Why Turkey Can't Be a Model for the Future of the Arab Spring

Regardless of how Islamicized Turkey becomes, it will be impossible to take women out of the public space. Women's participation in public life, so deeply engrained in secularist Turkey, is also a trademark of the new Turkey. Consider Turkey's first lady Hayrunnisa Gul, the wife of President Abdullah Gul. The Turkish first lady has a very public presence, runs her own policy initiatives, and her website appears to be a mirror image of the White House website set up for Michelle Obama.

When it comes to the country's foreign policy orientation, Turkey's Islamization is meeting its match as well. To be sure, the new Turkey does not consider itself a de facto member of the Western world, but neither does it consider itself antithetical to the West, as it did until a few years ago. This point was underlined during Turkey's recent debate on deploying NATO Patriot missiles on Turkish territory against Syria. This happened without significant domestic opposition: The Turks have lived with NATO too long to think outside of its box.

This is where Turkey's structural Westernization -- its institutional connections to the West and its adoptions of Western ways -- makes a difference compared to other Muslim-majority societies in the region. It is hard to imagine that NATO presence would be so welcome in other Muslim majority countries. Even the most diehard Islamists in Turkey had reason to support the NATO alliance because it is what protected Turkey against "godless" communism.

As a Muslim country that takes NATO seriously, the new Turkey's foreign policy falls somewhere between Ataturk's Turkey and the AKP's vision. Regional instability has made Turkey's access to NATO a valuable asset, hence Ankara's pivot towards Washington and away from the lofty notion of Muslim solidarity. This has been most significantly demonstrated by Turkey's 2010 decision to join NATO's missile defense project that aims to protect alliance members against missiles coming from Iran, hardly an expression of solidarity with a Muslim nation. The civil war in Syria has accelerated Ankara's run for cover under NATO's embrace: when Damascus shot down a Turkish place in June, Turkey swiftly asked the Western alliance to come to its assistance. Further unrest in the Middle East and competition against Iran in Iraq and Syria will only increase Ankara's pivot towards the United States and NATO.

All this suggests that Turkey's Islamization is bound by the country's deep-rooted and institutional traditions of Westernization, as well as continued regional instability. Accordingly, Turkey and its Muslim neighbors in the Middle East may be heading in different directions. Countries such as Egypt lack Turkey's institutional westernization experience and constitutionally-mandated secular heritage, and are therefore more susceptible to thorough Islamization. In Turkey, Islamization will be tempered by the unique heritage of institutional and structural westernization. This has ushered in a blend of Western ways and Islamist politics -- a first anywhere in the world.

Sheer numbers require this culture of co-existence, if not tolerance, to take root. In the most recent 2011 elections, the AKP received nearly 50 percent of the vote. Excluding the 15 percent of the voters that supported other Islamist and conservative parties, 35 percent of the population, totaling twenty-five million people, did not vote for the AKP. These voters stand for secularism, and they will never buy into the religious movement in Turkey. This block will constitute the domestic limitation of Turkey's Islamization. After ten years in power, and likely to run the country for another term with a humming economy boosting its support, the AKP is making Turkey in its own image. But the new Turkey will have a uniquely distinct flavor: a bit Islamist, a bit secularist, a bit conservative, and a bit Western.

Presented by

Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Global

Just In