Can Tunisia or Egypt find role model in Turkey?
Turkey has raised its voice for Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to step aside, as it tries to burnish its credentials as the region’s 'model' democratic, modern, and Islam-leaning state.
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After days of official silence as violence first began raging across Egypt – and a chorus of complaints in the Turkish media that the ruling party’s ambitions of regional leadership were proving shallow – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pulled out the stops.
Mr. Mubarak’s promise not to seek another term in elections was not enough.
“People expect Mubarak to take a much different step,” Mr. Erdogan said on Wednesday, during a visit to Kyrgyzstan. “This is the expectation of the people…. The current administration [of Mubarak] fails to give confidence for beginning an atmosphere of democracy within a short period of time.”
Turkey has increasingly flexed its regional diplomatic muscle under the leadership of Erdogan’s Islam-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP). Some have referred to Turkey’s robust foreign policy as “neo-Ottomanism.”
Though Turkey has witnessed four military coups since 1960 – the latest, in 1997, pushed from power the overtly Islamist Welfare Party, the precursor to the more moderate AKP – Turkey’s democratic development is seen as a worthy example by some activists from Tunis to Cairo.
As an economic powerhouse with a determined tradition of secular rule since the 1920s that has also found democratic space for a moderate Islamic leadership, Turkey has pushed its appeal on several levels.
“The Arab street thinks that if it can happen in Turkey, it may also happen in their countries,” says Mr. Aktar. “This being said … comparing [Turkey’s transformation] – especially in Egypt – we should not be naive. That will take much more time, for the Muslim Brotherhood and other political movements in Arab countries to become another AKP. It’s a long process, but we are on the right track.”
The benefits of the Turkey model
While tens of thousands of protesters in Egypt have rallied to topple Mubarak after 30 years of rule, Egyptian intellectuals have commented on the benefits of Turkey’s model.
The chain of events started in Tunisia, where President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown by people power in mid-January after 23 years of leadership – the first Arab leader in the modern era to be forced from power in such a way.
Similar protests have erupted from Sudan and Jordan to Yemen, all calling for more accountable and democratic government. In Tunisia, which has a strong and educated middle class, Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi returned home after 22 years in exile earlier this week, comparing his banned Ennahda (Awakening) movement to the AKP, and rejecting unflattering comparisons to the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.