The Long Turkish Night of Islamic Democracy


When we were at the university studying political science our professor of this topic disserted with aplomb on the forms of democracy and rejoiced when talking about direct democracy that only existed in some Swiss cantons, where people gather in a town meeting to decide directly on issues concerning their daily lives and the running of their canton.

Coup d’état

The word coup d’état which is foreign to the English language is today foreign to the youth and the world. It is definitely a thing of the past. It was a common practice in the 60s, 70s, 80s and to a certain extent 90s of the last century in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In many cases low-ranking officers will gang up to overthrow an existing regime by the force of arms, like what happened in Uganda with Idi Amin took power in January 1971 and ruled ruthlessly until 1979. There was, also, the dramatic case of General Augusto Pinochet overthrowing the democratic government of the leftist Salvador Allende of the Socialist Unidad Popular party in Argentina on September 11, 1973, at the instigation of the American government. Pinochet ruled with an iron fist from 1974 until 1990.

In Turkey, since the creation of the republic in 1923 by the secular Mustapha Ataturk, the powerful army played a major role in politics, if not to say that it was the one pulling strings all the time from behind the curtains. The Turkish army coup d’états indeed were a common practice during the last century: 1960, 1971 (military memorandum), 1980, 1993, and 1998 (military memorandum).

AKP (Justice and Development Party)

AKP (Justice and Development Party) is a social conservative Turkish party with an Islamic repository. It is the largest and most popular party, today, in Turkey and has the majority (316 seats) in the Parliament. AKP popular success can be related to three important moves:

  • Reconciling the Turkish people with their great Ottoman Caliphate past (1299-1922) that span three continents i.e. Asia, Europe and Africa and making it a source of national pride;

The Ottoman Empire

  • Constructing a paradigm, template and platform of Islamic democracy for the Muslim countries to adopt instead of the common theocracies like the case of Iran that do not allow any form of freedom or democracy; and
  • An economic miracle, making of the Turkish products a brand name of quality worldwide.

Tayyip Rajib Erdogan has, since becoming president, irritated the West for trying to construct a modern Turkey with reference to the Ottoman past and Islamic culture and, also, for his unflinching support to Hamas in Gaza that led to the severance of relations with Israel, which were resumed just recently.

The West wants its cake and wants to eat it, too, in Turkey. It needs this country for its fight against radical Islam, mainly ISIS and al-Qaeda and wants, also, to set the example to the rest of the Muslim world for democracy, but, at the same time, it doesn’t like AKP and its leaders, mainly Erdogan.

In the long night of the coup, July 15-16, the United States and Europe seemed, initially, to support the putsch by not coming out clean on the side of democracy, worse, the EU stated that the military have taken control of the country, which was not the case, at all. However, when they realized that the coup failed, they throw their support behind the Turkish democracy.

However, it is a well known fact that NATO is always behind the Turkish military because of its secular nature and has always been the bulwark against Islamism in this country. Many analysts believe today that maybe the West cautiously wants to get rid of Erdogan and AKP by making use of two important cards: firstly the army to overthrow the regime and then place Fatthullah Gulen, The Turkish-American Islamic predicator and businessman at the helm of the country.

The army, indeed, took control of the country in two major cities i.e. Ankara, where the Chief of Staff was arrested and Istanbul, where they controlled the airport, the Bosphorus Bridge and TV stations. For a brief moment, it seemed that the dice was thrown in their favor, but the sly and clever Erdogan called his supporters, through Skype, to come out onto the streets and squares and show support to his regime. And similar to what happened in Prague, Czechoslovakia, commonly known as the Prague Spring during the 1968 uprising against the Soviet rule, people faced tanks and unlike in Prague they won the day (if not to say the night) by forcing the army plotters to surrender to the police.

Supporters of Tukish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

Supporters of Tukish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan

Also it seems crystal clear that all Turks whether in politics (political parties), in the army (many generals were against the coup), in business or just the ordinary people are sick to death of military putsches and want an uninterrupted cycles of democracy. This opinion is highlighted, also, by Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu from New York Times:

“Turkey has a long history of military involvement in politics — there have been three coups since 1960 — and as the country became deeply polarized in recent years between supporters of Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist government and those loyal to Turkey’s secular traditions, many wondered if the military would intervene. Some, quietly, had even hoped they would.

But once it came, people in the country, even those bitterly opposed to Mr. Erdogan, seemed to have no desire for a return to military rule. Turks across the political spectrum, including the main opposition parties that represent secular Turks, nationalists and Kurds, opposed the coup. So did many top generals in the armed forces, highlighting that the attempt appeared not to have had deep support, even in the military.”

The Turkish role model for the Islamic World

Beyond the tormented and fragmented Arab world, Turkey, through good governance succeeded in reconciling democracy with Islam and as such has become the role model for the Muslim world. Though the West is critical of some aspects of the Islamist government of Erdogan, yet it is probably the best Islamic democracy available to date. A proof of that the fact that Turkish people have over the last decade offered AKP their confidence for incredible economic achievements and regional leadership.

Omer Taspinar, Nonresident Senior Fellow on the Foreign Policy at the Center on the United States and Europe, in a book entitled: The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are, argues:

“In the twenty-first century, Turkey is arguably the most dynamic experiment with political Islam among the fifty-seven nations of the Muslim world. It also offers seminal lessons for the Arab world, despite the tense history (especially during the Ottoman Empire) and many differences.”

Currently, there is a debate raging among secular forces in the Muslim world as well as democrats in the West on whether Islam is compatible or not with democracy. However, while these believe that it is definitely not in its Islamist format, the radical Islamists argue that Islam has inherently its own democracy encapsulated in the holy scriptures (Koran and Sunnah) which means in a word: pure theocracy and the moderate Islamists, desperate for an acceptable reference make use of the Turkish exemple with AKP Parti (Justice and Development Party) which won legislative elections in 2002, 2007, 2011, June 2015, and November 2015, with 34.3%, 46.6%, 49.8%, 40.9%, and 49.5% respectively. Over the years, AKP has successfully morphed into a conservative democratic and achieved incredible economic success for the country and earned the party respect locally and internationally.

Final word

This unprecedented popular support in Turkey forced the West to retract from their initial position and throw their support behind Erdogan and this is a democratic plebiscite in favor of AKP and its Islamic rule. However, the leaders of this party must review their policies internally and externally because next time things might be different. This failed coup, might, also, be a warning shot because the powerful Turkish army did not use all its cards this time, maybe on purpose. Who Knows?


Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Saudi and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East and Islam and teaching Community Based Learning and Amazigh studies to American students at Amideast/Morocco in Rabat.

© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved.

( Source: Morocco World News )


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