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The Project on Middle East Democracy Hosts Panel on Turkish Democracy
February 22, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly

On February 22, The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) hosted a panel on Turkish democracy featuring Sinan Ciddi (Executive Director, Institute of Turkish Studies), Howard Eissenstat (Assistant Professor, St. Lawrence Univerity) and Ambassador Ross Wilson (Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council). Daphne McCurdy, a senior research associate at POMED, moderated the discussion.

Sinan Ciddi spoke primarily about the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP has an unprecedented record of election achievement, winning three times in a row (2002, 2007, and 2011) and increasing its share of parliamentary seats each time. In the last round of elections in June, 2011 it took 50 percent of the vote. Turkey has progressed over the last 10 years under AKP rule, making Turkey an attractive model for the Arab world. However, Ciddi sees a lot of problems with the internal workings of the Turkish model and cautions against others trying to replicate it. First of all, Turkey has virtually been controlled by one party for the last decade and the opposition is not credible and cannot challenge the AKP. For example, Ciddi stated that the current constitution is a “sham document,” since almost three-quarters of it has been amended. The AKP would like to ratify a new constitution but cannot do so on its own. If it were successful, the president would likely gain even more power and parliament’s role would be diminished. Also, the AKP has had a number of problems with the judiciary over the years as well as the secular elite.

Professor Eissenstat also spoke about the AKP. He reflected on how the party has not turned out to be extremist Islamists, but rather a practical and distinctly Turkish party. It has become increasingly nationalist and even slightly more militaristic over the years, perhaps in an effort to garner more mainstream Turkish votes. Also, the AKP has enabled a crackdown on dissidents and authorized the arrest of journalists last December. Eissenstat said that he prefers not to make generalizations about how free Turkey is after a decade under the AKP, but noted that the AKP has been successful in securing more freedom for its constituents. He claimed that the AKP’s tolerance of violence towards women has enabled the murder rate of women to increase by 1400 percent in the last 10 years.

Ambassador Wilson, who recently returned from Turkey, offered some comments on the United States’ role going forward and the Turkish model. He sees a limited role for the US and recommends a policy with a relatively high degree of generality. The US should of course speak out on larger issues like press freedom but cannot afford to be too specific and become partisan. Wilson warned against interfering in the Turkish domestic scene for fear of attracting accusations of American meddling. Although he had concerns over the arrest of journalists, Wilson said that his Turkish colleagues all believe their country is freer than it was ten or twenty years ago. He said that the Arabs look to the Turkish model because it is successful, first and foremost.

For previous news on Turkey, please see:
Turkish Government Appoints New Military Leaders

The Project on Middle East Democracy - Turkish Democracy: A Model Abroad, Troubled at Home?


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