Global Ethics Corner: Turkey, Islam, and Democracy

Friday, March 11, 2011

Turkey's democracy is sometimes belittled as creeping authoritarianism and it is sometimes extolled as a model.

Turkish democracy is distinctive, has deep secular roots, an Islamic coat, and lively social support. But, there are structural challenges balancing religious, political and personal factors.

The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is expected to win a third term in June elections. Ten to 15 years in power is not necessarily anti-democratic, although it can be seen as fertilizing arrogance and abuse.

The current constitution was written by the military and needs revision. However, a dramatically revised constitution favoring the winners is likely, rather than one framed for the whole society: this could result in authoritarianism by structural reform.

Second, the AK Party is mildly Islamist, but its opponents fear a hidden fundamentalist agenda. The opposition concern is that toleration for Islam could lead to fundamentalist intolerance.

Third, the Prime Minister for eight years, Recep Erdogan has been accused of "getting bossier and less tolerant by the day." He is remarkably effective and his commitment to democracy seems firm. He also wants to retain power. A constitution rewritten toward a presidential system creates an opportunity for perpetual power, a potential Central Asian presidency for life.

It is hubris to expect all democracies to resemble our own. But how should we view political change in Turkey?

What do you think? Does Turkey offer hope to those transforming the Arab world? Or is it in under threat?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

"Turkey's election: A Muslim democracy in action," The Economist, February 17, 2011.

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Mike Atherton
Travel Aficionado
Ankarali Turgut
Ekim Caglar
World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum
Pete Souza
Pi István Tóth
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