February 2, 2011
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The Structure of the Muslim Nations in the Middle East: The Role of Turkey in the Region - By Dr. Aland Mizell

There is a general consensus that secular democracy and Islam are
incompatible, and this consensus continues in some areas of the Muslim and Arab World. The real issue in the Middle East and some of Muslims nations is not
democracy. What really is missing are the concepts of individual rights - the
idea that every person has a right to express himself, known as freedom of
expression - and civil rights, such as freedom of the media, gender equality, and
minority rights. For a long time people in the region have lived under oppression, and many see religion as a safe haven for spiritual comfort. Neither Arab nor Muslim nations need to become secular; instead, they need to be places where people respect others who have different beliefs and where the rights of all can be upheld equally.  Students of history will tells us that it took several centuries and various experiments for the West to develop some kind of democratic forms, institutions, and declaration of human rights. It took the U.S. more than three centuries to have the current democratic institutions and forms in place.

How far have the Arabs and Muslim nations traveled to implement democratic institutions? Arab countries in the Middle East have transitioned from the Ottoman rule to democracy only symbolically; they have never been fully supported or undergirded by democratic forms and institutions. The old corrupt leaders were replaced by new corrupt dictators.Elections were only symbolic, and some Muslim countries are even ruled by a king in a monarchial system. It is an iron- fist style of democracy and power tied to a single dominant group. For example, the Justice Development Party (AKP) and Gulenists are trying to be the sole dominant political group in Turkey and are attempting to implement a presidential system like then one in the USA.. in Turkey. Consequently, it will be hard for a minority group to have a voice in the Turkish Parliament. Turkey never mentions lowering the election threshold from 10% to 5 % to give some advantage to minorities as an alternative. The West and U.S. government are silent about the AKP regime in Turkey. The West contributes to these kinds of dictatorships in the Muslim and Arab world for their economic interest and has helped create social and economical disparity in those countries. Social and economic disparity has led these nations to turn to Islam as the utopian solution to capitalism and injustice. In those nations argue. That is why Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the AKP Gulenists in Turkey have grassroots support.

The structure of Arab and Muslim nations was unclear after Muhammad passed way. Consequently, Islam has struggled to find a governing system, and different
groups and sects have ruled. Now some of the Arabs and Muslim nations are using diverse Western notions of law combined with a version of Shar’ia law. This
amalgamation of law goes against Islamic states. The confusion has caused a
series of democratic institutional problems, has created a lacuna between
various democratic institutions, and has bankrupted the national regimes’
fundamental force. Moreover, the leadership of Arab nations has reinforced the
structure of Islam in nationalist terms. The question is should Islam dominate
social and political life or just be confined to the individual’s private choice, like Ataturk did In Turkey? What kind of model should work in the Arab world? Can the Turkish model work? Can Turkey be the bridge between the West and the Islamic world? Can Turkey really be the Islamic role model?  How does Turkey
handle democracy? Is Turkey really democratic enough to be a model for the Arab and Muslim world? For a long time the U.S. government has believed that Turkey can maintain a bridge between the West and the Muslim world. Especially after September 11, 2001, the U.S. government supposed that Turkey’s new Islamic Party, the AK Party, could play a role like one of the European Christian
democratic parties. Washington needed a positive model of a successful, tolerant Muslim country in the region to connect the West and East. However, when the AK Party gained enough power, the Turkish foreign policy and domestic policies changed, moving in a totally different direction toward  a rebirth of the
Ottoman Empire and its policies in the region. New constitutional reform shows
that secularism is dead in Turkey, and the role of Islam in social and political
life has been elevated. Even more secularists now use religion because they
realize that religion is close to the people’s heart. But when corrupt  tyrannical regimes like that of President Mubarak are brought down in the name of democracy, democracy is not what replaces them. What is the alternative? If
Muslims believe democracy is a Western or American invention inculcating its
values, it will not work there. Egypt will most likely end up with some
fundamentalist ruler even worse than President Mubarak.  That is what happened
in Turkey when the AK Party used the European democratic and American influence as a proxy to get rid of secular and military control and to gain power. This shift really raises another question.  Does Turkey actually want to join the
European Union?  Or did it just use the E.U. to put its Islamic house in order?

Turkey has a positive image in the region and a rising influence that might help to start a demonstration against a dictator’s ruler. Turkey saw a vacuum of leadership, and Recep Tayyip Erodgan managed to fill in the void. Some argue that Turkey’s recent rise on the global stage and strong economy contributed to the protests in the region. How much does the uprising in the Middle East have to do with the jealousy of Arab nations toward Turkey‘s current role among its neighbors? How much has Turkey-- especially the AK Party --played a role in the region to create such social and political earthquakes in the Arab world? One wonders because during the Flotilla event in 2010, at a joint press conference with Syrian President Assad in Istanbul, Erdogan declared that Israel must “put an end to the occupation of Arab land.”  Further, as recent as late January this year, Prime Minister Erdogan at the World Economic Forum in Davos addressed the assembly saying that Turkey “is very much ready to be part of the European Union family.” Does all this help to give more leverage to Turkey’s Ottoman ambitions and to the tactics of the Gulenists and the AK Party to become a regional or world power? By having offered for Turkey to mediate in the Middle East to show its leadership and by having stood against Israel in portraying himself as the defender of Arabs, Erdogan has many Arabs wishing that their leader could behave like him and stand against Israel and for the erosion of secularism in Turkey. Particularly in Turkey’s declaring its foreign policy independent of U.S. foreign policy, its bravado echoes across the Middle East and enhances its influence. 

Turkey wants to change the world but never thinks of changing herself.
Erdogan urged Mubarak to listen to his people’s demands. Does Erdogan really
listen to his Kurdish people’s demands? The Prime Minister also said that
freedom cannot be delayed in today’s world, and that it would be very hard for
countries to see a bright future is domestic turbulence and disagreement.. Is
that not a double standard? But Erdogan failed to address the more than 123
Kurdish politicians who are jailed simply because they are asking for freedom. 
Erdogan should listen to the Kurdish people’s outcries for freedom, and let
Kurds have basic rights such as education in their mother tongue, a humanistic
demand. Please Mr. Prime Minister, before lecturing others, you must reform
yourself. If Turkey wants to be democratic, if an Islamic government is more
just and democratic, then maybe it should not lock up more than 123 Kurds in its
prisons. Turkey still uses police beatings against protesters; it is still against the law to criticize the Prime Minister or Gulen; there are still illegal tapings going on. The military has been portrayed as the public number one enemy, and the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) depicted as terrorists, who soon could be involved in Eregenokon as well. Turkey was founded as a secular republic. But now the structure of the nation has been built on Islamic values: an anti U.S. government policy; as of 2004, an anti-Israel stance; and a rebirth of the Ottoman Empire. Judging by Turkey’s foreign policy, it is calling for a New System in the Middle East-- Islamism at home, Pan Islamism in the World. Prime Minister Erdogan is accusing Israel of being a Terrorist State, but he never mentions the Hamas attacks on Israelis. The Prime Minister is also supporting Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, over the Fatah, the head of the nationalist movement since the 1950s because, in his view, Fatah has become secular.  Fatah under President Abbas recognizes Israel’s right to exist, so is Erdogan siding with his fellow Muslim allies by cozying up to Hamas?

For a long time Turks and the West have been competing to define the Turkish people’s identity. The Turkish Republic established legal and governmental structures to allow Turks to practice Islam in their private lives and to forbid the influence of religion in public affairs.  The founder of the Republic of Turkey places a line of demarcation between mosque and state.  Under this republic, democracy and Islam would coexist; however, Islam would not be practiced in public life, but rather secular law would be administered. By contrast, early in the 1970s, the Gülen movement and some Islamic political parties began a grassroots movement to restore the structure for Islam to play a key role and to put its values into practice. This means the Turkish people accepted Islam in both private and public life in Turkey.  The purpose of government is to dispense justice, equality, and public order. One cannot speak of government where these do not exist. Instead the people must call for individual rights and civic liberties for all .Let Turkey model those values in the Middle East

Dr. Aland Mizell with the MCI. You may reach the author via email at:

Other articles by Dr Aland Mizell   


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