKP could gravely damage Turkey's candidacy.Skip to next paragraph
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Even more troubling is the message it would send to the rest of the Muslim world – no matter how much Islamists moderate, they won't be accepted as legitimate participants in the democratic process.
In recent years, mainstream Islamist groups throughout the region – including in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco – have embraced many of the foundational components of democratic life. Yet their moderation has been met with harsh government repression, or more subtle designs to restrict their political participation.
More is at stake than may initially appear. If the AKP – the most moderate, pro-democratic "Islamist" party in the region today – is disbanded, it will strengthen those Islamists who see violence and confrontation as a surer means to influence political power.
During the past year, a number of Islamist leaders we've spoken to in Egypt and Jordan have warned that rank-and-file activists are losing faith in the democratic process, and may soon become attracted to more radical approaches. A ban on the AKP would only make it that much harder for moderates to continue making the case that participating in elections is worthwhile.
Though US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praises the AKP's democratization agenda, last month she said, "Obviously, we are not going to get involved in … the current controversy in Turkey about the court case." Yet moments later she opined, "Sometimes when I'm asked what might democracy look like in the Middle East, I think it might look like Turkey." It's difficult to tell if she's referring to the new, democratizing Turkey of the past five years – or the reactionary Turkey where judges and generals flagrantly overrule the people's will.
President Bush has one last opportunity to reinvigorate the cause of Middle East democracy. By publicly denouncing the closure case, the administration would signal that the US not only supports Turkish democracy against a dangerous internal assault, but that it is also committed to defending all actors willing to abide by democratic principles in a region that desperately needs more of them.
• Alex Taurel is a research associate at the Project on Middle East Democracy. Shadi Hamid is the director of research there and a research fellow at the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan.