Winter 2012

Is there a ‘Turkish model’ for Arabs to consider on their march to democracy? One thing is certain, as you’ll read in our Special Report on Turkey in this issue of the Cairo Review: a century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey is back as a formidable actor in the Middle East. And it is a return largely welcomed in Arab countries. A Zogby survey last year gave Turkey a stunning approval rating of 64 percent in Egypt, 80 percent in Morocco, 93 percent in Lebanon and 98 percent in Saudi Arabia. When Turkish leaders visit the region, they are greeted like rock stars. Crowds gather and chant, “Turkey! Islam!”

One of those frequent Turkish travelers to the Middle East is Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who kindly agreed to answer an extensive range of questions for The Cairo Review Interview. Writer and analyst Hugh Pope authors our lead essay, a close look at the rise of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party—viewed by many as the purveyors of a moderate brand of political Islam with far-sighted leadership that could be emulated by emerging Islamist parties in Egypt and other Arab countries. Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a columnist for Milliyet, gives a Turkish perspective on Turkey’s re-engagement with the Middle East, and researcher Ebru İlhan provides an insightful report on the key domestic issue of education policy reform.

And, yes, of course, we have an essay entitled “The Turkish Model,” written by Mustafa Akyol, deputy editor of the Hürriyet Daily News. Weighing the contributions of secular and conservative legacies to modern Turkey’s remarkable rise to power, Akyol reminds us that Ottoman caliphs embarked on the road to modernity centuries before Atatürk introduced secularism. Given the particular evolution of the Turkish Republic, it is impossible to say that there is a ‘Turkish model’ for Arabs to simply copy. But much will be learned from studying Turkey’s experience. Likewise, perhaps, much can be gained from Turkey’s return to the Middle East.

Scott MacLeod
Managing Editor

The Fruit of Revolution

The Arab revolutions have started and they are widespread. And I believe they will succeed, although the price of success will vary from one country to another and will, in almost all cases, be more costly than it need be. Nevertheless, these revolutions will redefine the relationship between the governed and the governing in the Arab world, and that alone is a momentous achievement.

Already though, much more than redefinition has occurred. Political parties have been legitimized-from Islamist political trends to liberal secular movements. Parliaments have been disbanded. Constitutions are being rewritten. Former officials have been killed or are being put on trial. And most important, the average Arab feels empowered and is asserting his and her right to be governed democratically. It is self-evident on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Syria, that the old adage of authority rules is being challenged every day, almost to a fault.

Another positive development is that Arab governments and Arab societies are finally dealing openly with their realities. An Islamist opposition leader heads the newly established Moroccan government. Tunisia has distributed leadership positions across its interim government between the majority and opposition. Islamist political parties gained a wide majority in Egyptian parliamentary elections. Voices of dissension are being heard throughout the rest of the Arab world. Open discussion regarding the role of religion in society and government, as well as the role of the military and the powers of the executive branch versus legislative bodies, is ongoing and vibrant. The active engagement of the youth-forming over 50 percent of the Arab population-in political expression is also of paramount importance, for theirs are the voices of the future. One cannot have a democratic or representative political system that is not reflective of society. It is this sense of empowerment and expression that ultimately provides the kernel of self confidence required to engage public issues domestically, regionally, and internationally. And it is the inclusiveness of a system that bestows credibility, which then ensures it is taken seriously. These are among the strongest reasons for my optimism.

There were also disappointing and tragic events in 2011. The widespread use of force by the former Libyan regime against its people, the loss of Egyptian revolutionary martyrs during protests even after the change in Egyptian government, the killings in Yemen and Syria, and the human rights violations in Bahrain are all testament to the high price of change. Regrettably, many of these losses could have been avoided had the entrenched regimes moved swiftly to accommodate the legitimate demands of the protesters.

The Egyptian case is simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. As society stood unified around the goal of “change” between January 25 and February 11, expectations for rapid transformation into a truly democratic Egyptian society were widespread. United, the people quickly succeeded in removing the head of state, reshuffling the government several times, and dissolving parliament. Then the process lost track.

Egypt attempted to engage in democratic processes, such as holding competitive party elections, before developing a constitution, which would have provided the basic parameters for how the country should be governed in the future. As such, the united popular force dispersed to compete for ownership of Egypt’s future without having laid down the foundations of the new republic or having created a balanced playing field for the different stakeholders. In essence, Egypt embarked on picking the fruits of the revolution before actually nurturing them to ensure a bountiful harvest.

The real challenge facing Egypt is the development of a constitution that is truly reflective of the strategic outlook of the nation, rather than just the immediate strengths of existing political trends. Holding parliamentary elections early has made this process all the more difficult. As frustrated as some of the youth movements may feel, they are duty bound to rise above their differences and unite once again to ensure the new constitution guarantees the values of equality, democracy, and the rule of law that they demanded so proudly a year ago.

For the constitutional process to have any chance of success, the provisions of the constitution must ensure four basic principles:

1. Transparency

Information must be accessible to Egyptians if they are to participate in determining the public interest. And they have the right to know how and why decisions are or were taken. A lack of clarity breeds corruption, while ambiguity fuels innuendo and false accusations.

2. Inclusiveness

The constitution must remain a foundational document for all Egyptians, irrespective of their belief, creed, gender, etc. If citizens are expected to sacrifice equally in war and share the benefits of peace and prosperity, they must have equal rights and find pride in their national identity.

3. Accountability

To ensure productivity and integrity, Egyptians in positions of authority must be, and know they will be, held accountable for their actions. To garner the respect necessary to participate in policy making, business, or public life, authority figures must recognize that their efforts have consequences.

4. Competitiveness

The constitution must create a system that not only provides equal opportunity in theory, but in practice as well. Legalizing autocracy was not the objective of the revolution.

The application of these four principles to all the sensitive issues facing Egypt, from the role of religion in politics to the rights of the individual and from the role of the military to the balance of power between the presidency, government and parliament, forms the best possible assurance for the success of the Egyptian revolution.

These principles will provide a sound foundation for the political compromises that will be necessary to satisfy the different stakeholders and unite varying opinions. They will create a framework through which our most contentious issues may be introduced, torn apart, then finally and equitably resolved within the elegant chaos of the democratic process.

Nabil Fahmy is the dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.

Strategic Thinking

Having won a parliamentary seat last year to represent his hometown of Konya, Ahmet Davutoğlu can now call himself a politician. To most Turks, he will always be the cerebral professor of political theory, the architect of a dynamic, outward-looking foreign policy that has transformed Turkey into a regional powerhouse.

After earning a PhD in political science and international relations at Bosporus University, Davutoğlu went on to teach at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, Marmara University, and Beykent University. Fluent in English, German, and Arabic, he caught the imagination of Turkish leaders as the author of books on geopolitics, including Strategic Depth; The Global Crisis; Civilizational Transformation and the Muslim World; and Alternative Paradigms: The Impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on Political Theory.

Following the victory in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Davutoğlu, the grandson of a shoemaker, became special advisor to the prime minister and ambassador-at-large, and was appointed foreign minister in 2009. In those capacities he has proved a dizzyingly active, always principled, often effective diplomat. He has visited Syria as an envoy sixty-two times. In 2010, he stitched together the Tehran Joint Declaration, a Turkish-Brazilian effort to negotiate a way out of the dangerous international impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. His instinctive backing of the Arab Spring, and staunch support for Palestinian rights, has enabled Ankara to expand its influence throughout the Middle East. Despite serious tensions with Israel, he has helped keep Turkish relations with the U.S. in good form. His combination of vision and skill has impressed the world; he made Foreign Policy magazine’s list of ‘100 Top Global Thinkers’ for 2010 and 2011. Davutoğlu responded in writing on March 7 to questions from the Cairo Review.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you define Turkey’s strategic interests today?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey’s strategic interests lie in peace, stability, security, and prosperity in its neighborhood and beyond. Turkey is in a unique position in geopolitical terms, in the midst of Afro–Eurasia. This vast geography neighbors crisis-prone regions such as the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Balkans. It also holds a great potential for development and prosperity, which has so far been held back due to security problems. Any crisis in these regions—be it economic or political—has direct ramifications for Turkey and the wider international community. Therefore, stability in these regions is in the best interests of Turkey. And this is why Turkey actively works to foster peace and security around it—the very idea at the heart of our ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy. Through this policy, while we try to leave behind the problems with our neighbors, we also try to help them solve any domestic, bilateral or international problems they might have—to the extent we can.

Our foreign policy is also shaped by our economic interests. Turkey has a big population, young people constituting half of it, and a vibrant economy, striving to be among the top ten economies of the world by 2023, which is the one hundredth anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Additionally, the Turkish private sector is very active and has a strong entrepreneurial spirit. This requires us to widen the scope of our outreach as an economic actor. Increasing the level of economic cooperation with as many countries as possible becomes an important priority for Turkey. It compels us to reach out and enhance the scope of our relations on a global scale. This is also why we have increased cooperation and engagement with the emerging powers of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, all of which have become priority areas in terms of our strategic interests.

Turkish foreign policy is guided by our democratic values as well as our interests. This can best be seen in our support for reform efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey has always been encouraging the administrations to address the legitimate expectations of their people and undertake the necessary reforms. However, now, given the home-grown and irreversible march toward more democracy in the region, Turkey has stepped up its efforts to support this process. Consolidation of democracy in these countries in a way that will empower the people and strengthen stability is in the best interests of the entire region. This process should be advanced in a peaceful manner without leading to new divisions of ethnic or sectarian nature. This is not what people want, and we have to do all we can to avoid such a dangerous scenario. Turkey exerts every effort in this direction in cooperation with the countries in the region.

Turkey greatly values its alliance with the Euro–Atlantic community. Our membership of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and strategic relations with the U.S. and other Western countries in Europe constitute a fundamental pillar of our foreign policy. In addition, Turkey has been a negotiating country with the EU [European Union] for a long time. In this context, membership of the EU remains a strategic goal for us.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is Turkey’s role in the evolving global system, at this point in history?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: In a globalized world, countries are not isolated entities anymore. We live in a world where states, leaders, and peoples increasingly interact with each other on a daily basis. Almost anything—products, persons, capital, and ideas—can be moved and communicated across borders. Whatever happens in one part of the world can be simultaneously heard in another corner and they receive rapid reaction from countries across the globe. In light of all these, no country can exist or prosper on its own anymore. This is a new global order in the making, and Turkey is doing its best to contribute to the successful completion of this transition period. In this regard, we believe that the new system has to be:

  • legitimate, just, transparent, and democratic;
  • representative and fully open to participation;
  • in full regard to resolve dormant or active disputes that have an impact on world stability;
  • result-oriented in terms of eliminating disparities;
  • based on the precept of security and freedom for all.

We also believe that we have the necessary elements of soft and hard power to help achieve that goal. And we will not shy away from using our comparative advantages in this direction. Our geostrategic location, booming economy, ability to understand different social and cultural dynamics in a vast geography, and commitment to advance democracy domestically and internationally are all important assets.

What Turkey wants to promote and achieve is: cooperation, understanding, and tolerance through dialogue and engagement. Turkey’s efforts are focused on bringing together the parties in order to solve or preempt conflicts; championing universal values and human rights; supporting those who are subjected to unfair treatment, and promoting economic and social development of the underprivileged countries.

The Alliance of Civilizations initiative we cosponsored with Spain is an example of Turkey’s active efforts in this direction. Similarly, Turkey and Finland have launched the Peace through Mediation initiative in September 2010 at the margins of the sixty-fifth United Nations General Assembly. We also tabled a resolution at the UN General Assembly on mediation, which was adopted unanimously in June 2011. Just recently, on February 24–25 of this year, Turkey organized the Istanbul Conference on Mediation, in order to provide a platform where all parties in mediation could interact with each other and share their experiences and insights, thus enhancing their understanding on different perspectives of peace building.

Likewise, Turkey has become an emerging dxonor, conducting various development projects through its own agencies. Turkey is determined to help the least developed countries with a long-term commitment. Turkey hosted the LDC Summit in Istanbul last May with a view to supporting sustainable development in these countries.

Overall, Turkey is a constructive power able to play an important role in setting the parameters of the new global order. We are conscious of our capabilities and of what needs to be done. In cooperation with our friends and partners we will continue to play a positive role in our region and beyond.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has Turkey achieved the ‘strategic depth’ that you seek?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey’s strategic depth rests on its geographical and historical depth. Our long history provides us with a unique set of relations with countries and communities all around us. Our geostrategic location in the midst of a vast geography, on the other hand, places us in a position to relate to and influence the developments that are key to the future of the world. So the question is not achieving the strategic depth, but using it for regional and global peace. This requires us to engage with the countries with which we share a common past and geography in a way that will promote our shared interests and create a mutually beneficial framework for cooperation and dialogue. Today, with its strong democracy, vibrant economy, and active foreign policy, Turkey has more opportunities to capitalize on its strategic depth. And we have been working very actively to this end.

Our efforts to create high-level strategic councils and visa-free travel regimes, for instance, are geared toward making this strategic depth an operational concept where all peoples and states benefit from the enhanced cooperation. The principle that lies beneath our general approach is to turn this vast area into one of stability, security, and prosperity through political dialogue, economic interdependence, and cultural understanding.

On the other hand, strategic depth also rests on creating a sense of regional ownership based on shared interests and common ideals. This can be achieved only through a more effective regional cooperation and active engagement with all regional systems in our neighborhood. This, in turn, necessitates enforcing existing regional integration structures, and forging new ones as necessary. This is why Turkey supports and seeks to promote regional cooperation in its neighborhood and to boost the profile of regional organizations for that purpose. We believe that this would help countries to find regional solutions to their regional problems, rather than waiting for other actors from outside the region to impose their own solutions.

CAIRO REVIEW: We have witnessed important shifts and changes in Turkey’s domestic politics and political life in the past decade. How have these developments affected or shaped Turkish foreign policy?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey’s greatest success has been consolidating its democracy and achieving a strong economy at home. These are also the driving forces behind Turkey’s proactive foreign policy. Of course, this has become possible due to the political stability, which we have been enjoying since 2002 in Turkey. As a stable, secular, and democratic country with an economy ranking sixteenth in the world, Turkey has indeed become a regional powerhouse whose friendship and cooperation is increasingly sought in the international arena. This enabled us to pursue a more independent and visionary foreign policy.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you evaluate the success or failure of the Justice and Development Party’s five new principles for a new Turkish foreign policy: balancing freedom and security; zero problems with neighbors; active rather than reactive; complementary relations with global powers; and activism in international organizations?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Our foreign policy is essentially based on the principle of “Peace at home, peace in the world” as laid down by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Over the years, it has developed and gained many layers and dimensions, always on the basis of this tradition. Building on this tradition, we have introduced five new principles with a view to injecting refreshed dynamism into our foreign policy as well as for adapting ourselves to the new realities.

I think all of these five principles have been successfully translated into concrete policies. First, in terms of balancing freedoms and security, Turkey is a living example of how important it is to expand the space of freedoms to realize the full potential of a society. Turkey has, in this regard, also managed to de-securitize its foreign policy understanding, which allows us to see our neighborhood through the prism of opportunities rather than a perception of threat. As a result, we have come a long way in improving our relations with neighbors and opening up new areas of cooperation. We have also presented an example for others to seek more freedoms, which have otherwise been constrained by security considerations, and offered a reliable partner for those who are willing to proceed in this direction. The recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa both vindicate our approach and provide us with new opportunities to extend the common area of freedoms.

Secondly, the ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy that we have adopted bears a much deeper meaning than settling our problems with each of our neighbors. It aims at the transformation of our neighborhood, where serious problems and elements of instability exist, into a friendship and cooperation basin that will serve the interests of all. In this context, we believe that our policy of zero problems with neighbors has also gained additional meaning and importance as the Middle East stands at the brink of a historical transformation. We hope that the current dynamic for reform advances in way that will meet the expectations of the people while also contributing to peace and security in the region. If this can be achieved, the spirit of cooperation that we are trying to develop on the basis of our zero problems policy will be further strengthened. We are sparing no effort toward this direction and we will continue to do so.

As to the principle of being active rather than reactive, it is obvious that Turkey today acts upon a longer-term vision, which foresees a stable and secure region within the framework of a new global order. The way Turkey has been trying to forge new and stronger mechanisms of cooperation with a vast number of countries and organizations has allowed us to be more aware of the developments in various parts of the world and take the necessary measures in advance to steer the course of events in the right direction. In fact, the reason why Turkey has been able to respond to the developments in the region much faster and more effectively than many others is because we have long established the kind of relationships with the people that will carry us to the next stage. Also, the way Turkey strives to mediate and/or facilitate the resolution of disputes in a preventive way also reflects the proactive and visionary nature of our foreign policy. Today, in a large area spanning Balkans to Southeast Asia, Turkey’s efforts are instrumental in maintaining peace and security so that we do not have to react to conflicts in their aftermath.

Finally, active Turkish foreign policy is also well reflected in the international organizations with the tasks assumed and policies pursued. Today, Turkey is an active member of many international and regional organizations ranging from the UN to the G-20 [Group of Twenty], OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] to NATO, OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] to ECO [Economic Cooperation Organization]. In each case we are constantly looking into ways of making these organizations more effective and lead many initiatives to this end. If I have to give one example of our renewed activism in international organizations, the UN Security Council comes to mind. Right after completing nonpermanent membership of the UN Security Council for the term 2009–2010, we have now put our candidacy for the term 2015–2016. Also, our active role within the G-20, which is now becoming the new core structure for global economic governance, is another case in point reflecting Turkey’s added value in multilateral diplomacy.

Overall, we have made great progress in operationalizing the five principles of our foreign policy. We will continue to uphold these principles and maintain our active stance in putting them into practice. This is not only a must for our own national interests, but helps create an international environment conducive to cooperation and dialogue.

CAIRO REVIEW: After remarkable economic success over the past decade—notably in attracting foreign investment and increasing trade—what are your challenges looking ahead to the next decade?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey has navigated through a serious economic crisis in the recent past, which compelled us to carry out serious economic reforms. Thanks to these reforms and the entrepreneur spirit of the Turkish private sector, today Turkey has a stronger and rapidly growing economy. In 2010 and 2011, while most European countries fought against the diverse adverse effects of the global economic crisis like recession, negative growth, unemployment, etc., Turkey recorded economic growth of 9 percent and 7.5 percent respectively. With a GDP of nearly $1 trillion, Turkey is the sixteenth biggest economy in the world and the sixth biggest in Europe. Turkey’s economic growth so far has been highly beneficial for our neighbors too, whose share in our total trade volume has increased from 8 percent to 30 percent in the last ten years. However, as European countries constitute the biggest foreign trade partner of Turkey, we see the current economic crisis in Europe as an important challenge for us too. This is why we call upon European leaders to take the necessary measures in time. In this regard, Turkey is ready to do all it can to facilitate the way out of this crisis and believes that in the long term its membership of the EU will make a great difference, enabling the EU to be a stronger global actor. Our aim is to elevate Turkey to the league of the world’s ten biggest economies by 2023, when we will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

CAIRO REVIEW: A decade after the September 11 attacks provoked great debates about a clash of Islam and the West, what is your view about this ‘civilizational’ question?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: By mentioning the civilizational question, I presume you are referring to the “clash of civilizations” theory of Samuel Huntington. I have thoroughly reflected my observations against this theory in an article published in 1994, entitled “The Clash of Interests: An Explanation of the World (Dis) Order.”

As revealed in my article, I think Huntington’s theory is a status quo-oriented ideological formulation to justify foreign policy measures and maneuvers adopted in the post-Cold War era. While doing so, he unfairly blames non-Western civilizations for the existing crises and conflicts and absolves the Western powers of any responsibility in this regard. Unfortunately, after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Huntington’s theory has drawn even more attention and thus a distorted understanding has been further promoted which considers terrorism, radical movements, and Islam interrelated. This understanding, shaped around Islamophobia, is the main reason today for unjust reactions against Muslims, tantamount to discrimination. Over time, the presentation of the Muslim world as a potential enemy has also resulted in encouraging oppressive political tendencies in Muslim countries for the sake of preserving Western interests and thus exempting the Muslim world from enjoying the universality of democratic values.

I am not going to dwell upon the reasons behind the promotion of such civilizational clash theories, which are embedded more in political and economic considerations rather than actual social and philosophical realities. Indeed, for me the basic reason for declaring the Muslim world as a threat is the geopolitical, geo-economic, and geostrategic potentialities of the Muslim world and the need to justify the strategic and tactical operations to have control over these potentialities.

In any case, and with the advantage of hindsight, I categorically refute the clash theories as an inter-civilizational mode of relationship. I prefer and believe in the necessity of finding peaceful ways of resolving inter-civilizational differences through consolidating dialogue among civilizations and facilitating free exchanges and stressing on the common universal values rather than emphasizing the fault lines. The fact that the history of civilizations is not composed only of clashes, and there are many examples of dynamic and peaceful cooperation and interaction among civilizations, is an encouraging proof that this is an attainable goal. With this understanding, Turkey has cosponsored the Alliance of Civilizations initiative with Spain, which lately became a UN project with more than 120 members. The success of this initiative alone is another proof of our common aspirations and ideals irrespective of our cultural and religious differences.

CAIRO REVIEW: As somebody who is known as a leading theoretician of foreign policy, which global thinkers, or which countries’ foreign policies, interest you the most?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: In today’s globalized world, all countries, big or small, have a valuable contribution to make to global peace and security. So I do not make a difference between any countries as to the importance of their roles. I am more interested in how they use their potential and how they bring their added value to the fore. It is also important to create the larger framework, or a new global order that will allow countries to assume their fair share. For me, an egalitarian, participatory, and synthesizing world order is the only viable answer in overcoming the current global challenges and problems we are faced with. Therefore, these countries that are working to bring about such a new order deserve all the credit. Today, seeing a consensus emerging within the international community on the need for such a new global order makes me more hopeful for the future.

Likewise, we also need intellectuals and theorists to help form the conceptual basis of this new order. Their work will strengthen our commitment and provide an anchor with reality. It is also extremely important to have this intellectual support from all around the world rather than leaning on certain quarters. In this regard, the quality of the analysis and assessments from Asian, African, and Latin American thinkers and scholars are quite impressive. This is yet another proof of the universality of the human’s yearning for a better world. We should thus not deprive ourselves of the contributions by anyone and any country.

CAIRO REVIEW: Did you see the Arab Spring coming?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: From our point of view, it was expected; we were aware of the urgent need for change and democratic transformation in the region. As you might remember, in my book Strategic Depth (April 2001) I have underlined that the stability and political experience in the Arab states were not based on social legitimacy, and that stability was worthless. Likewise, I have also asserted that the transformation in Arab nationalism and the political legitimacy crises in the Arab world would affect the political leadership structures of those countries. As such, from the early years of the previous decade, we started emphasizing the importance of introducing political and economic reforms and upholding dignity, human rights and freedoms, as well as universal values such as the rule of law, transparency, accountability, and gender equality in the region.

CAIRO REVIEW: Broadly, what factors led to the Arab uprisings?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Protests are home-grown and naturally ignited by years-long aspiration for freedom, transparency, accountability, democracy, and social justice. A driving force for the popular movements has been the young people who were frustrated to live under pressure and restraint while suffering from economic distress. Popular discontent gained a wider sphere of influence through social networking sites, which have been utilized by the activists to organize protests all over the region.

CAIRO REVIEW: How will the Arab uprisings fundamentally change the Middle East—or not?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The process of change will take time in the region. It won’t be linear and it could undergo many seasons. But it is irreversible. It is not possible to turn back the clock, simply because the pressure for change is driven by demography. Today, around 60 percent of Arabs are under thirty. Overwhelming numbers of them are fed-up with regimes that have not even tried to give them better lives. The Arab Spring has necessitated the establishment of a fair balance between freedom and security for the development of stability as well as unity and peace. Such a need requires a social contract to eliminate the legitimacy gap between those who govern and are governed, in view of the aspiration of the peoples for freedom, justice, and democracy. This has never been easy before, and there is no reason why it should be any easier now.

The biggest challenge is to materialize the reforms in the fields of politics, economy, and security simultaneously. On the one hand, you need to set up democratic institutions and make them function; on the other, you need to produce lasting solutions to the requirements of the peoples on employment, education, food, and health. Inevitably, the next decades will witness the struggle to turn such ossified vicious circles into virtuous circles. Perhaps some will make it, some others won’t. However, those successful ones will lead the way for their less fortunate peers. The course of the popular movements will be determined by the peoples of the region. In other words, the people will set the pace and the scope of the change in the Middle East.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is your personal perspective of how the Turkish government responded to the Arab Spring, beginning with the protests in Tunisia, and later in Egypt and elsewhere?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: We have adopted a principled stance regarding the popular movements in the region. This stance is based on two pillars: to support the reforms for more transparency, legitimacy, and accountability, and to pursue them through peaceful transition. We always advocated for the regimes to carry the torch of change themselves. Since sustainable security and stability in the region is only possible through accommodating the legitimate aspirations of the people, we encouraged our regional partners to implement necessary reforms in due time to this end.

Turkey has always underlined that violence and use of force against people is unacceptable. The sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and political unity of each country must be preserved and respected. It is also important not to let these processes be hijacked by radicals who seek to foment sectarian, ethnic or ideological strife across the region. Turkey also notes that the scope of change and dynamics differ from one country to the other. Therefore, a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be applied to the countries in transition. If needed, Turkey remains ready to share her own experience with the interested countries.

CAIRO REVIEW: Do the revolts in the Arab world present a crisis for Turkey, or an opportunity?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: We would like to see a democratic, constitutional system taking root in our neighborhood so that all religions and sects can coexist in harmony and peace within a multicultural setting. This is also the only way to secure peace, security, and stability in the region. If ongoing popular movements succeed in the establishment of democratic systems, this will certainly serve the interests of Turkey. Turkey will spare no effort in supporting the processes of change and transformation in the region with its democratic culture and historical experience. However, one of the biggest challenges ahead will be to thwart the likelihood of a new form of polarization emerging in the region, as sectarian identities have sharpened in the wake of popular movements. Turkey will strive, in coordination with regional and international actors, to ensure that ongoing processes of change and transformation conclude with success.

CAIRO REVIEW: How does Turkey respond to fears of neo-Ottomanism—the prospect that your ‘strategic depth’ effectively seeks Turkish hegemony over the Arab region?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Certain circles accuse us of pursuing a neo-Ottoman agenda. These allegations are baseless. Common geography and historical relations with the region certainly dictate Turkey to follow an active policy in the face of developments in the region. Turkey simply looks for the establishment of security, peace, and stability on the basis of democracy in the region. Turkey has no hidden agenda toward the region. Our goal is working toward the creation of a belt of peace, stability, security, and wealth along its borders. The key word defining Turkey’s relations with the Arab countries is not ‘hegemony,’ but ‘mutual cooperation.’ Therefore such fears are baseless.

CAIRO REVIEW: Do you regret anything about Turkey’s bilateral relations with the former regimes in the region—Mubarak in Egypt, Assad in Syria, for example?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: History is replete with telling examples of regimes failing to survive as they lost their legitimacy in the eyes of their people. For Turkey, it is not the regimes, but the peoples that matter and it is the people that lasts, not the regimes. It is for this very reason that Turkey has consistently chosen to stand by the peoples of the region as they have charted for democracy and freedom, bringing about an Arab Spring.

CAIRO REVIEW: Does Turkey’s experience with strong military involvement in politics and government—for better or worse—contain lessons for Egypt’s transition to democracy—a ‘Turkish model’? Some observers in the West and in Israel have expressed alarm at the success of Islamic parties in Egypt’s elections—the fear of an Islamic state with a militant agenda. Do you share any of that concern?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey and Egypt are two brotherly and friendly nations, which are tied together with deep-rooted and unbreakable bonds of common history, culture, and geography. Egypt has a huge historic and cultural background. It is one of the most important civilizations in the world. It should not be forgotten that during the Ottoman times, the reform process had started in Egypt.

Promoting democratic transformation in our region for years, Turkey welcomes Egypt’s peaceful revolution and fully respects the Egyptian people’s sovereign choice. With the revolution, Egyptian people have embarked upon a historical journey that would bring greater democracy, freedom, stability, and prosperity to its future generations. We believe in Egypt’s democratic vision and we are fully confident in the Egyptian people’s ability to move forward in unity, solidarity, and determination. Democratic transition period in Egypt will have important repercussions for the entire region and Egypt’s democratic success will create an important precedent that will inspire other nations.

The progress achieved in Egypt’s democratic transformation process adds to our optimism on Egypt’s future. Egyptian people celebrated the first anniversary of the 25 January Tahrir revolution. We fully shared your joy and your pride. The conclusion of the elections for the People’s Assembly, and its inauguration on the eve of the revolution’s anniversary, represents a significant phase in this regard.

We do not underestimate the challenges ahead. We are also aware that there still remains a long way to go to complete the transitional period. There will be inevitable ups and downs. The Egyptian people have been long aspiring for a full democratic system and a better living. The process is sensitive and it’s full of difficulties. Demands and expectations are naturally very high and the time, as well as resources, are limited. The delays in realization of people’s aspirations lead to further frustration and resentment. The deadly incidents erupting in moments of high social tension remind us how fragile can be the order in society at these delicate times. In short, coping with the socioeconomic and political challenges on the one hand and advancing the transition in peace and stability on the other, is not a simple task.

Yet, we are fully confident that our Egyptian brothers will continue advancing with the understanding of compromise and dialogue and show utmost care to preserve the spirit of national unity in order to successfully conclude this historic process. We fully believe that thanks to the perseverance, resilience, and arduous efforts of the Egyptian people, Egypt will emerge from this delicate process even stronger and more prosperous than before. As displayed by the visits of President [Abdullah] Gül and Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan in March and September respectively, as well as by my six visits to Egypt last year, Turkey will remain in full solidarity with the Egyptian people in their journey to democracy.

Each and every country has its own unique characteristics shaped by its own unique historical and sociopolitical background. Therefore, as Turkey we do not want to present ourselves, nor to be seen, as a role model. It took years of democratic experimentation for Turkey to arrive at the current stage. Moreover, Turkish democratic experience is not merely about the evolution of civilian-military relations, but of an all-encompassing nature affecting the society across the board. I think, this aspect of the Turkish experience and its ability to prove the compatibility of democracy and secularism with a predominantly Muslim society could constitute an inspiration for the regional countries under transition, including Egypt. If needed, Turkey remains ready to share her own democratic experience with all interested countries.

We are now beyond such outdated prejudices and concerns against political parties with Islamic references. Starting with the free and fair elections in Palestine in 2006, we have always advocated that the democratically elected political entities should be allowed to assume and execute their governmental functions. Only through practice can democracies mature. However, the international community failed to recognize this fact in the Palestinian example and this failure continues to adversely affect the Palestinian body politic, with negative repercussions on the peace process. Therefore, in the context of the Arab Spring in general, and in the Egyptian case in particular, the international community should not repeat the same mistake.

On the other hand, ascendancy to power through democratic elections comes with responsibilities, as well as with authority to rule. These responsibilities include ensuring the rule of law, good governance, accountability, transparency, and upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the protection of women’s rights and rights of the minorities. In the final analysis, in democracies what matters is the free will of the peoples. Of course, full democratization is a long and arduous process that is about institutions, as much as about free and fair elections.

CAIRO REVIEW: How has Turkish foreign policy assessed and dealt with the evolving political crisis in Syria?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: For us, Syria is not just a neighboring country. We have a common history, we share a very long land border and we are destined to live next to each other. Our societies are interwoven through the ties of kinship. This is why we could not remain indifferent to the developments taking place right on the other side of our 910-kilometer-long border.

Determined to extend a helping hand to the people in Syria, we have approached the Syrian leadership even before the outbreak of the current popular movement. We explicitly warned the Syrian leadership that Syria could be the next step of the Arab Spring unless the leadership took on board the very basic demand of its citizens for a life in dignity. We offered to share our experience and expertise in the field of democratization that could inspire the Syrian leadership to take difficult yet necessary steps for accommodating the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

I have visited Syria sixty-two times in total since I have taken the post of special advisor to the prime minister. Just to remind the Syrian administration about the necessity of reforms, I have visited and met with President [Bashar] Assad three times. We have even presented a road map for reform in Syria in every walk of life. However, promises given to us for reform were not upheld. Despite relentless efforts by the Turkish government, the Syrian leadership chose to confront its own citizens by engaging in a dead-end policy based on the brutal repression of street protests.

The developments in Syria continue to be one of the major concerns of the international community in view of the mounting death toll in the country. The stage that has been reached in Syria poses a threat to the international peace and security. Now that it seems unlikely to see an action by the UN Security Council, the international community should reassess its options according to the new conditions in place.

Being a neighboring country to be first affected by the developments in Syria, Turkey will sustain its efforts in cooperation with regional and international actors in order to end the bloodshed and to pave the ground for a political transformation process in the country. As Turkey, we tried everything first at the bilateral level, then in coordination with the Arab League, and lastly at the UN Security Council in order to resolve the crisis in this country. We now need to work for an international platform on Syria, originating from the region and with broad participation of all related members of the international community. We hope that the Tunis meeting [of the “Friends of Syria” group of nations] on 24 February enabled the international community to send the long-overdue messages to the Syrian regime and to alleviate the sufferings of the Syrian people.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you estimate President Assad, and his role in the crisis and the solution?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The developments in Syria have gained a tragic dimension due to the uncompromising attitude of the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime has not only disregarded the outcries of its own people, but also lent a deaf ear to international calls for abandoning violence and use of force against protestors. Against this background, President Assad and his close entourage have the primary responsibility for the current crisis, which, unfortunately, ravages the country in front of our eyes. It is again in the hands of President Assad to end the bloodshed and to initiate a peaceful transformation process in the country through full implementation of the Arab League’s initiative and roadmap.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is the most effective way for outsiders—whether it is Turkey, Arab states, or a combination of international action—to address a crisis like the one in Syria?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The most effective way of dealing with the crisis in Syria is the adoption of a unified position by the international community as a whole. It will be only then that the Assad regime will finally comprehend that persisting in its current policies will only lead to more bloodshed and nothing else. Sharing a 910-kilometer-long border with Syria, Turkey will continue to be at the center of the efforts in order to address the crisis in this country. As a regional organization, the Arab League has a pivotal role in steering the efforts of the international community. The recipe for ending the crisis should ideally originate from the region and be implemented with the support of the international community.

CAIRO REVIEW: Does the instability in Syria pose a threat to Turkish security—as a border state with potential refugees fleeing violence, or as a country with a Kurdish region?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The worsening situation in Syria has gained a potential to pose a threat not only to regional but also to international security and stability. In addition to close and deep-rooted historical and cultural ties between the peoples of Turkey and Syria, Turkey shares its longest land border with Syria. It is hard to imagine a neighboring Turkey immune to the likely negative effects of the developments in Syria. All relevant Turkish authorities watch vigilantly the situation on the ground in this country and are ready to take necessary measures against possible sources of instability originating from Syria, including a mass influx of refugees.

CAIRO REVIEW: Would you agree with analysts who speculate that Turkey’s relations with Israel will never return to the high point where they have been in the past? Has Turkish policy toward Israel become ‘emotional’—considering Prime Minister Erdoğan’s ‘walkout’ at Davos, and the anger over the ‘Flotilla incident’?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Certain positive developments in the Middle East peace process also had their reflections on Turkey’s relations with Israel. After the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Peace Accords, Turkey upgraded its ties with Israel in the early 1990s; over the years, Turkey and Israel established better relations so that this relationship could serve the Middle East peace process. However, Israel’s acts and policies jeopardizing peace and stability in the region have had negative repercussions on our bilateral relations. The Suez Canal crisis of 1956, Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980, and Israel’s brutal military attacks on the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in December 2008, were among them.

The Israeli attack against the international humanitarian aid convoy on the high seas on 31 May 2010, which resulted in the killing of nine innocent civilians and the injury of many others from a host of nationalities, inevitably led to the deterioration of our relations. The attack constituted a clear breach of international law. Israel has drawn severe condemnation not only from Turkey, but also from the entire international community.

This brutal attack left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of the Turkish people. The crime committed by Israel is not a simple offense. Israel has not only violated the international law, but also the right to life, the most fundamental human value, of innocent civilians, once again. Yet, we have acted responsibly and with prudence during the last twenty-one months. Our expectations were both judicious and realistic. Despite this fact, and contrary to the common practice in international relations, Israel failed to meet Turkey’s legitimate demands for a public apology, compensation, and an end to the blockade of Gaza, until now. No country can turn a blind eye to the killing of its citizens by foreign forces on the high seas and the subsequent maltreatment of other passengers.

Turkey’s demands are clear. Israel needs to apologize and pay compensation. The unlawful blockade on Gaza must also be lifted. The Israeli government must make a choice. Israel needs to see that it will only be possible to ensure real security by building a real peace. We hope that Israel would see the big picture and what serves best its own interests. Normalization of our relations will depend on the steps to be taken by Israel.

CAIRO REVIEW: You personally were involved in a significant Turkish initiative to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and Syria—and by some accounts it nearly succeeded. Can you provide us with insights into your mediation mission, and what happened to it? What are the prospects for an Israeli–Palestinian agreement?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the core issue in the Middle East. Fundamental changes taking place in our region in the recent period have made the need for the settlement of this dispute more important than ever. Turkey supports the two-state solution that would lead to the establishment of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, to live in peace and security with the state of Israel.

We welcome and support all efforts for the resumption of the negotiations between the two parties. However, meaningful negotiations can take place only on an equal footing. Israelis have been enjoying their statehood since 1948, whereas the Palestinians have been denied such an inherent right for years. The steps taken by Palestinians in order to achieve full international recognition by the UN could remove such a lopsided approach from the agenda for good. It is now high time to address this imbalance. Israel must have a counterpart on an equal footing in every sense. Palestinians must have their recognized state.

Evidently, the primary obstacle in front of the peace efforts remains to be the Israeli government’s continued intransigence on the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. We are deeply concerned about the ongoing settlement activities of Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlements are not only contrary to international law and the Road Map commitments but also endanger the vision of a two-state solution. If the peace process is to be truly revitalized and concluded successfully, Israel should seriously commit itself to respecting the existing final status parameters, particularly on the 1967 borders.

Turkey strongly believes that the Middle East peace process should be advanced in all three tracks, namely the Israeli–Palestinian, Israeli–Syrian, and Israeli–Lebanese tracks. With this understanding, Turkey mediated between Israel and Syria in the past. As both parties were about to launch direct negotiations, the process was disrupted by the Israeli attack against the Gaza Strip. We strongly hope that this track as well would be revived as soon as possible once the conditions in the region normalize.

CAIRO REVIEW: You were also involved in the Tehran Declaration—an effort by Turkey and Brazil to mediate a solution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Was it a success or a failure?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: I wouldn’t describe the Tehran Joint Declaration as a matter of success or failure. It was rather a missed opportunity on the part of the international community in achieving a breakthrough in the longstanding diplomatic rift with Iran. The Tehran Joint Declaration proved that a genuine diplomatic engagement with Iran could yield results. If the proposal contained in the Declaration could have been implemented, it could have been the catalyst to a constructive diplomatic process addressing the broader issue of the Iranian nuclear program. In our view, confidence-building measures are still achievable if they are put into the right context. The Tehran Joint Declaration sets a successful example for future efforts.

CAIRO REVIEW: Western countries led by the United States have expressed strong suspicions that Iran is determined to become a nuclear weapon power. What do you think?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The problem is first and foremost that of a confidence crisis. Lack of confidence on the part of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program, and the security perceptions of Iran for its own part, create a big psychological barrier between the parties. Overcoming these barriers can only be possible through serious and targeted negotiations that would address the concerns and expectations of both sides.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is Iran on a collision course with the West, with no real diplomatic way out?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Based on previous experiences, Iran might have its own reasons to question the consistency of the principles and standards of its Western counterparts. Yet finding a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is in the interest of all parties. Given the impact of the psychological factor and the crisis of confidence among the parties, however, the process will not be easy. Patient but perseverant diplomacy will be needed to achieve the desired outcome. Only through a gradual process, including exploratory talks on a set of parallel actions aimed at overcoming the present impasse, will it be possible to arrive at a mutually satisfactory settlement of the outstanding issues.

CAIRO REVIEW: How would Turkey view an Israeli military attack on Iran to disrupt Iran’s nuclear project?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey is against any kind of military strike against Iran. The military option does not represent a solution to the challenges posed by the Iranian nuclear activities. Any military action would, on the contrary, create more problems than it would solve— particularly in terms of its unavoidable negative implications on regional and global peace, security, and stability. Determined efforts toward a peaceful solution through dialogue and cooperation, therefore, do not have any viable alternative. Negotiation remains the only way forward.

CAIRO REVIEW: Turkey was strongly skeptical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. How do you evaluate the results nearly a decade later, and the impact of the transformation of Iraq on Turkish interests—including the Kurdish issue?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Let me begin by sharing with you the main contours of Turkey’s policy toward Iraq. Turkey wishes to see a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous Iraq at peace with its own people and its neighbors. We have strong cultural and historical links with Iraq and we attach importance to being in close relations with all segments of the Iraqi society.

We all had misgivings about the war in Iraq since we knew that the war would first and foremost affect Turkey as a neighboring country. Turkey suffered from the war and the ensuing instability in Iraq in various ways. Instability and the power vacuum turned northern Iraq into a safe haven for PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] terrorists that use this region as a base to plan and execute attacks against Turkey. Our economic and commercial interests were also seriously hampered. The PKK terrorist organization does not constitute a threat only to the security and stability of Turkey, but also to those of our neighbors including Iraq.

In recent years Turkey has significantly improved its relations with the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Turkish businessmen, contractors, and workers have made crucial contributions to the prosperity and welfare in northern Iraq. Our expectation from Iraq—including the regional authorities in northern Iraq—is to take decisive and result-oriented measures to eradicate the presence and activities of the PKK terrorist organization therein.

The withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq in December 2011 has presented the Iraqi leaders with the opportunity to prove to themselves and to the international community that they can work together to build a stable, democratic, and prosperous Iraq. However, in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal, Iraq has been once again plagued by political instability. We are concerned that the ongoing political crisis may lead to the recurrence of sectarian violence in the country. We therefore call on all Iraqi leaders to resolve their difficulties through compromise and negotiations with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions to the existing political problems.

CAIRO REVIEW: What are Turkey’s interests in Central Asia, and what are the obstacles to improving relations with the nations of this region?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Central Asia lies at the heart of Eurasia with its ample opportunities and challenges. Since gaining their independence in 1991, the countries in the region have taken significant steps in enhancing their sovereignty, consolidating their statehood as well as elevating the level of integration with the world.

Sharing common cultural, historical, and linguistic ties, Turkey is the first country to recognize the independence of these countries. Our primary objectives toward these countries are to support the efforts for a working democracy and free market economy; to promote the political and economic reform process; to advance political and economic stability and prosperity in the region; to contribute to the emergence of an environment conducive to regional cooperation; to support their vocationtoward Euro-Atlantic institutions, and to assist them to benefit from their own energy resources. The Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) was established in 2009 as a new international intergovernmental organization, with the overarching aim of promoting comprehensive cooperation among Turkic-speaking states.

In the last few months, we have witnessed two important developments in the region. First, Kyrgyzstan has made an important progress on the way to parliamentary democracy. It is the first time that a peaceful power handover took place in Central Asia. Turkey will continue to support Kyrgyzstan’s aspirations for building a full-fledged democracy. Second, Kazakhstan is also moving in the right direction toward a multiparty democratic system. We boldly encourage these efforts to yield concrete democratic results. We welcome and support these transformational efforts and developments in the region catering for the needs and aspirations of peoples.

CAIRO REVIEW: After its initial electoral success a decade ago, the AKP government seemed to be on a good track for European Union membership, yet some observers see the process at a standstill now. What happened?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey’s accession negotiations started in 2005 and continue. Their goal is membership on the basis of the EU’s unanimously taken decisions. Despite some negative tendencies, the EU expresses that it is committed to carry forward the enlargement process which also includes Turkey. The 2011 Enlargement Strategy Document published by the European Commission last October stresses that “Turkey’s contribution to the EU in a number of crucial areas will only be fully effective with an active and credible accession process.”

Except for a number of member states that oppose our accession negotiations for domestic political considerations, EU countries in general state that they support Turkey’s accession process. They are aware of the added value that Turkey would bring to the Union. The Strategy Document that I have mentioned underlines that Turkey is a key country for the security and prosperity of the EU, with its dynamic economy, important regional role, and its contribution to EU’s foreign policy and energy security. As a factor of stability in its region, Turkey’s membership of the EU would not only amplify the global political, economic, and sociocultural power of the Union, but would also contribute to regional and global peace and stability, the dissemination of universal values to a wider geography, and the dialogue among cultures.

Accession to the EU is our strategic goal. I consider EU membership as an integral part of Turkey’s historical efforts for further modernization and transformation. On the other hand, it is true that in spite of our tireless efforts to make further progress in the negotiations, the process is confronted with difficulties as a result of politically motivated obstacles created by some EU members. Nevertheless, we are committed to carry forward this process and our reform agenda, which is now in an irreversible course. By doing so, we aim to provide our people with the highest norms and standards in every field of their daily lives. As a matter of fact, we have already made huge strides to that end in recent years through comprehensive reforms. We will continue reform since it is first and foremost for the good of the Turkish people. The new, progressive, and comprehensive constitution which will be drafted through a broad consultation with all relevant stakeholders will constitute an important step in this respect.

CAIRO REVIEW: What concrete steps do you envision taking to move forward in closing chapters in your accession negotiations with the EU?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Since the beginning of the negotiation process, out of thirty-three chapters, thirteen chapters were opened. These chapters cover different sectors; from agriculture, fisheries, energy, and taxation to science and research, education and culture, and environment. The accession process has never been easy for any country. Unfortunately, we are facing politically motivated obstacles which undermine the technical nature of the negotiations and in fact, are against the principle pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept]. Despite the hurdles, Turkey is determined to carry forward the process. Turkey has adopted and started implementing a national program with a comprehensive road map to ensure a society based on high democratic and legal norms. The program foresees a great number of legislative changes in order to harmonize our legislation with the EU’s. All our relevant ministries and institutions continue to work on the negotiation chapters, blocked or not, in line with the National Program, in order to be ready to open and close all chapters as soon as the political blockages are lifted.

CAIRO REVIEW: Has the prospect of a more democratic Middle East caused Turkey to rethink its geopolitical position concerning its future alignment with Europe?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey, a candidate for accession to the EU, is a European, Mediterranean, Balkan, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern country all at the same time. All these regions harbor challenges, but also opportunities for their people. Turkey’s proactive, multidimensional, and result-oriented foreign policy aims at contributing to the strengthening of peace, stability, and prosperity in all these regions. This is in our interest. It is also in the interest of the EU. The global international environment is rapidly changing. Transformation is now the key word. The Arab Spring has, and will continue to have, an immense impact on the international system. Political transition reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the people is leading to a future based on free and democratic foundations. During this turbulent period in the Arab world, [given] our geopolitical position, as both a part of this very region and as an EU candidate country, Turkey will continue to strive to foster dialogue and peaceful settlement of disputes in the region with solution-oriented approaches, to the benefit of all peoples of the region.

CAIRO REVIEW: Is Turkey serious about resolving the Cyprus problem?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Let me state this very clearly: as Turkey, we want a negotiated and mutually agreed political settlement in Cyprus, and we fully support the efforts of the Turkish Cypriots and the UN secretary-general to this end. The question you should be asking is: are the Greek Cypriots serious about resolving the Cyprus problem? Unfortunately their track record indicates that they are not.

The ongoing comprehensive negotiation process on the island was initiated in 2008 under the auspices of the UN, and within this framework the leaders have met more than 140 times to date. So far, progress in the process has largely been achieved thanks to comprehensive and constructive proposals of the Turkish Cypriots, which were also appreciated by the UN. Most recently, the fifth tripartite meeting of the leaders with the UN secretary-general was held in Greentree, New York, on 23–24 January. The international community had high expectations from these talks. As the Turkish side, we had been hoping that the Greentree meeting would usher in the high-level meeting with the participation of the two sides and the three guarantors, namely Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom, which would address all remaining issues that couldn’t be agreed upon by the two sides in order to seal the settlement through a grand bargain. Regrettably, this has not been possible due to the Greek Cypriot side’s stubborn intransigence. In Greentree the Greek Cypriots sidestepped genuine talks in order to avoid a decision for a high-level meeting, and a very important opportunity was missed.

Now, with the approaching Greek Cypriot EU presidency in the second half of 2012, the window of opportunity narrowed considerably. Despite this, the Turkish Cypriot side will continue its determined efforts and we will continue to fully support them. There is still some hope: if the assessment of the process to be provided by the secretary-general’s special adviser Mr. [Alexander] Downer in March is positive, the secretary-general intends to call a high-level meeting in late April or early May. This could finally produce a settlement agreement, enabling the new partnership to be established in Cyprus to assume the EU presidency on 1 July. But these hopes will be meaningless if the Greek Cypriot side does not negotiate sincerely. The Greek Cypriots must first decide whether or not they truly want a partnership and a common future with the Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots proved back in 2004, in the Annan Plan referenda, that they are on the side of a settlement. It is the Greek Cypriots who must now also display the necessary political will. The secretary-general, in his report in 2004, clearly stated that if the Greek Cypriots remain willing to resolve the Cyprus problem, this needs to be demonstrated.

Without a political solution, the Cyprus issue also harbors a potential risk for trust, stability, and cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The unilateral start of offshore drilling activities by the Greek Cypriot side last September and the developments which ensued after this provocative move have demonstrated the risks which the continuation of the Cyprus issue carries both on a regional and, partly, on a global scale. These unilateral activities of the Greek Cypriot side have also compromised and prejudged the Turkish Cypriots’ inherent and legitimate equal rights over the natural resources of the island. Mr. [Dervis] Eroğlu, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), put forth a constructive proposal for a fair sharing of the island’s natural resources and for using these resources to finance the settlement, but this proposal was returned by the Greek Cypriots without any comment. This crisis clearly demonstrates the necessity for a political settlement in Cyprus. On the other hand, Turkey and the TRNC will implement, by 2014, a pipeline project which involves bringing 75 million cubic meters of drinking water to northern Cyprus. This amount can be increased tenfold, and that would be equal to double the water need of the entire island. As Turkey, we would like the whole of the island to benefit from this project. This new water source could, like the hydrocarbon resources, be utilized as an incentive for the successful conclusion of the ongoing negotiations with a comprehensive solution. Thus a mutually agreed settlement in Cyprus would enable not only the two sides on the island but also the entire region to benefit from the increase in prosperity made possible through the peaceful use of these new natural resources.

The Turkish side is sincerely committed to the goal of a mutually agreed political settlement in Cyprus. A just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus problem will not only be in the interests of the two sides on the island but also the EU and all concerned parties including Turkey, as well as contributing to peace, cooperation, and stability in the eastern Mediterranean and the wider region.

CAIRO REVIEW: The Armenia question has also been a problem in Turkey’s foreign relations. Ankara has warned the French president about signing a law criminalizing denial of ‘Armenian genocide’—are you making progress on this issue, or are things actually getting worse?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Two separate appeals were lodged with the French Constitutional Council: to annul on the grounds of unconstitutionality the draft law “to penalize the denial of the genocides recognized by law in France.” The signatories of these appeals are either French deputies or senators. The Constitutional Council of France annulled the draft law on February 28. We consider the annulment as a step in line with freedom of expression and research, the rule of law, and the principles of international law, and against the politicization of history in France. We are glad to note that a grave error was corrected by the most competent judicial authority in France. Turks and Armenians have differing interpretations over the tragic part of their long common history, where all sides suffered. We would like to resolve these differences and diverging interpretations with Armenia through dialogue and based on impartial scholarly studies. Our aim is to reach a just memory. Trying to score points in third countries is not the way to deal with this issue. Third countries should play a constructive role in this process rather than take exclusivist, one-sided positions.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you see Turkey’s role in NATO going forward?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey is a member of NATO since 1952 and we are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of this membership this year. The international system has changed since 1952, as well as Turkey and the Alliance, but NATO is still the cornerstone of our defense and security policy. NATO, as a unique forum for Euro–Atlantic security, provides Turkey an opportunity to put forward her views and expectations regarding international security issues and to have a strong impact on transatlantic initiatives. Turkey’s membership of NATO is also an integral part of her global identity. Turkey proceeds to take part in missions and operations on collective defense and crisis management within NATO. Turkey mobilizes its ‘soft power’ by means of using its deep historical ties with populations and countries in the wide geography where NATO acts. In view of the fact that the security and stability of the Euro–Atlantic area and the Middle East are closely linked to each other, Turkey takes the lead in the development of NATO’s relations with the countries in the Middle East through partnership mechanisms like Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI). We shall continue to add value to NATO’s outreach in the future. As such, NATO maintains its relevance to respond to the risks and challenges of the new strategic environment.

CAIRO REVIEW: As historical competitors with centuries of rivalry, are Russia and Turkey establishing a fundamentally healthier partnership in the new global order—perhaps through the mutual benefits of natural gas cooperation?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: We have intense relations with Russia, which go back over six centuries at a time when both countries were multiethnic empires. St. Petersburg was among the first capitals where the Ottoman Empire sent a resident ambassador. Rivalry between the two neighboring empires transformed into a cooperative nature in the aftermath of the First World War. This cooperation has continued—especially in the economic sphere—even during the Cold War.

Our relations with Russia have evolved and developed rapidly since the beginning of the 1990s. Turkish–Russian relations constitute an integral component of Turkey’s multidimensional foreign policy. We maintain a sincere and open dialogue with Russia in order to preserve and strengthen the atmosphere of mutual trust and to further our cooperation to the mutual benefit of both sides.

Economic cooperation constitutes the driving force behind Turkish–Russian relations. Our trade volume reached $26.9 billion as of November 2011 and is on the rise. The leaders of both countries have set the target of a bilateral trade volume of $100 billion by the end of 2015. The volume of Turkish investments in Russia has surpassed $7 billion. Turkish companies are active in a large spectrum of areas, from food to construction to textile sectors. Our construction companies have undertaken 1,191 projects so far, worth $32 billion. The volume of Russian investments in Turkey has also reached $7 billion. We are pleased that our country continued to be the most preferred country by Russian tourists also in 2011. Last year, 3.6 million Russian tourists visited Turkey. The visa exemption agreement entered into force on 17 April 2011. We believe that the implementation of this agreement will contribute to our cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, transportation, and tourism.

Our cooperation in the energy field adds a strategic dimension to our relations. Russia is the biggest natural gas supplier of Turkey through two pipelines. While economic relations are the driving force, high-level dialogue provides for the strategic orientation of our bilateral relations. The High-Level Cooperation Council that we established in May 2010 during the official visit of President [Dmitry] Medvedev to Turkey opened a new chapter in our relations. We held the second meeting during the visit of our prime minister to Russia on 15–17 March 2011 in Moscow. This visit coincided with the ninetieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Moscow Agreement, which is the basis for our relations in the modern era. We are planning to hold the third meeting of the Council this year.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are you satisfied with Turkish–Russian cooperation in addressing regional challenges, such as the crisis Syria, the Arab uprisings generally, Iran’s nuclear program, the Caucasus, Central Asia, etc.?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: We believe that a stable, market-oriented, democratic, and peaceful Russia will certainly be an asset for regional peace and stability as well as for the European security architecture. We see Russia as one of our important partners and a significant actor regionally and globally. We think that a sincere and open dialogue with Russia would help transform our region in a positive direction. Russia’s contribution to the settlement of the frozen conflicts in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe is necessary. Likewise, it is expected by many that Russia would play a constructive role in the Syria crisis. This was one of our main themes when I visited Russia in January.

CAIRO REVIEW: President Gül has spoken of a ‘golden age’ of relations with Washington. Ties were not so good after the AKP came to office a decade ago? What happened?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey and the U.S. currently enjoy an advanced level of cooperation. President Obama paid his first bilateral overseas visit to Turkey soon after becoming president. However, we do not always pursue identical approaches on international issues. As Turkey has traditionally strong ties with its neighborhood and beyond, sometimes there may be nuances in Turkey’s approach on issues taking place in our region. Turkey’s geography necessitates a multidimensional foreign policy. Therefore, we have many issues concerning Turkey and the U.S. Turkey is ready to work with every country that embraces the goals of peace, stability, and economic development. It is not possible to accept the assumption that “ties were not so good after this government came to office a decade ago.” There is always speculation following a change in governments in all countries. Turkey’s decisive journey, encompassing comprehensive democratic and political reforms and brilliant economic performance in the last decade or so, is self-explanatory to dispel such groundless assumptions.

CAIRO REVIEW: Would you describe the relationship between Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Obama, which seems to be quite good and important to Turkish–U.S. relations?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: The developments in our region and beyond necessitate close consultation and coordination with our allies and partners. It is with this understanding that Prime Minister Erdoğan holds regular consultations with President Obama on international issues of common concern. You may also recall that President Obama recently named Prime Minister Erdoğan as one of five world leaders with whom he enjoys the most effective working relations.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you evaluate American policy during the Obama administration—with regard to Turkey’s interests, to the Middle East region, and to global security as a whole?

AHMET DAVUTOĞLU: Turkey welcomes the U.S. foreign policy, which promotes multilateralism and seeks broader international support within the framework of the UNSC [UN Security Council] for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. We believe in the ultimate success of principled foreign policy that is governed by the rule of law and international law. The unfolding set of events in the Middle East and North Africa highlight the indispensable feature of those principles. The calls for democratic, accountable, and sound governments in the region are equally important. I would also like to point out that the legitimate expectations of the people, regardless of wherever they emanate from, should not fall on deaf ears.

Losing Egypt

Since the 1950s, three interests have guided the United States in the Middle East: ensuring the free flow of energy resources from the region, helping to protect the security of the state of Israel, and preventing any power—other than the United States—from dominating the Middle East. There have been variations of these three broad policy objectives in six decades. For example, preventing Moscow’s penetration of the region ceased to be a central issue for the United States after the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. Observers often also include “countering rogue states” and “combating terrorism” in the constellation of U.S. interests. A case can be made for the latter, especially in light of the “cosmic struggle” that al Qa’ida and its affiliates are waging, but confronting the challenge of terrorism is not specific to the Middle East. To be sure, origins of the conflict are in the Middle East, but the battlefield is truly global. As for the problem of so-called rogue states—countries that threaten the regional rules of the game that the United States and its allies have established—it is merely derivative of Washington’s interest in oil, Israel, and its own regional predominance. In order to achieve these goals, Washington long pursued a policy that could best be characterized as “authoritarian stability.”

In late 1979, a foreign policy intellectual named Jeane Kirkpatrick, who would go on to serve as Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, penned an article in the neoconservative flagship publication Commentary called “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” All around Kirkpatrick, there were troubling signs that the global correlation of forces—a Soviet concept encompassing broad measures of a country’s relative influence, power, and prestige—was shifting away from the United States. In January 1979, the pro-American Shah of Iran fled his country as a revolution unfolded, making way for the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In July of the same year, the Washington-friendly dynasty that controlled Nicaragua collapsed. In place of the Somoza family, which had ruled the country as an American client since the 1930s, the Cuba-allied Sandinista National Liberation Front came to power. Soon afterwards, Nicaragua fell into the Soviet orbit. Kirkpatrick’s piece was published at the same time the Iranian hostage crisis began. On November 4, revolutionaries stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, taking fifty American diplomats and Marines hostage for what would become 444 days. Simultaneous to the takeover, Iran experienced a wave of anti-American protests, during which hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, turned out in the country’s main cities declaring, Marg bar Am-ree ka! (Death to America!). The month after “Dictatorships and Double Standards” appeared, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Moscow’s adventure would end in a debacle a decade later, but at the time it was seen as a worrisome indicator that the Soviets—taking advantage of American weakness—were embarking on an effort to alter the geostrategic balance of Southwest Asia permanently.

For Kirkpatrick and others, President Jimmy Carter’s emphasis on human rights was to blame for Washington’s global predicament. The stakes, according to Kirkpatrick, were too high in the global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for American policymakers to care about the character of regimes so long as their leaders were aligned with the United States. In practice, this meant that human rights, political and personal freedoms, rule of law, and accountability should be of little or no concern to Washington in the conduct of its relations with American allies. Once more, if those rulers should find themselves under threat from anti-American groups, whether Islamist theocrats or Marxist revolutionaries, then Washington had an obligation to support its nondemocratic allies. Regardless of how brutal and repressive their dictatorships were, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and Anastasia Somoza were far better than Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Sandinistas’ Daniel Ortega.

Perhaps spooked by the events of the late 1970s, successive American administrations seemed to take Kirkpatrick’s policy recommendation to heart and, in the Middle East especially, pursued a policy that placed an emphasis on the stability that friendly authoritarians could provide. In one of the most stirring speeches of the late Cold War, President Ronald Reagan stood in the shadow of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and the wall that divided the city and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan was imploring his Soviet counterpart to free not just the people of East Berlin but also of East Germany and, indeed, the entire Eastern Bloc. Yet, on the Middle East’s clear democracy and freedom deficits, Reagan, who often referred to the United States as a beacon of liberty throughout the world, was mostly silent throughout his presidency.

Foreign policy realism marked George H. W. Bush’s turn in the White House, which was consistent with Kirkpatrick’s thinking a decade earlier. Bush ordered five hundred thousand troops to the Persian Gulf and the deserts of Saudi Arabia to face down Saddam Hussein, not because of Iraq’s version of totalitarianism, but rather because the Iraqi leader had invaded Kuwait and declared it a province of his own country. Had Washington and the international community acceded to Baghdad’s aggression, the invasion would have likely set a precedent that would have complicated the United States’ global interests. In justifying the dispatch of American troops to the Persian Gulf, President Bush declared that one of his administration’s objectives was the emergence of a “new world order.” Yet Bush was interested more in maintaining a peaceful international order—a lofty goal indeed—than in the nature of the states that encompassed the international community.

Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, indicated early on in his tenure that he wanted to move out of the “authoritarian stability” paradigm in favor of a foreign policy that, among other things, placed an emphasis on the “enlargement of democracy” around the world. Yet, in the Middle East, it was business as usual. Clinton was inaugurated at around the same time al Gama’a al Islamiyya’scampaign of terrorism in Egypt was in full swing and, according to an administration official at the time, “We felt the need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mubarak against the extremists.” The same official also revealed that the administration had a policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East, but it ran through the peace process. Clinton’s team reasoned that once there was a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the justification for national security states—foremost Egypt—would evaporate, paving the way for more open and accountable governments.

By any objective measure, the policy of “authoritarian stability” worked for thirty years. The flow of oil from the region was only disrupted once, during the 1973 Saudi-led oil embargo, but this was temporary, lasting only six months, though it did cause considerable economic pain to the United States. Israel has remained secure and, since its peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, has not confronted the prospect of fighting an all-out war with its neighbors. And ever since the mid-1970s, when Henry Kissinger flipped Egypt, Washington has been the region’s predominant power. There have been setbacks, of course. Besides the oil embargo, the Iranian Revolution was a blow to the United States. In one fell swoop, Iran went from strategic ally to hostile power, making it relatively more complicated and expensive for Washington to pursue its objectives. Still, with the help of countries like Egypt, the United States has managed to achieve its primary regional interests.

It has become cliché to suggest that “on September 11 everything changed.” In hindsight, the phrase seems maudlin, but in many ways it is correct. The happy globalization of the late 1990s gave way to a darker, more forbidding view of the world and the threats it posed to the United States. On July 10, 2001, a former senior counterterrorism official at the State Department, Larry C. Johnson, published an op-ed in the New York Times called “The Declining Threat of Terrorism” in which he argued that the danger to Americans from terrorism had receded to such an extent that it was largely negligible. Just two months later, the Times ran a slew of editorials and op-eds called “The War Against America; An Unfathomable Attack,” “War without Illusions,” “How to Protect the Homeland,” “The Specter of Biological Terror,” and “Safe Borders.” The vast difference in worldview between Johnson’s piece and the subsequent publications in the newspaper of record in just sixty or so days was profound. More than anything, it reflected a sudden and dramatic shift in the national mood.

‘Drain the Swamp’

In the search for answers about what happened on 9/11, some Americans sought to withdraw from the dangerous world; others regarded the attacks as a call to action to defend America’s way of life. Still others took a critical look at U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East and Washington’s support for Israel, and concluded that the United States itself was to blame for the tragedy. In those heated days after the attacks, when there was a pervasive fear of another hit at any time and any place, this type of debate was most unwelcome in American political discourse. At the same time, a small group of American officials were reevaluating U.S.-Middle East policy, though they were not questioning ties with Israel. While fires were still burning in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, officials quietly jettisoned the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy that Jeane Kirkpatrick had so eloquently outlined twenty-two years earlier. Although there was a well-developed bureaucracy dedicated to developing, advancing, and coordinating U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy, these matters were of generally little consequence when decisions were made in Washington concerning the Middle East up until September 10, 2001.

A day later, what went on inside Arab countries—the human rights violations, limited economic opportunity, availability of extremists ideologies, and the overall predatory nature of Middle Eastern governments—was suddenly supremely important to safeguarding the United States, its interests, and the American people. In order to “drain the swamp” of would-be terrorists, the administration of George W. Bush embarked on an effort to promote democratic change in the Arab world. The architects of the policy theorized that the combination of political alienation, economic dislocation, and availability of extremist ideology in the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East—most notably Egypt, but also Saudi Arabia—were more likely to produce terrorists. If disaffected young men could process their grievances through democratic institutions, fewer would want to bomb American embassies, attack U.S. warships, and fly civilian airliners into buildings in Manhattan and Washington.

The prescription for America’s terrorism problem—promoting democracy—was deeply appealing and achieved a near foreign policy consensus. It is not hard to see why. The policy promised to mitigate, if not entirely resolve, what suddenly seemed to be the singular national security threat to the United States. Once more, it promised a foreign policy consistent with American values. This would do much to alleviate—if not again resolve—the problem of anti-Americanism in the region. Besides Washington’s unstinting support for Israel, the perceived gap between the principles, practices, and norms by which Americans like to believe they live at home and the conduct of the United States in the Middle East caused considerable anger among average Egyptians and other Arabs. Egyptians would often ask, “Why has the United States historically supported freedom and democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe but not the Middle East?” The claim about Latin America is certainly debatable, but the broader issue of Arab perceptions about the United States and its support for nondemocratic leaders in the region was both analytically important and has the virtue of being true.

The hasty enthusiasm with which official—and unofficial—Washington embraced democracy promotion could not make up for some of the policy’s significant analytical and practical drawbacks, however. There seemed to be a somewhat sunny emphasis on one potential endpoint of transitions—liberal democracy—at the expense of other potential outcomes including illiberal democracy or a “narrowed dictatorship.” Never mind that instability—both internal and external—is often associated with countries undergoing transitions. To be fair, there was a general awareness of this risk, but it was often deemed acceptable given the alternative. The report of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on reform in the Arab world was typical in this regard: “While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”

Policymakers and advocates of democracy promotion may have been correct in their assumption that fewer people would be willing to take up arms against their states—and the United States—in more open, transparent, and accountable political systems. Still, Sayyid Qutb’s intellectual framework for transnational jihad was revolutionary and uncompromising, distinguishing only between a very specific conception of Islamic society and the rest. To the extent that there will always be people attracted to this worldview, the United States and its allies will be targets of al Qa’ida, its affiliates, and its imitators. There is no policy prescription for this other than good police work, intelligence gathering, and superior firepower.

The other problem for the United States was the uncharted territory of encouraging political change in friendly Arab countries. The critique among democracy advocates in the Arab world that the United States promoted freedom everywhere but the Middle East was, as noted, powerful and largely correct. Yet the implication of some anti-Arab bias in this perceived anomaly was on one level understandable given long standing American policy in the Middle East, but it was also wrong. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco are all Arab countries, but that is not the salient characteristic common to all of them. Rather, they are American allies who happen to be Arab. Over the course of six decades, Washington had no interest in promoting democracy in the Arab world because its policy of relying on friendly authoritarians to achieve its objectives in the Middle East seemed to work quite well. Once the United States finally decided that freedom in the Middle East mattered after the September 11 attacks and the articulation of the “Freedom Agenda,” policymakers had very little idea how to advance reform in large part because there was no policy memo, playbook, or inkling how to do this within friendly countries.

In the Middle East and Egypt, in particular, Washington needed to answer two critical questions about democratic change in the Middle East. First, how does it encourage Arab leaders to undertake reform? Second, how does the United States protect its strategic interests in the short and medium terms when transitions tend to be fraught? Neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations answered either question effectively, though the political upheaval in the Middle East in early 2011 made the first query moot as far as Egypt was concerned. Before the end of President Mubarak’s reign, analysts and observers suggested pressuring him to change by leveraging economic and military assistance in a manner that would force the Egyptian leader to undertake meaningful political change in order to secure American largesse. This, they argued, posed relatively little risk to U.S. interests because anything Washington asked of Mubarak was in his interest anyway. Actual policymakers did not seem totally convinced of this argument and when it came to the Egyptian uprising, they seemed hamstrung between the uncertainties of political change and American interests. At least during the early stages of the mass demonstrations against Mubarak, the Obama administration walked a very fine line between a nondemocratic ally who had contributed much to U.S. regional interests and popular demands for a democratic transition. Indeed, Washington seemed to position itself in a way that had the Egyptian president managed to hang on, the damage to U.S.-Egypt relations would not have been as great had the White House totally broken from the dictator.

‘A Lot of Skepticism’

The most profound shortcoming of democracy promotion policy was, however, resistance from the Arabs themselves. This was to be expected of Egyptian leaders who rejected the American intrusion in Egypt’s internal affairs. Egyptian nationalism can often be prickly, but more importantly, Cairo did not believe that it should answer to anyone, even those who were providing it with generous aid.

Yet this view was not confined to the Egyptian officialdom. Even those intellectuals, activists, and ordinary Egyptians who wanted to live in a democracy were uneasy about the post-9/11 discussion in Washington about democracy in Egypt and the Middle East. Here there were three interrelated concerns: First, just as with the Egyptian leadership, there is a deeply ingrained sense of nationalism that breeds contempt of foreigners bearing advice about the way Egyptians should live. Second, the American policy was widely believed to be an effort to “impose” democracy on Egypt. This became a particularly potent issue after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which, by default, became an actual exercise in imposing democracy on an Arab country. Finally, as Washington was shifting toward a policy emphasizing democratic change, Egyptian intellectuals, students, and other observers argued that the United States sought democratic change out of its “own interests.” This was true. Whereas authoritarian stability had been regarded previously as the best way to secure the free flow of oil and Israel’s security and maintain American predominance, Bush administration officials now calculated that in fact democratic states in the Arab world would best help Washington achieve these goals. In 2002, an Egyptian political scientist named Hassan Nafa’a appeared on a panel at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s annual Soref Symposium. During the event Nafa’a, who would later go on to be one of the spokesmen for Mohammed ElBaradei’s reformist National Association for Change, articulated widely held suspicions of American democracy promotion in Egypt:

Everyone would like to see democratic regimes rule, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but everywhere. You will nevertheless find a lot of skepticism, because once you have democratic ideals that conflict with other objectives of American foreign policy—such as oil supply or the security of Israel—the United States sacrifices the former, being much more keen to achieve the latter. Is there a commitment to restructure the agenda of U.S. foreign policy objectives? I am not so sure.

Nafa’a is hardly representative of Egypt’s broad community of democracy activists, but the sentiments he expressed touch precisely on why the United States was widely regarded to be an illegitimate messenger of change.

Even as the Egyptian government—like many other states in the region—was deflecting Washington’s pressure for change, the Bush administration was operationalizing what until December 12, 2002, had been a largely rhetorical exercise. On that day, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the establishment of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) with an initial funding of $29 million. This new layer of bureaucracy within the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the State Department was intended to take the lead in implementing the administration’s Freedom Agenda. MEPI would fund programs in four critical areas—called pillars—that were deemed important to building liberal democracies in the Arab world: political reform, economic reform, educational reform, and women’s empowerment. In practice, MEPI’s writ included encouraging trade, mobilizing foreign direct investment, promoting the rule of law, strengthening civil society, helping improve access to quality education, and addressing specific challenges that women face in the Arab world. Some of this work had begun during the 1990s under the auspices of AID [U.S. Agency for International Development], but the exigencies of U.S. foreign policy post-September 11 gave many of these programs new emphasis. While AID had focused on creating constituencies within Arab governments for change, the rationale for MEPI was to work with independent and indigenous NGOs and civil society groups, as well as governments.

Even before the establishment of MEPI, the People’s Assembly passed the Law of Associations (Law 84 of 2002, also known as the NGO Law) that restricted the ability of Egyptian civil society organizations to raise money and made it more difficult for them to operate. Central to the law was a requirement that all NGOs—between 16,000 and 19,000 organizations—register with the Ministry of Social Affairs, which gave the government the opportunity to reject applications from a variety of long-standing groups dedicated to human rights, workers’ rights, housing rights, and combating torture. The NGOs were also prohibited from engaging in political activity, though there was immediate concern among civil society organizers that the excessively broad view of “politics” among Egyptian functionaries and ministers would place their organizations in jeopardy. While NGOs were permitted to accept donations, they were prohibited from receiving money from abroad without exception. Also, if the organization received funding of twenty thousand Egyptian pounds or more from a single source, the NGO’s board was required to submit the details of the donation and supporting documentation to a registered auditor. Violation of these provisions would result in fines equal to the amount of the gift or jail time.

Congress sought to give Egyptian organizations a way out of these restrictions when, eighteen months later, it included a provision—known as the Brownback amendment (for then-Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas)—in Public Law 108–447 that stated, “With respect to the provision of assistance for Egypt for democracy and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval by the Government of Egypt.” Before leaving Cairo to become the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, U.S. Ambassador David Welch, tested the Brownback amendment when he announced at a press conference that the United States was providing $1 million to two NGOs and four advocacy groups registered as companies without the prior approval of the Egyptian government, though Welch made it clear that Cairo had been made aware of the grants.

Welch’s announcement produced a fi erce reaction from members of the People’s Assembly. Almost immediately, Abu El Ezz el Harriri from the Tagammu Party demanded that the prime minister investigate what he termed “a blatant breach of diplomatic norms that could open the door wide for more American meddling in Egyptian affairs.” Mohammed Abdel Alim, a Wafdist, assailed the government for permitting the United States to fund Egyptian advocacy organizations. Members of the ruling National Democratic Party, in an effort not to be caught on the wrong side of what was clearly a sensitive issue, sided with the opposition and demanded that the restrictions on foreign funding for NGOs be extended to companies as well. In the end, the Egyptian efforts to undermine the Brownback amendment mattered little, as Washington continued to fund civil society groups who sought U.S. support regardless of Cairo’s objections.

Indeed, with the establishment of a bureaucracy dedicated to encouraging democratic change in the Middle East, the Bush administration was signaling that political reform in the Arab world was going to be a lasting feature of American foreign policy. Indeed, the administration hammered away at the themes it discovered after 9/11, linking terrorism to authoritarianism, the inherent instability of nondemocratic rule, and the universal values of freedom and democracy. Almost a year after the establishment of MEPI, President Bush made the short trip across Lafayette Park opposite the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to the colonnaded headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The reason for his visit was a speech marking the twentieth anniversary of the federally funded National Endowment for Democracy, which is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.” The president’s remarks were notable in one important respect. Besides using the clunky phrase “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East” for the first time to describe his administration’s policy, Bush explained to his audience why a push for democratic change had become a central focus of his approach to the Arab world:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

The president praised countries like Bahrain, Qatar, and Morocco for rather modest steps toward more open politics, and even lauded Saudi Arabia for its plan to hold its first-ever municipal elections, but there were no such plaudits for Egypt. Bush neither complimented nor criticized the Egyptians. Rather, citing Cairo’s leadership in peace, he exhorted Egypt to “show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.”

The Egyptian response to President Bush was to reject his reasoning and deflect his challenge. A week after the speech, the editor in chief of the government-affiliated daily al Ahram, Ibrahim Nafie, argued that the preconditions for democratic change were “obviated, directly or indirectly, by U.S. policy in the region.” Nafie was, of course, referring to Washington’s support for Israel and the American invasion of Iraq. Yet Nafie went further, harkening back to the Western penetration of Egypt and the region more generally: “By perpetuating its occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration forces us to conclude that it has launched a colonial project aimed at securing control over this region’s vital resources, and that this project is cloaked in the old time garb of ‘the white man’s burden’ to civilize non-white people.” Makram Mohammed Ahmad, editor of the state-owned weekly al Musawwar, expanded on Nafie’s central theme declaring that the United States:

[I]nsists on imposing its own cultural patterns on everybody without understanding the culture of others; interferes in every little detail of internal affairs; ignores the limits of religion and social customs in its definition of family and defense of homosexuals and people who violate the traditions of their society; imposes itself as a partner in religious and educational issues which are considered exclusive to national work; and imagines that what is good for the United States can be good for others.

Ahmad ended his column implying that Washington’s credibility problem was related to its “blind bias toward Israel.” In Akhbar al Youm, columnist Galal Arif summed up the position of the state-owned press in a column a little more than a week after President Bush’s speech: “The Arabs know that U.S. policies have for the past sixty years been a real enemy for all their hopes in establishing justice and democracy. But they also know that there is no place for any U.S. talk about democracy while American aircraft are killing Palestinian children.”

Still, there was a sense in Egypt that Washington, which for so long had supported Egyptian authoritarianism with military, diplomatic and financial support, was playing a critical role by supplying political cover for the opposition. Although some of Cairo’s reformers were profoundly opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq and Palestine, they nevertheless supported—some more grudgingly than others—the Bush administration’s pressure for political change. Hisham Kassem, chairman of the board of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and founding editor of al Masry al Youm, argued that U.S. policy was decisive in cracking open the door of Egyptian political reform. While not entirely unexpected of Kassem—a liberal who welcomed American democracy promotion—even Abdel Halim Qandil, at the time a spokesman for Kifaya! and editor of the Nasserist al Arabi that was fiercely critical of the United States, acknowledged that Washington’s outspoken support for democracy was providing him and his movement a certain amount of protection from the Egyptian state. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood was generally quiet on these issues, but it was taking advantage of the relatively more liberal political environment to press its agenda.

Bush may have been a reviled figure among many Egyptians, but his administration helped them publicly air questions about the sources of power and legitimacy of the regime. This was an astounding turn of events. Previously Washington had been a critical factor in Egyptian politics as various opposition groups sought to leverage the U.S.-Egypt strategic relationship to highlight the regime’s vulnerability on issues like nationalism and sovereignty. Now the United States was a source of vulnerability for the regime in an entirely different way. In Washington’s efforts to attack the “root causes” of terrorism, it injected itself directly into Egyptian debates over the long unsettled questions: What is Egypt? How is it organized? What is its political trajectory and what does it stand for?

Within months, however, the United States and the Egyptian government would revert to form. The Egyptian leadership would regain its footing through the help of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian group Hamas. The Brotherhood’s electoral success in Egypt in November–December 2005 and, in particular, Hamas’ outright victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 spooked Washington. Absent an answer to the question, “How do you protect U.S. interests in the short and medium term?” the soaring rhetoric about democracy, freedom, and change that had become a hallmark of the administration was greatly scaled back and became largely perfunctory, though the work of MEPI and AID continued. This was also a time when the situation in Iraq was deteriorating, and Iran used the opportunity to flex its muscles there. Under these circumstances, there was a strong pull in Washington for retrenchment and a focus on core American interests. The change in U.S. policy only confirmed what Hassan Nafa’a and others had suspected four years earlier–positive rhetoric aside, ultimately Washington would not alter its long-standing approach to the Middle East. Washington’s pull back from the Freedom Agenda only substantiated what the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Maamoun al Hudaybi warned a little more than a month after President Bush’s National Endowment for Democracy speech—that the United States was not to be trusted because “[it] does not seek to realize the interests of the Arab world. Otherwise it would have stopped its support for Israel and withdrawn its armies from Iraq.” The fact that Hamas’ electoral victory appeared to be the reason for the Bush administration’s sudden uncertainty about democracy in the Middle East spoke volumes to Egyptian and Arab commentators and activists. Indeed, after spending the better part of the previous four years emphasizing the need for political change, by early 2006 the United States looked more and more like the peddler of pernicious double standards Egyptian and Arab skeptics had long suspected.

Flawed Assumptions?

Since the 1960s, Egypt’s leaders have failed to develop a coherent ideological vision that makes sense to most people. As a result, the Egyptian elite have had to rely on bribery and coercion to ensure social cohesion. Even so, the amount of resources available to Egyptian leaders in contrast to their Saudi counterparts, is limited. As a result, President Mubarak only had enough largesse to buy off that constituency for autocracy—big business, the military, security service, regime intellectuals, and the bureaucracy. The rest of society was controlled almost exclusively through violence or the threat of it. This is expensive and risky, revealing the profound weakness of the Egyptian state.

In the process of threatening or actually using force against their own population, the Egyptian leadership only added to an increasingly angry, polarized, radicalized, and potentially unstable political arena. Yet Washington based its approach to the Middle East in large part on a stable Egypt, despite all of the country’s pressing problems. This conclusion was based on two observations. First, the Egyptians demonstrated a capacity to muddle through significant challenges—defeat in war, economic stagnation, assassination, and terrorism—in the past. Second, the regime’s primary constituents never withdrew their support from the leadership. Both these observations are true, but they did not provide insight into the prospects for Egypt’s future stability.

On the eve of the Egyptian revolution, Washington was stuck, locked into a relationship that had certain strategic purposes in the past, but with a country whose regional influence seemed to be waning and not as stable as widely believed. The policy debate over Egypt took for granted that President Mubarak would die in office and once the old man took his last sail up the Nile another regime figure would take his place. As a result, policymakers and analysts tended to think of Egypt policy in terms of two options: authoritarian stability or democracy promotion.

For some of those who regarded the Bush administration’s efforts to foster democratic change a mistake, a renewed commitment to President Mubarak, the regime he led, and ultimately to his successor would fortify the Egyptian leadership and renew its flagging international and regional standing. With enhanced American support, Cairo would enjoy new regional prestige, making Egypt a more effective partner than in the immediate past. There were several problems with this approach, however. First, it did nothing to alter the vision-patronage-coercion balance that was at the heart of Egypt’s weakness; in fact, a policy of authoritarian stability would have only endorsed Cairo’s reliance on coercion. Second, it did not resolve a central yet unintended problem in the U.S.-Egypt relationship: Washington had become a critical albeit largely negative factor in Egypt’s domestic political struggles. The opposition used the strategic ties between the two countries—or what they have long suspected about these relations, much of which the November 2010 WikiLeaks’ revelations confirmed—as a political cudgel against President Mubarak and the regime, more generally. The government deflected this criticism by striking its own anti-American posture by using force against its domestic opponents. Finally, the argument posited that it was possible to turn back the clock in both Egypt and the United States. Yet, too much had happened over the course of the 2000s. In Egypt, activists were challenging the authority of the state in new and bolder ways. Political reform had become a critical part of Egypt’s national debate. In Washington, although critics charged that Washington had essentially abandoned the push for democracy as of 2006, when the Bush administration toned down its Freedom Agenda rhetoric, the American foreign policy bureaucracy continued to encourage democratic change in the Middle East.

The second option that wonks and officials debated was a full return to the Freedom Agenda. To advocates of this approach, democratic leaders in Egypt would have to rely less on coercion because they would enjoy the consent of the governed. Yet a return to the democracy-focused approach of 2003–2005 presented a range of problems for Washington. As noted in detail earlier, Egypt’s leadership was manifestly opposed to an American role in promoting political change. In the run-up to Egypt’s 2010 People’s Assembly elections, which the Economist magazine described as “garishly fraudulent,” an unnamed senior Egyptian government official called American democracy promoters “deluded.” Although it turns out that this was a more apt description of Egyptian officialdom on the eve of the January 25 uprising, this surprising undiplomatic remark was accompanied by a slew of commentaries in the state-controlled press hurling invective at the United States for its alleged interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. This was a fight that the Egyptians seemed determined to make sure that Washington lost. With the exception of MEPI grantees, it was also not entirely clear how much Egyptians wanted Washington’s help in this area given their perception of foreigners on ostensibly civilizing missions. The recent record of U.S.-Middle East policy is thus hardly an asset for selling American goodwill to skeptical Egyptians. Operation Iraqi Freedom, Washington’s support for Israel in its struggle with the Palestinians, and the notion that Washington sought to “impose democracy” on Egypt remain visceral topics in many quarters.

At the same time, the Bush administration’s approach to Egypt and the Arab world writ large held enormous appeal. The “forward strategy of freedom” seemed like an antidote to a great global threat emerging from the Middle East, and it had the great benefit of being entirely consistent with American values—something often unapologetically missing from the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Yet, too often observers overlook the fact that political change is not linear and is entirely contingent. What may start out as a seeming transition to democracy could end up as the consolidation of a liberal democracy or an illiberal democracy or a dictatorship. Never mind that states moving from one type of political system tend to be more unstable and warlike than others. The question was whether these potential costs outweighed the perceived benefits of a democracy promotion strategy. Few scholars have addressed these issues in a rigorous way, but in January and February 2011 it became largely moot. Until that time, American officials and other outside observers assumed that democratic change in Egypt was a generational project. During that time, American aid and values could, if employed judiciously, encourage a democratic evolution of Egypt’s political system. This would have the twin benefit of ensuring the development of democratic institutions and, importantly, protecting American interests. It turned out, however, that after thirty years under Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians could not wait.

The U.S.-Egypt Breakup?

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, a game particular to Washington, D.C. broke out. It began with, “How did the Obama administration do?” and would end with “Can the Bush administration take any credit for the democratic wave sweeping the Middle East?” The honest answers to these questions are “It does not matter,” and “Unlikely.” To be sure, the Obama team was somewhat slow to recognize what exactly was happening in Egypt. The political dynamics on the ground were way beyond the administration’s declarations on January 25 that it was time for reform. Yet American foreign policy officials can be forgiven for the State Department’s tin-eared declarations about Egyptian stability. Senior U.S. officials and their staff lived in the same world where academics and policy analysts alike regarded Egypt’s political system as among the most stable in the Arab world. In retrospect, President Obama could have staked out any position, and events in Egypt were likely to unfold as they did no matter what he said once the revolutionary bandwagon took off. For their part, members of the Bush administration freely admit that they failed to impress upon Hosni Mubarak the importance of reform. He was resistant at every turn, claiming that he knew Egypt and how to rule it better than they. Also, the extraordinary events of January–February 2011 had nothing whatsoever to do with the U.S. invasion of Iraq almost eight years earlier. Iraq was regarded as the quintessential example of American hubris and few, if any, Egyptians saw it as an example for their country. Rather, it was the Tunisians taking matters into their own hands and toppling their dictator that provided inspiration for Egyptians.

This all suggests that Washington has far less ability to shape events in Egypt than commonly believed. That may have been a drawback for policymakers in the mid-2000s who were trying to pressure Mubarak to embark upon reform, but it is actually a good thing in post-revolutionary Egypt. Within hours of Mubarak’s departure for Sharm el Sheikh, Washington was abuzz with a renewed interest in democracy promotion. Now, according to some, was the time to pour more resources into this area. This policy prescription betrayed not only a fundamental misunderstanding of what had transpired in the previous two weeks, but also a blatant disregard for almost a century and a half of Egyptian history. The last thing that Egyptians—who had entirely on their own dislodged their dictator, renewing a sense of national pride and spirit—wanted was a foreign power offering expertise and advice about how to manage their transition.

Moreover, although the United States was not responsible for the inequity of Mubarak’s rule, it did enable it and benefit from it. Mubarak was Washington’s man in Cairo: he kept the Suez Canal open, repressed the Islamists, and maintained peace with Israel. In return, the United States provided much for Egypt, contributing billions in economic assistance over the years to build up the country’s infrastructure, agricultural technology, and public health programs. Yet U.S. assistance, while certainly contributing to Egypt’s development also served to undermine the nationalist legitimacy of the regime. After all, how could Mubarak boast of Egyptian pride and ability when USAID employees and contractors were nestled in many government ministries?

At the same time, Egyptians came to see that their country’s foreign policy was being warped for the sake of U.S. largesse. The original sin was Sadat’s separate peace with Israel, which Mubarak inherited and scrupulously upheld. From the perspective of many Egyptians, this arrangement hopelessly constrained Cairo’s power while it freed Israel and the United States to pursue their regional interests unencumbered. For the United States, Mubarak was pivotal in creating a regional order that made it easier and less expensive for Washington to pursue its interests, from the free flow of oil to the protection of Israel and the prevention of any one country in the region from becoming too dominant. The benefits to Mubarak were clear: approximately $70 billion in economic and military aid over thirty years and the ostensible prestige of being a partner of the world’s superpower.

For Egypt, the particular policy ramifications of this deal have been plentiful, including Egypt’s deployment of thirty-five thousand troops to Saudi Arabia in the Gulf War of 1991, its quiet support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, its implicit alliance with Israel during the war in Lebanon in 2006, and its complicity with Israel in the blockade of Gaza. Mubarak believed that these policies served Egypt’s interests—at least how he defined them—but they ran directly against the grain of Egyptian public opinion. Mubarak thus faced two irreconcilable positions: he could either be Washington’s man or a man of the people—but not both. He chose the former and filled in the resulting legitimacy gap with manipulation and force.

It is no surprise, then, that the relationship between Egypt and the United States ran like a live wire through the popular opposition to Mubarak’s rule. Protesters in Cairo declared in March 2003, just as U.S. forces were pouring into Iraq, that only a democratic Egypt would be able to resist Israeli and U.S. policies in the Middle East. More recently, opponents of Mubarak expressed a similar sentiment, calling Mubarak’s presidency the “Camp David regime.”

No Egyptian leader will make Mubarak’s mistake again, which does not portend well for Washington’s position in the Middle East. The United States should greatly lower its expectations of what is possible in the post-Mubarak era and come to terms with the end of the strategic relationship. Where, then, does this leave Washington? The best the United States can do to salvage its position in Egypt is for the Obama administration to emphasize democracy, tolerance, pluralism, accountability, and nonviolence—and then take a hands-off approach as Egyptians build a new political system on their own terms. Washington has become such a negative factor in Egyptian politics that it risks doing more harm than good if U.S. officials give in to the temptation to do much more than emphasize “first principles” on a peaceful, orderly, and transparent political change. Implicit demands that call into question the continuation of the U.S. assistance package or even suggestions on how Egyptians should proceed after the Mubarak era will be met with tremendous resistance from those seeking to lead, if only because Egypt’s politicians will need to demonstrate their nationalist credibility.

What sort of political future will emerge in Egypt is hard to predict. At the very least, however, Egypt does have a parliamentary history. The country’s 1923 constitution established a parliament that functioned on and off to varying degrees until the Free Officers’ revolution in 1952. That era was destabilized by the British presence in Egypt, which ultimately ushered in Nasser and his comrades, who constructed the regime against which Egyptians ultimately rebelled. Washington does not occupy Egypt, but it risks playing a malevolent role in the transition if it tries to interfere. This is not only because of the mistrust many Egyptians have for the United States, but also because the trajectory of Egyptian politics is unknowable and is likely to stay that way for some time. Revolutions rarely end the way their protagonists and participants desire when they are on the barricades.

This article is an extract from
The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, by Steven A. Cook, published in 2012 by Oxford University Press

Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of  The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square  and Ruling but not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and TurkeyHe has written for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Weekly Standard. He writes the blog, “From the Potomac to the Euphrates,” at

Erdoğan’s Decade

The swirling currents of daily political life in Turkey enjoy a wild unpredictability. But in November 2002, when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP) swept to power with surprising strength, it turned out that it was riding one of Turkey’s regular underlying tides. This sudden popular reversal was much the same as in 1950 when a similar surge of votes brought Adnan Menderes and the Democrat Party to power. And it happened again in 1983 in favor of Turgut Özal and the Motherland Party. On each of these three occasions, the new leader catching the public imagination was charismatic, pragmatic, and able to gather round him a coalition of interests including conservative landowners, progressive businessmen, Turkish nationalists, Kurds, the pious, a scattering of liberals, and a bedrock of skepticism about Turkey’s secularist ideology and its military enforcers. The stars of Menderes and Özal both faded after ten years, during which time they became more autocratic and began to rely on an ever-narrowing circle of advisers. Erdoğan, perhaps the most effective leader of them all, reaches his tenth anniversary in November.

It was not immediately obvious that Erdoğan would emerge as such a national leader. A graduate of an imam and preacher-training school, he had risen through the youth wing of the implicitly pro-Islamist and usually marginal movement led by veteran politician Necmettin Erbakan. Erdoğan’s opportunity arrived in 1994, when divisions in Turkey’s political system and his own campaigning energy secured him the mayor’s seat in Istanbul, Turkey’s cultural and commercial capital, with just one quarter of the vote. His split with the Erbakan movement came in 2001, when he and the movement’s pragmatic wing realized they needed mass appeal if they were ever to win national elections. And in 2002, Erdoğan benefited from a general sense of popular fatigue with squabbling old-school politicians in a country still reeling from a major economic crisis. Add to the mix the fact that he and his party offered something plausible and new, and Erdoğan enjoyed a similar confluence of circumstances that had allowed newcomers Menderes and Özal their surprise victories in 1950 and 1983.

The jury is still out on the achievements of the AKP’s first decade. Great successes marked the early years—waves of reforms, the opening of EU accession negotiations, the end of torture in jails, strong economic expansion, and more improvements for ethnic Kurds than any previous government. But the AKP has fumbled important policies, often following failures of its own political will. Cyprus remains unsolved; a great wedge between Turkey and the EU. The Armenian genocide question, at one time at the gate of a path to resolution, is once again an arena of growing friction. And the Kurdish problem, in the process of being resolved in 2009, has fallen back into armed conflict. Domestic critics see the similar corrosive effects of absolute power on the AKP, with thousands of Turks being detained and hundreds held for years on controversial grounds of “terrorism.” These are mostly Turkish Kurd activists, but also include nationalists, soldiers, university students, academics, and journalists.

As with the Menderes and Özal parties before it, the fate of the AKP is above all linked to Prime Minister Erdoğan. Some people say they voted for the tall, broad-shouldered ex-mayor just because of the confident swagger in his stride; others saw him as a scary product of his former pro-Islamic party. There was radical fire enough in a poem read out by Erdoğan in 1997 to cost him his job as Istanbul mayor and provoke a temporary ban from politics: ‘The mosques are our barracks, / The domes our helmets, / The minarets our bayonets, / And the believers our soldiers.’ But the poem was actually written by Turkish nationalist panegyrist Ziya Gökalp (who died in 1924) and Erdoğan’s ability to win 34 percent of the vote in 2002 proved that ordinary Turks had accepted Erdoğan as a solid manager of Istanbul, not as a scary fundamentalist.

Indeed, during the campaign, Erdoğan told visitors to the AKP’s headquarters that he simply wanted to be known as a conservative and explicitly stated that he had broken with his radical Islamist past. “That period is over, finished,” he said, in his sometimes brusque style. “We have opened a new page with a new group of people, a brand new party . . . we were anti-European. Now we’re pro-European.” When challenged over past statements such as “my reference is Islam,” however, Erdoğan retained an element of the old ambivalence of the Islamist underground. “Islam is a religion; democracy is a way of ruling. You can’t compare the two. We just want to increase the happiness of the people,” he said. Secularists remained nervous that a new, Islamist ideology would take the place of their own. None missed an opportunity to recall that Erdoğan had once cynically compared democracy to “catching a train. When you get to your station, you get off.”

‘Brother Tayyip’

Erdoğan had already come a long way from his Istanbul origins in a working-class neighborhood whose proud men are a by-word in Turkey for rejecting any compromise as an unacceptable loss of face. Joining Turkey’s Islamist movement as a youth, Erdoğan and later his wife Emine were responsible for consolidating the party’s vote-winning infantry in the city. As much as the policies, it was Erdoğan’s control of this organization, and an obsession for opinion polls and market surveys, that was to bring him success in 2002 and keep his share of the vote above 50 percent in 2011. By this time, Erdoğan was able to send his children to U.S. universities—his daughters supposedly so they could wear their headscarves (legally banned although tolerated on Turkish campuses) but he never wanted anyone to think he had forgotten his origins. “In this country, there is a segregation of Black Turks and White Turks,” Erdoğan once said. “Your brother Tayyip belongs to the Black Turks.”

Erdoğan’s first big test as AKP prime minister was the run-up to, and fall-out from, the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. As so often in Turkey, the AKP’s instincts vacillated between alignment with the West, Christian and disdainful yet rich and strong; and sympathy for the Middle East, poorer and traumatized by conflicts, but fellow Muslims and neighbors. Initially, Erdoğan promised to cooperate with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in return for the promise of an extensive Turkish say in the future of northern Iraq plus billions of dollars in grant aid and loans. But the Americans didn’t read the complex politics of Turkey correctly, and even Erdoğan underestimated the strength of opposition to U.S. plans within his own party. On March 1, 2003, more than a quarter of his deputies declined to enter the assembly or voted against Turkish cooperation with the Iraq invasion. AKP leaders were left ashen-faced as they discovered they were three deputies short of the necessary parliamentary quorum. The measure was defeated.

There was no easy going back and Erdoğan had to embrace what he called a “democratic outcome.” Polls showed 94 percent of Turks opposed the war, because, like Europeans and others around the world, they did not believe that Iraq was responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on America, and they feared intervention would further destabilize the Middle East, hurt the Turkish economy, encourage ethnic Kurdish separatism, and fuel radicalism in the region. Not surprisingly, U.S. leaders were furious at being jilted just a couple of weeks before the planned outbreak of hostilities, not just by the AKP but by lukewarm Turkish generals too. American supply ships waiting off the Turkish coast had to sail to the Persian Gulf, their advance units had to reload what they had unloaded at Turkish ports, and troops had to leave outposts already established along the Turkish highway to northern Iraq—in one televised instance, pelted with stones by local people.

Thanks to the initial success and brevity of the military campaign, the AKP escaped the full force of U.S. opprobrium. Erdoğan rushed to make up by granting overflight rights, offering troops (in the event rejected by Iraq’s new authority), and opening up supply routes for the new U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. In 2007, Turkey and the U.S. signed a deal that saw Ankara normalize relations with Iraqi Kurds and secure U.S. intelligence in its fight against Turkish Kurd insurgents. Indeed, by 2011, the U.S. increasingly treated Turkey as a key regional partner as it moved back from engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading President Abdullah Gül to call this period a ‘golden age’ in relations with Washington.

The mid-2000s had not been smooth sailing for the AKP, however. The new party needed allies as it faced bitter opposition from the Kemalists within the bureaucracy and military, the staunch followers of republican founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which proved the basis for many later investigations of alleged coup plots. Showing their pragmatic ability to seize an opportunity, Erdoğan and Gül sought national inspiration and political protection by embracing the troubled convergence process with the European Union. Shortly after his party’s first electoral victory in 2002, Erdoğan set off on a whirlwind tour of European capitals. The athletic, then-forty-eight-year-old Erdoğan’s performance made a sharp contrast with his geriatric predecessor, Bülent Ecevit. European counterparts were impressed by Erdoğan’s direct approach and relieved by his reformist program. He also received red carpet treatment in Greece, where he followed up on the 1999 rapprochement with Athens and promised a new start regarding Cyprus, complete with new and strong support for the reunification of the island.

Divorcing the EU

Erdoğan and the AKP continued with revolutionary reforms enacted by Ankara since the 1999 recognition of Turkey as an EU membership candidate. The secularist coalition of Prime Minister Ecevit had already rewritten one-third of the Turkish constitution by adopting international human rights laws, ending capital punishment, expanding women’s rights, discouraging torture, and improving prison conditions. New laws curtailed existing restrictions on freedom of expression, civil society, and the media, as well as diminishing the Turkish military’s long-standing dominance of politics. The AKP followed this with several further packages of EU reforms passed in 2003–4, which expanded Kurdish cultural rights, brought a level of transparency to the army budget, and restricted the executive power of the National Security Council. The NSC was not merely a parallel government where top civilian and military officials hammered out Turkish national policy, but an entire military-dominated apparatus with a 600-man secretariat that monitored sensitive areas of the administration and had eyes in all state institutions. Pushing ever further, Erdoğan announced in 2012 that the ‘national security’ lesson in schools would end.

This reforming trend and the signed promise of increased normalcy with Cyprus finally won Turkey its October 3, 2005 date to begin EU membership negotiations. Nevertheless, at the December 2004 European Council where this was decided, the Dutch premier of the day didn’t receive any gratitude or back-slapping bear hugs that marked the elated reactions of other Balkan states accorded the same green light. Indeed, there is a deep ambivalence in Turkey towards the EU. Polls typically show a roughly 60 percent majority of Turks supporting membership but only 40 percent believe that it will actually happen. Ironically, only about 40 percent of people in the EU can accept the idea of Turkish membership although 60 percent believe Turkey will get it anyway. On one hand, the digestive power of the EU went to work as ministries modernized floor by floor and EU standards and regulations crept into Turkish law across a broad front from motor vehicle tests to snack stand environmental rules. But on the other hand, a Turkish artist portrayed the process in a short video set in a workshop where a worker in blue overalls steadily stone grinds a hard, pointed piece of metal. As the flying sparks die away at the end, the metal turns out to be the crescent moon of the Turkish flag, its spiky point rounded off, and, by implication, now an impotent symbol, curbed by new masters in Brussels.

Ankara still insists on its long-promised right to join. But almost no Turkish leader, questioned privately, says they would immediately sign membership treaties if and when the country fulfils all the necessary criteria. President Gül has repeatedly said that Turkey might prefer the Norwegian option, being able to join but choosing not to do so. Indeed, Turkey continues to block Greek Cypriot access to Turkish ports, thereby casting a pall over an accession process that has only thickened over the years. By the end of the AKP’s second term in office in June 2011, only thirteen chapters had been opened and one provisionally closed, and all but the rest had been blocked. The membership process had come to a virtual standstill.

Erdoğan and the AKP have blamed Europe for the slowdown. And, indeed, the old continent’s right wing governments, populist parties, economic slowdown, and loss of formerly expansive confidence have had a gravely depressing effect. The pro-Turkey EU leaders who swung the 2004 European Council in favor of accession talks were gradually replaced. But most damaging was the 2007 election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chose to win votes via direct attacks on the EU-Turkey process. This short-term appeal to French anti-immigration sentiment was both a breach of France’s treaty commitments and a blow to France’s long-term commercial interests. It triggered an emotional response in Turkey, where early republicanism was self-consciously modeled on France’s Jacobin revolutionary heritage and secularist ideology. Even if the previous EU-Turkey process could be compared to a game in which Turkey pretended to join and the EU pretended to accept it, Sarkozy’s determination to walk out on the deal effected a rupture that had all the atmospherics of an acrimonious divorce.

However, Erdoğan and the AKP must also take their share of the blame for the deterioration of ties with Europe. They voluntarily chose not to enact the partial normalization with the Republic of Cyprus required of them, later citing the EU’s failure to implement some lesser promise. There were also other signs of an underlying lack of Turkish enthusiasm for going all the way to EU-mandated transparency in government, decentralization of power, and freedom of expression. Until 2009, the chief Turkish EU negotiator was also a busy foreign minister. Turkey’s EU General Secretariat, in charge of coordinating the adoption of EU laws, was under staffed and under funded. Talk of enacting the National Program for adopting those laws dragged out for more than a year before it was enacted in 2008. The blunt Erdoğan showed little aptitude for bonding with the less-colorful and softer-spoken EU leaders while his grandstanding style made them wonder how he would ever fit into the collegial atmosphere of European Council meetings. EU officials bristled at their frequent clashes with Turkish counterparts who kept negotiations on edge until the last minute, were unable to make decisions on their own, and whose uncompromising maximalism often made Turkey look as if it wanted to have its cake and to eat it too.

Generals and Headscarves

The EU process did, however, give the AKP cover as it saw off the biggest threat to its rule, the Turkish armed forces. The Turkish general staff had gritted its teeth as AKP took power in 2002 and avoided attending official receptions where Turkey’s new leaders were accompanied by their headscarfed wives. Their implicit insubordination had an intimidating effect, following as it did the witch-hunts against anyone with pro-Islamic tendencies after the 1997 ousting of Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Party. In 2009, when the AKP felt firmly in charge, prosecutors discovered what they said was a web of coup conspiracies organized by a deep state group they called Ergenekon and arrested large numbers of senior officers. It is doubtful whether the plotting was quite as widespread as some in the AKP thought. But for sure, the secularist officer corps was seething with resentment against what they saw as a political force determined to undo Atatürk’s secularist legacy. And leaked documents and testimony do indicate discussions and conspiracies against the government from 2003 onwards.

As it became clear that the AKP was intending to nominate one of its leaders, Abdullah Gül, to become president in early 2007, the chief of the general staff began dropping critical hints. A group, including retired officers, started organizing pro-secularist demonstrations. These drew hundreds of thousands in western cities, and serving generals even circulated propaganda by email to urge on the movement. On April 27, 2007, parliament held the first round of the presidential election and Gül did not get the necessary two-thirds majority. The same evening the general staff published on its website a memorandum warning that it was “a party to these debates and the definitive defender of secularism” and that it would “if necessary, openly display its reaction.” Five days later, on May 1, another Kemalist stronghold, the Constitutional Court, found in favor of an application to annul the election on the grounds of a hitherto unknown quorum technicality claimed by the secularist and opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

After this public threat from the general staff, some AKP leaders and sympathizers packed small suitcases, ready to be led off to jail the next morning. But Turkey had changed, and Erdoğan, Gül, and the AKP did not lose their nerve. They brought parliamentary elections forward from November to July and, faced with a choice between the AKP and the military, the Turkish people voted massively for the AKP. On July 22, 2007, the people gave the ruling party 46.6 percent of the vote; thirteen points ahead of its 2002 performance. The pro-military CHP trailed with 20.9 percent. On August 28, 2007, the new parliament duly elected Gül as president and his wife, Hayrünnisa, became Turkey’s first ‘first lady’ to wear a headscarf.

For several months, military top brass continued to boycott official ceremonies, sometimes with considerable rudeness. There was, however, no question that the military had been forced back to its barracks. The army had been able to meddle so much in Turkey’s military-dominated past because, when politicians were so obviously unpopular, generals could plausibly present themselves as the voice of the silent majority. But a conscript army could not be mobilized against a political party that had won nearly half of the national vote. Gradually the system adapted: it helped that Gül was always engagingly polite and cultivated a moderate and statesmanlike image. People became more used to seeing the headscarfed wives of the AKP elite, some of whom, like the wife of the first AKP foreign minister, Ali Babacan, dressed as elegantly as fairy-tale princesses.

Despite this, the AKP has been unable to overcome a deepening, almost tribal polarization between the secularist and pious, religious tendencies within society. This split was worsened by both the AKP’s attitude that its parliamentary majority gave it and it alone the right to decide what was best for the country, and the opposition’s stubbornly zero-sum mentality that its popularity would be damaged if it allowed the AKP to succeed in anything. The opposition refused to discuss cooperation on a new constitution after 2007—essentially, the AKP’s primary election pledge—and it did little to help the AKP’s 2009 initiative to reach out to Turkey’s Kurds. High society Istanbul dinner parties often divided into viscerally angry debates in which liberals would defend the AKP’s performance and secularists would decry the AKP’s infringements of old Atatürkist norms. This could often seem like class war. After all, the AKP represented a newly-urbanized majority descended from villagers and small-town merchants, while the secularists represented the old elite whose grandparents, refugees from the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, had taken over Anatolian towns and built the Turkish republic from the 1920s.

Kurds and other Conundrums

One successful novelty of the early AKP years was a broadening détente on the Kurdish problem, although it remained slow, imperfect, and marred with continued outbreaks of violence and injustice. In the parliamentary elections of November 2002, the explicitly Kurdish nationalist party won 6.2 percent of the countrywide vote, but because it failed to exceed the national barrier of 10 percent, it received no seats in parliament. The party was banned for alleged links to separatist terrorism in 2005 and in 2007 its successor chose to run its candidates as independents, enough of whom won seats to qualify as a twenty-deputy party bloc in parliament. Kurdish nationalist politicians were enjoying long terms in power in many municipalities in the southeast, becoming more of a working cog in the political system and more responsive to civil needs. Indeed, generally lower levels of violence, in addition to the AKP’s enlightened development and road-building policies and rising levels of prosperity in Turkey as a whole, transformed the face of Kurdish-majority cities, with their new apartment buildings, shopping centers, and neater, greener urban spaces. In 2009, as part of what became known as the ‘Democratic Opening,’ a twenty-four-hour Kurdish language state television channel went on air, local Kurdish broadcasters were allowed to broadcast in Kurdish, a first attempt was made to bring Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas home to benefit from an amnesty, and universities were permitted to register Kurdish language and literature courses.

Progress was, however, too slow and insincere to satisfy Kurdish nationalists. They had to struggle every day against legal Turkish harassment and social prejudice in order to win more respect and political representation. During the first two years of the supposed ‘Democratic Opening’ (2009–11), for instance, the state jailed, for various periods, more than 3,000 nationalist political activists, not for any acts of violence but almost all on the presumption that they sympathized with or spoke about one of the policies attributed to the PKK.

The PKK had already withdrawn the ceasefire it had announced in 1999, saying that state forces hadn’t backed off. The late 2000s were increasingly characterized by a cat-and-mouse game of clashes and further ceasefires. During upswings of violence, PKK insurgents ambushed outlying conscript-manned army outposts and lay roadside bombs for passing convoys, while radical offshoots would sometimes stage terrorist attacks in the hearts of major western Turkish cities or against tourists on Mediterranean beaches. For its part, the Turkish military would hunt insurgent units high in the mountains and conduct aerial bombardments of  their bases in northern Iraq, sometimes followed up by land incursions. Extravagant Kurdish political shows of support for the PKK or funerals of Turkish soldiers killed in lethal clashes caused peaks of nationalist outrage that put pressure on the government and hindered all attempts at political dialogue. The situation had unraveled so far that, by the second half of 2011, fighting and bombings killed more than 300 members of the security forces, PKK fighters, and civilians. In the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakır, a general sense of a happier, tidier, more prosperous normalcy seemed to co-exist with outbreaks of mayhem. Yet at the same time, a PKK funeral could trigger a mass strike by shopkeepers, running battles in the outskirts of town between the Turkish police and Kurdish youths armed with knives, firecrackers, and Molotov cocktails while the police fired pistols in the air, released tear gas into crowds, and photographed participants for later arrest. Turks in the west of the country repeatedly failed to understand the Kurds’ need for dignity and national recognition, to feel Kurdish pain as the bodies of PKK guerrillas were brought home for burial, or the growing anger, energy, and mobilization of the new and still-dispossessed generation of Kurdish youth.

During its early years, the AKP managed to keep the support of western Turkish liberals, who accepted that pragmatism outweighed its religious leanings and shared its skeptical approach to the old-school statism of the Kemalists. AKP leaders had split with the pro-Islamist movement in 2001, and if they retained any Islamist agenda, it was unstated and relatively subtle. Some Anatolian regions resembled those provincial U.S. towns that banish liquor to brown bags bought at stores on the outskirts, acquired alcohol prices of almost Swedish levels in relative terms, and saw moralistic laws soft-focus cigarettes and alcohol out of television shows. But the first years of AKP rule also saw a blossoming of the open air restaurant and cafe culture in many cities, a boom in Russian and European tourism, and a phenomenal expansion of small enterprises manufacturing higher quality wine and spirits. Erdoğan’s attempt in 2007 to revert to the pre-1998 criminalization of adultery in Turkey, apparently on religious grounds, foundered not just on European disapproval but also on domestic outcry.

Liberals were gradually alienated, which brought more votes for the opposition in western coastal cities and led to the AKP’s loss in the 2009 municipal elections of the booming Mediterranean tourist resort city of Antalya. And, the AKP did not root out the judiciary’s authoritarian habits. At one point after the 2009 launch of the Ergenekon complex of court cases, more than 10 percent of serving generals and admirals were behind bars for supposed military and deep state coup plotting. The prosecutors clearly went too far, rounding up octogenarian activists, leaking evidence that appeared fraudulent, and jailing one well-known secularist Ankara commentator, Mustafa Balbay, for more than two years without informing him of the charges against him. Turkish Kurds and other dissidents fared no better. As happens too often in Turkey, the judicial system judged intention as action, mistook smoke for fire, confused sympathy with rebel causes for criminal anti-state revolt, and locked up many people on the presumption of guilt as an inefficient judicial process limped along for years until, as everyone knew was likely, many of the suspects would be found innocent.

Early on, the AKP tried hard to settle chronic foreign policy problems. One notable effort concerned Turkey’s long-standing differences with Armenia and the Armenian diaspora. Years of secret contact, civil society interaction, and then open negotiations resulted in two protocols being signed in October 2009. These formed a framework for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia and the opening of their mutual border, closed by Turkey in 1993. At the same time, the two sides agreed to establish joint official commissions, including one with participation from Swiss experts, to study their disputed history—principally the question of how to agree on the underlying facts and denomination of what the world calls the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, and what Turkey increasingly accepts as tragic wartime massacres of several hundred thousand. In parallel, Turkey harbored an unspoken hope that the Armenians would withdraw from some of the 13.5 percent of Azerbaijan that they occupied in the 1992–4 war that conquered Azerbaijan’s Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno Karabagh. Unfortunately, the two protocols stalled in late 2009 when strong objections were raised by Azerbaijan—a major Turkish energy supplier, trading partner, and ethnic cousin. To a lesser extent, the Armenian diaspora and opposition were uncomfortable with any compromise towards Turkey, and most Armenians opposed any explicit link to Armenian withdrawals from conquered territories around the Karabagh mountains. As often seems to happen, the breakdown was not a result of any bad intentions of the AKP, but rather an apparent inability to think through the need to stick by new policies when the political going got tough.

Despite this setback, Armenian and Turkish civil groups and media have stayed in regular contact. Journalist exchanges, cultural events, small business, and even the delivery of transit passes to Armenian truck drivers driving through Turkey have kept pushing normalization forward. The road has been bumpy, including the infamous 2005 prosecution of Turkey’s leading writer Orhan Pamuk for ‘denigrating Turkishness’ by referring to the killings of Armenians and Kurds. That charge was dropped on a technicality in 2006, the year that Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But by 2011, the debate had moved on so far that it was unremarkable to find, for instance, a progressive Turkish newspaper commentary drawing the conclusion that the 1915 massacres “may not be a genocide in [legalistic] words, but that’s what they were in essence.” These “massacres” were commemorated for the second year running in 2011 across Turkey, including Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The AKP also failed to clear up another legacy of the past: the well-grounded suspicions regarding the deep state’s failure to deal, in a timely manner, with attacks against non-Muslim minorities. A Catholic priest, Andreas Santoro, was murdered in Trabzon in 2006 and three Christian missionaries had their throats slit in Malatya in April 2007. The Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was once convicted for ‘denigrating Turkishness’ on the basis of mistranslated articles, was assassinated in January 2007. His death shook the country, as did credible allegations of official involvement with the teenage nationalist who murdered him. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the slain writer. But rather than giving justice to the victims’ families and reforming the intolerant xenophobia of the media and education systems, which underlie these murders, the passing years and eventual court ruling in January 2012, which allowed most of the accused to walk free, points to official indulgence of, and indeed complicity with, the perpetrators.

As the army became less of a threat and liberal support appeared dispensable, the AKP gradually lost interest in Europe and EU norms, and slowed reforms that would have brought greater transparency, accountability, competition, and open markets, and limited the government’s power to distribute patronage. Indeed, it was now the secularists who needed to seize the banner of EU-bound reform, something they failed to immediately appreciate. Even high-ranking Turkish officials became scornful of the way several member states’ economies faltered after the 2008 financial crisis, the euro came under attack, and deep political fault-lines made the EU look confused and ineffective. Turkey, by contrast, helped by a recapitalized and better-regulated banking sector, rebounded rapidly from the initial crisis and appeared to have escaped the contagion. So it was perhaps not surprising that Erdoğan and the AKP turned to the altogether more congenial goal of becoming a champion in its region, particularly in the Middle East, a goal that appeared to neatly serve Turkey’s commercial as well as strategic interests.

Managing the ‘New Middle East’

At first, AKP leaders actively compared their new outreach to the Middle East with the EU’s beginnings and championed benefits derived from the freedom of movement for people, trade, capital, and services. They explicitly aimed, like Europeans after World War II, to integrate and reduce confrontation between neighbors traumatized by decades of revolution, sanctions, and war. The policy has hints of political ambition, not to mention Turkish preeminence, but this neo-Ottoman flavor did not, at first, put off Turkey’s regional partners. Ankara’s first step was to ease travel restrictions and lift visa requirements for travelers from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Libya in 2009, thereby adding to the already automatic system of granting visas to Iranians. A new border crossing was inaugurated with Syria, and Cold War-era minefields were removed between the two countries. Groups of senior cabinet ministers began to hold regular joint meetings, as the AKP had done with other neighbors such as Greece and Russia. And in 2010, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan agreed to transform their bilateral free trade areas into a jointly-managed free trade zone, a first step towards an EU-style multilateral mechanism.

At the same time, Turkey became an observer at the Arab League and hosted foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Istanbul. In 2005, a Turk, Ekmeleddin I.hsanoğlu, won the first contested election to lead the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which includes representatives from fifty-seven Muslim countries; it’s worth noting too that in 2010 a Turk was also elected to head the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Alongside its civilian and military contributions to North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Afghan and Balkan efforts, Turkey also began contributing ships and 1,000 military personnel and engineers to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Broad regional support elevated Turkey to a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2009–10, the first time since the early 1960s.

Middle Easterners are finding Turkey more attractive for many reasons. The AKP’s victory had buried the image of a country long seen as having turned its back on Islam to act as a treacherous cat’s paw for Western imperialism in the region. Some prized Turkey’s readiness to challenge Israel openly, arguably the main reason for Turkey’s appeal on Arab streets when it became a pronounced Turkish trait after 2009. Turkey also appears to have made peace between its Muslim soul and secular political pragmatism. Some Middle Easterners respect its status as the only Muslim country to be accepted as a potential equal by rich, powerful Europe, as shown by the hundreds of journalists from the region who attended key EU meetings on Turkey’s future membership. Some like its success in moving from authoritarianism to democracy. Some simply admire the pure electoral legitimacy of Turkish leaders—and readiness to step down from power at the end of their terms.

The AKP has also presided over a period of unprecedented economic and commercial success. After the restructuring that followed a 2000–1 domestic financial crisis, global buoyancy helped Turkey streak ahead. Annual growth averaged 7 percent for the AKP’s early years in office, between 2002 and 2007. Inflation tumbled from an average of 75 percent in the 1990s to 9.5 percent in 2009. Exports quadrupled from $36.1 billion in 2002 to $132 billion in 2008. Foreign investment, which had lingered around $1–2 billion per year for decades, soared to $5.8 billion in 2005 and then averaged about $20 billion for the next three years. In the short term, at least, Turkey’s cleaned-up banking system and relative freedom from mortgage-backed debt allowed it to escape the worst of the 2008–9 global downturn. There is likely to be an adjustment in store for the Turkish economy in 2012, not just because of the slowdown in its main markets in Europe, but because uprisings in the Arab world will likely cause years of tumult and lower economic demand.

The AKP has endured some criticism for the way its ambitious intentions led to embracing unsavory Middle Eastern dictators, who were then disgraced by the 2011 Arab revolts. Nevertheless, in the long term, the AKP’s early proactive and even-handed diplomacy in the region retains the potential to encourage peace and stability, without which prosperity and democracy are unlikely to take root. The streets of Turkish cities and seaside resorts are audibly more filled with visitors from Iran and the Arab world than previously. At the same time, Turkish capital, films, television series, music, and products are establishing themselves in Middle Eastern markets. With more than seventy Turkish TV series sold and dubbed around the region, from Morocco to Kazakhstan, a meeting between a Bosnian, a Croat, and a Serb who differ on everything political could agree on what to make of the last heartbreak in the latest Turkish soap opera.

The AKP’s handling of Israel has been erratic, with trade still continuing but minimal diplomatic relations being conducted through second secretaries and a near-complete break in former military cooperation. As part of a return to the best of what the AKP represented in the early-to mid-2000s, Turkey would benefit from a normalization of ties with Israel as part of a Turkish strategy of equidistance from all its neighbors. However, in this case, the AKP is arguably less to blame for current troubles than the government of Israel. Until 2009, the AKP continued the previous policy of engagement with Israel. AKP leaders often visited the Jewish state, trade rose, and in 2005 Prime Minister Erdoğan himself paid his respects at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial, although he declined to cover his head with a yarmulke. Turkey productively hosted several rounds of modest proximity talks between Israel and Syria in 2008.

By contrast, Israel has clearly taken the key steps that escalated the post-2009 deterioration in its relationship with Turkey. Understandably, Erdoğan felt personally betrayed in December 2008 when Israel launched its Gaza operation only days after he had spent five hours dining with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his residence, doing his best as the Israeli-Syrian process seemed to be close to achieving real results. It was when this Gaza operation killed 1,430 Palestinians, including many civilians, that Erdoğan staged his angry outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres and his now legendary walk-out from the World Economic Forum in Davos. It was an Israeli deputy foreign minister who chose later, in 2009, to insult the Turkish ambassador in front of TV cameras. It was Israeli commandos who killed nine Turks (including a Turkish-American) in May 2010, on board a multi-national flotilla that was, in theory, trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. This may have been a reckless idea implicitly approved of by the AKP, but the midnight Israeli assault was on a ship, in practice, steaming south towards Egypt in international waters seventy miles off the Israeli coast. It was also the Israeli government that has declined to endorse an Israeli apology for this incident, the text of which diplomats from both sides have already agreed.

In the short term, the AKP’s challenge to Israel became a principal ingredient in Turkey’s new popularity on the Arab street. However, since the mid-2000s, the AKP has been neglecting another key element of Turkey’s success—and its regional appeal—namely, a healthy relationship with the EU. Europe as a whole still takes more than half of Turkey’s exports, against only a quarter taken by the Middle East. EU states supply more than three quarters of Turkey’s foreign direct investment, the best pointer toward future economic integration. And of the 183 million people who visited the country in the first decade of the new millennium, only 10 percent of visitors came from the Muslim world. Europe is home to up to four million Turks, while less than 100,000 live and work in the Middle East. High oil prices offer Middle Eastern opportunities for Turkish commercial expansion, but these markets are continuing to prove as risky as they have in the past.

The AKP’s and Erdoğan’s principal ambition is to see Turkey as a rich and powerful hub between the Middle East and Europe, and the Mediterranean and Russia. To achieve this, it will have to find its way back to a balance between the spokes of that hub, including, for instance, Turkey’s place as part of European and transatlantic alliances. This is precisely what has, for a long time, made it seem so special to the Middle East.

 Turkey and the AKP are riding high in international opinion. The energetic reforms of the AKP’s’s first years in office have, after a time lag, succeeded in changing the minds of Westerners who have for too long been skeptical about Turkey. The Middle East has been charmed by Turkey’s commercial success, the legitimacy of its politics, and its willingness to publicly challenge Israel. Domestically and internationally, the AKP has done more than any previous government towards solving the problems that have hobbled Turkey for decades: the overbearing dominance of the Turkish military, human rights abuses, infrastructural development, Cyprus, the Turkish Kurd problem, and the Armenian question.

As a result, there has been remarkably little weight given to a growing drumbeat bearing news of similarities to the bad old days of the 1990s: shrill complaints from Turkish media about official pressure to toe the government line, hundreds of dissidents in jail on flimsy charges of terrorism, and a new flaring up of the PKK insurgency. Nearly all segments of Turkish society complain that the judicial system is failing to deliver justice, that the education system needs to move much faster from learning by rote, and that polarization in politics and along the secular-religious divide means that much-needed constitutional reform is hamstrung. AKP initiatives on Cyprus, the Kurds, and Armenia have all run out of steam. The old moral hazard from the Cold War years also appears to be returning, as Washington once again overlooks Ankara’s domestic policy shortcomings in return for support for the U.S. agenda in the region.

Even so, at the ten-year point, Erdoğan’s AKP is in a much better position than his most similar predecessors, Menderes’ Democrat Party in the 1950s and Özal’s Motherland Party in the 1980s–90s. Erdoğan is able to command massive public support and has strong international winds filling his sails. Still, much of that support is derived from the reputation established during the AKP’s early years, dynamics that are now much-diminished: real work on EU convergence, more consensual decision-making and a modest, equidistant approach to Turkey’s complex diplomatic engagements. It is to these dynamics that Erdoğan and the AKP must return if they are to succeed in truly taking Turkey into the global first division.

Hugh Pope is the Turkey/Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group. For twenty-five years he was a correspondent based in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, most recently with the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East. He is also the author of Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkish World, and co-author of Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey. He was a Bosch Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, DC.

The Turkish Model

Turkey began 2008 in the shadow of a very heated debate. The issue was whether female university students could cover their hair with a headscarf—a practice allowed in the whole free world, except in Turkey, where it was banned by the staunchly secularist Constitutional Court in 1989. The incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP, its Turkish initials) was a “conservative” party led by devout Muslims. They had just won a sweeping election victory six months earlier, in July 2007, and were willing to permit the headscarf—which most of their wives and daughters wore—on campuses.

In February, the AKP, with the support of two other parties in the Turkish parliament, passed an amendment that inserted two clauses into the constitution. One of them stated that all citizens, regardless of their religion, race, or ethnicity, would “benefit from public services equally.” The other amendment provided a guarantee: “No citizen can be barred from the right to higher education.”

These clauses might sound like commonsense declarations to most people, but to the secularist establishment they constituted an unacceptable heresy that opened the doors of the universities to “backward-minded” conservative Muslims. Soon the Constitutional Court stepped in. It not only nullified the amendment but also levied a hefty fine on the AKP government for violating the country’s self-styled secularism. The ruling party, in fact, barely survived being disbanded and buried in Turkey’s political graveyard, where more than two dozen parties rest in peace simply for having failed to comply with some aspect of the official ideology.

In the middle of this peculiar political controversy—during which “freedom” and “secularism” had become opposing slogans—an interesting voice emerged from the headscarfed female students whose right to education was being discussed. On a website titled “We Are Not Free Yet,” three hundred of them put their signatures under the following statement:

What we have suffered since the day that the door of the university was shut in our face taught us something: our real problem is the authoritarian mentality which assumes a right to interfere in the lives, appearances, words, and thoughts of people.

Thus, as women who face discrimination because we cover our heads, we hereby declare that we won’t be happy simply by entering universities with our scarves—unless:

The Kurds and other alienated groups in this country are given the legal and psychological basis to consider themselves first-class citizens.

– The foundations of the [non-Muslim] minorities that were shamelessly confiscated are given back.

– The “insulting Turkishness” cases [mostly brought against many liberal intellectuals] are brought to an end.

The rest of the text continued to ask for “freedoms” for all suppressed groups in Turkey, including the Alevis, an unorthodox Muslim sect, and denounced “all forms of discrimination, suppression, and imposition.” Finally, these “covered women” were rooting their entire stance in a saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed: “The heavens and the earth stand on justice.”

This genuinely liberal and Islamic message immediately became popular and made national headlines. The number of signatories quickly increased, reaching twelve hundred in just a few weeks. Soon, the three young women who started the initiative, Neslihan Akbulut, Hilal Kaplan, and Havva Yılmaz, published a book titled We Are Not Free Yet. In the introduction, they used the same slogan that appeared on their website: “If the matter is freedom, nothing is trivial.”

This was just one example of a phenomenon that has emerged in Turkey since the early 1990s: the growing acceptance and advocacy of liberal political ideas by the country’s practicing Muslims. And how all this came about is a story worth examining.

History Revisited

The story above might seem to highlight a much-referred fact about Turkey and its Islamic heritage: among the Muslim societies of the Middle East, Turkey, despite all its flaws is still the best example of a functioning democracy. Its Islamic movements have almost never followed a radical agenda, and have even come to appreciate the blessings of modern liberal democracy. For these reasons, Turkey has gone so far as to become a source of inspiration for various actors that have spearheaded the Arab Spring.

But to what we do owe this relative success of Turkey? The common answer, especially in the West, is that we owe it all to the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the radical secularist reforms of his era, 1924 and 1938. It is widely believed that with these authoritarian measures—which included the banning of all Islamic schools, Sufi orders and even religious garments—Atatürk’s regime tamed Islam enough to make it democracy-friendly. The Arab world, the narrative goes, only needs its own Atatürks—secular dictators who will crush the power of Islam and make it bow down to modernity.

However, there are two good reasons to doubt that narrative. First, Arabs and other Muslims in fact did have their Atatürks—secular dictators who did try to crush the power of Islam. Reza Shah and his son in Iran, Bourguiba and Ben Ali in Tunisia, or Nasser and his successors in Egypt tried similarly authoritarian measures against Islamic groups and individuals. In fact, most of the regimes overthrown or challenged by the Arab Spring are these very secular dictatorships.

Secondly, the Turkish story is much more complex than the creation-ex-nihilo-by-Atatürk narrative.

Ottoman Delight

To begin with the story, one should note that the pre-“Kemalist” Ottoman Turkey was not in “the age of darkness” before its destruction in World War I, as official Turkish literature has claimed for decades. Quite the contrary, the Ottomans had achieved a lot on the road to modernity, for a simple but good reason: from the 15th century onwards, the Ottoman Turks were the superpower of the Islamic world, and they were right next to Europe. That’s why they discovered the advances of the West before most other Muslim nations, and why they saw the need to cope with them. First they started by reforming their military. Soon, they realized that they needed to incorporate not only the hardware of modernity but also its “software,” i.e. modern political and legal concepts.

Hence came the Ottoman reform edicts of 1839 and 1856, by which the powers of the Sultan/Caliph were limited and the idea of modern citizenship introduced. The non-Muslim subjects of the empire, which had formerly enjoyed “protected” but nevertheless second-class (dhimmi) status, according to traditional Islamic law, were granted equal rights. In 1876, the Ottoman Empire accepted a constitution based on liberal principles. Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, an Ottoman bureaucrat and an Islamic scholar, prepared the Mejelle, a new legal code that was based on traditional Islamic law but which also included many important modifications thanks to the maxim, “as time changes, the laws should also change.”

In 1908, the Ottoman Parliament reconvened with not just Muslim but also Greek, Armenian, and Jewish deputies. At the time, the most popular maxim among the Ottoman intelligentsia, which included many devoutly religious figures, was “freedom.” Prince Sabahattin, the nephew of Sultan Abdülhamid II, promoted the principles of individual entrepreneurship and a limited, decentralized government. The compatibility of Islam and popular sovereignty had long been declared by Islamic modernists such as Namık Kemal. In the last decades of the empire, societies emerged with names like Taal-i Nisvan (The Advancement of Women) or Mudafaa-i Hukuk-u Nisvan (The Defense of the Rights of Women). In 1910 Ottoman feminist Fatma Nesibe, a Muslim follower of John Stuart Mill, even argued that the empire was on the eve of a “feminine revolution.”

In short, the Ottoman Empire had begun its modernization at least a century before the Turkish Republic, and had achieved a lot on that route. The modern Turkish Republic owed much to its Ottoman predecessors. The Republic’s founders, after all, Mustafa Kemal included, had been educated in the modern schools founded by Sultan/Caliph Abdülhamid II.

Secularism In, Democracy Out

Yet there was a profound difference between the Ottoman modernization and the superceding “Kemalist” one, i.e., that of Kemal Atatürk and his followers: the Ottomans had tried to create a synthesis of Islam and modernity, whereas the Kemalists had neither the time nor the vision to do that. Instead, taking their inspiration from the staunchly secularist French Enlightenment and the anti-clerical French Revolution, the Kemalists tried to minimize the role of religion in society through the use of state power.

Actually the Kemalist project, carried out by the Republican People’s Party founded by Atatürk in 1923, was not the only available vision for modern Turkey. In the beginning, there was another political party with a more Ottoman-like mindset. Founded by war heroes such as Kazım Karabekir, Refet Bele and Rauf Orbay, the Progressive Republican Party (PRP) outlined a program in 1924 which proposed a free market economy, a more gradual reform process, a kindler approach towards Kurds, and, most important of all, esteem for religion. But the party could survive only for six months: it was closed down by the Kemalist regime on June 5, 1925, and its leaders were excluded from politics. The announced reason was the Article 6 in its program, which noted, “We are respectful to religious ideas and sentiments.”

Thus arose Turkey’s “single party regime” (1925–50) and its iron-handed policies aimed at secularizing the public square. Textbooks and state rhetoric started to glorify the pagan culture of the pre-Islamic Turks, and scientism became a sort of official faith. Some Kemalists even considered turning the magnificent Blue Mosque of Istanbul into an art gallery.

The early Turkish Republic crushed not only political opposition but also civil society. Among others, the feminist societies dating from the Ottoman years were closed down. The regime did not oppose feminism per se, but assumed that, like everything else, it was “of the state, by the state and for the state.”

Quite notably, the Kemalist Revolution was a great leap forward for secularization, but it was a great regress for democracy. The latter had its roots in the late Ottoman period, in which an elected parliament and competing political parties had emerged. But Atatürk turned the multi-party system into a single-party dictatorship. He sacrificed democracy, in other words, for the self-styled secularism he introduced.

The Turning Point (1950)

Had Turkey remained under the thumb of the Kemalist single party regime, its political fate probably would not have been too different than those of Egypt or Tunisia, which have both suffered under secular dictatorships until the Arab Spring of 2011. Luckily, though, Turkey would experience its “spring” as early as 1950, when the country had its first free and fair elections since the beginning of the republic in 1923.

This restoration of democracy had a few notable causes:

1) Atatürk had died in 1938. His successor, I.smet I.nönü, was a relatively moderate and less authoritarian figure, who could tolerate being challenged by an opposition party and concede power to it.

2) Turkish society, at least its elite, was conscious of representative and multi-party politics, thanks to the democratic roots in the Ottoman period.

3) In the post-1945 era, unlike most Arab countries, whose main political problem was de-colonization (and later Israel), Turkey’s main concern was the Soviet threat. This led Ankara to orient itself towards the “free world,” and a transition to democracy seemed necessary to cope with the Western bloc.

All this led the Kemalist regime to accept the formation of Turkey’s “second party,” the center-right Democrat Party (DP) led by Adnan Menderes in 1946. This party entered the elections of 1950 with the slogan, “Enough: The nation has the word!” The DP was an heir to some of the liberal ideas of the Progressive Republican Party, which had been closed down in 1925. It was therefore more tolerant of and respectful to religion, more lenient to the Kurds, and in favor of a market economy rather than the “statism” of the Kemalists.

The DP won the elections decisively. Its leader, Menderes, who had promised to make Turkey “a little America,” soon embraced the Marshall Plan, sent Turkish troops to the Korean War, and joined NATO. He also created an economic boom that would grant him three election victories in a row—the second one with 57 percent of the votes, an unmatched record in Turkish political history. Among his supporters were the pious Muslims of Turkey, who realized that democracy would bring them at least some of the religious freedom for which they yearned under Kemalist oppression.

However, the Kemalist “center”—the bureaucracy, the military, the judiciary, and the universities—despised Menderes, regarding him as the leader of a counterrevolution. Their cumulative hatred was unleashed on May 27, 1960, when the Turkish military staged a coup, established martial law, and imprisoned hundreds of DP members on Yassıada, an island on the outskirts of Istanbul. The junta soon set up a show trial, which sentenced Menderes and two of his ministers to execution, for subjective crimes including “empowering religious retrogrades.” On September 17, 1961, Adnan Menderes, the most popular prime minister in Turkish history, was hung on the gallows.

This was a crucial turning point. The “Turkish Spring” had begun in 1950, by transferring political power peacefully via free and fair elections. But a decade later, this “spring” was crushed by a military junta, which would leave behind a new constitutional regime that gave the military dominance over elected politicians.

In the next fifty years, this quasi-military regime would be the “Turkish model,” and the political scene would be defined by the fault line created by the 1960 coup: secularists became the best allies of the military, seeing the latter as the “guardians of the republic”—the republic being a euphemism for a Kemalist oligarchy. The Islamic camp, on the other hand, despite an Islamist swing in the 1970s and 1980s under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan and his National View movement, increasingly became the champion of democracy. Thanks to the DP experience, pious Muslims realized that they could bring their favorite politicians to power and tame an otherwise oppressive state.

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The Özal Revolution

On September 12, 1980, Turkey entered a new era. Turkey’s generals launched another military coup and initiated a brutal three-year-long military rule, during which thousands of politicians and activists were jailed and many of them tortured. When the generals scheduled national elections again in 1983, they allowed only newcomers to run for office. Turgut Özal, a former bureaucrat and economist, stood out, and his newly formed Motherland Party came to power. The next ten years would be “the Özal decade,” a revolutionary age of liberalization during which the Islamo-liberal synthesis, almost forgotten after decades of forced amnesia, was reborn.

As a member of a Naqshbandi family, Özal was a devout believer in Islam. As a former employee of the World Bank and the private sector, he also was a genuine believer in the market economy and, in a broader sense, the American idea of liberty. In the words of American journalist Robert Kaplan, Özal “loved to read the Koran and watch soap operas, to bang his head against the carpet in a Sufi mosque and go to Texas barbecues.” That helps explain why, as the most far-reaching Turkish leader since Atatürk, he would be able to “restore religion to Turkey’s political space without threatening the country’s pro-Western orientation.”

Özal based his policies on the notion of “the three freedoms”—of ideas, religion, and enterprise. The economy opened up, abandoning decades-old Kemalist policies of protectionism, “statism,” and “a planned economy.” Some of the authoritarian articles in the penal code, which banned “religious propaganda” and many other “thought crimes,” were rescinded. The tyrannical prohibitions on the Kurdish language, which criminalized even Kurdish songs, were, at least partly, lifted. (Öz

al also proudly noted that his mother was Kurdish, thus breaking the taboo on the K-word.)

Özal also tried to restore respect for the Ottomans, who for decades had been the bête noir of official ideology. He even found parallels between the Ottoman Empire and the United States, arguing that both granted diverse communities the freedom to exercise their religion, culture, and economic aspirations. In 1987, he submitted Turkey’s application to the European Union. Two years later, he became the president, yet he continued to guide policy via a loyal prime minister. (In the Turkish system, the presidency is the highest post, but the prime minister holds more power.)

Most Kemalists, unsurprisingly, despised Özal, seeing him as a counter-revolutionary undoing all the great things Atatürk had done half a century earlier. The fact that he was both pro-Islamic and pro-American even led some to suspect a Western plot to overthrow the Kemalist Republic—paranoia that would reach its zenith in the 2000s, when the pro-Islamic AKP became the champion of the EU bid.

Özal also had his fans. Among them was the tiny group of liberal intellectuals—most of them secular but not secularist—who had been sidelined for decades in a political sphere dominated by the Kemalist state, the Marxist Left, and the nationalist Right. Also in favor of Özal were the country’s millions of Kurds, whose identity had been systematically suppressed since the early years of the Republican era. The third and largest group of Özal supporters was the Islamic camp. To them, he was not only a savior who eased the burdens of the ultra-secularist regime but also, as the first Turkish prime minister to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was the man who returned religion to public respectability.

With the Özal revolution, people in the Islamic camp also started to realize that their yearning for religious freedom could be satisfied by adopting Western-style liberal democracy, rather than the Islamist utopia that the Islamist movement of Erbakan had been promising. For decades, most of them had perceived Kemalism, which claimed to Westernize Turkey, as a natural extension of the West. This started to change as these Islamic Turks learned more about the world. Some of the young headscarfed women, excluded from Turkish colleges, headed to universities in Europe and the United States, where they found freedom and respect. Soon they got their facts right. The liberal West, they realized, was better than the illiberal “Westernizers” at home.

The Last Coup

In April 1993, Turgut Özal died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of sixty-six. Following a huge public funeral, he was buried at a site next to the Adnan Menderes Mausoleum—which he had had built in 1990 to honor his precursor, whom the military had executed three decades earlier.

The next nine years in Turkish politics, until the arrival of the AKP in November 2002, has sometimes been called “the lost decade,” because it saw a series of inefficient and unsuccessful coalitions that ultimately led the country into a dreadful economic crisis in 2001. But this period also brought about some significant changes that transformed the Islamic camp.

One of the outcomes of Özal’s death was the resurgence of National View, the political Islamist movement led by Necmettin Erbakan. In June 1996, Erbakan’s Welfare Party built a coalition with the center-right party led by Tansu Çiller, who had previously been Turkey’s first female prime minister. This dual government lasted for a year, during which Erbakan found the chance to implement only a few of his ideas, such as building closer ties with other Muslim countries and hosting receptions for tarikat leaders in his official residence—all shocking to the secular establishment. But what provoked the secularists even more was his rhetoric, and that of his party members, which seemed to herald an Islamist regime.

In response to this Islamist challenge, on February 28, 1997, the military initiated a process that later would be dubbed “the post-modern coup.” The generals orchestrated the whole Kemalist “center”—the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the universities, and the “mainstream” media—to force the government to resign, then to close down the Welfare Party, and finally to crack down on Islamic groups and their resources. In June 1997, the generals declared a long list of companies as “backward-minded” (i.e., too religious) and promoted boycotts of their products. Some Islamic leaders were put on trial for “establishing anti-secular organizations.” Some “undesirable” journalists were fired and several were even discredited with fake documents prepared by the military. Certain members of the Welfare Party, including its rising star, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul, were given prison terms for “inciting hatred” against the Kemalist regime. “Erdoğan’s political career is over,” some newspapers wrote in September 1998. “From now on, he can’t even be a local governor.”

The speech that earned Erdoğan a ten-month prison term was indeed harsh, but it also included an interesting remark that hinted at the direction he would follow: “Western man has freedom of belief,” Erdoğan said. “In Europe there is respect for worship, for the headscarf. Why not in Turkey?”

The AKP’s Path to Post-Islamism

In the aftermath of “the post-modern coup” of 1997, a more moderate group in the Welfare Party looked for a new vision. Led by Abdullah Gül, probably the most sophisticated figure in the party’s ranks, this “reformist movement,” spoke more favorably of Western-style democracy and began to argue that “the state should be in the service of the people, rather than a holy state that stands far above the people.” This movement soon broke with National View and joined forces with Erdoğan to found the Justice and Development Party in August 2001.

From its first day, the AKP declared that it was not “a political party with a religious axis”; it defined its ideology as “democratic conservatism.” In November 2002, a little more than a year after its founding, the AKP won the general elections with 32 percent of the votes and took power. To the surprise of the whole world, this post-Islamist party turned out to be a most dedicated and successful pursuer of Turkey’s bid to join the EU, and realized a staggering number not to mention scope of democratic reforms.

This might well have been interpreted as a historic defeat for Turkish Islamism, but the Kemalists believed the exact opposite. They had never trusted the AKP, insisted on calling its members “Islamists,” and asserted that the party’s transformation was just a trick to deceive outsiders. Some of their conspiracy theories were mind-boggling. In 2007, for example, a staunchly Kemalist author, Ergun Poyraz, produced a series of bestsellers arguing that both Erdoğan and Gül were “secret Jews” collaborating with “international Zionism” in order to destroy Atatürk’s republic and enslave the Turkish nation.

This anti-Semitic lunacy was just one of the many signs of the amazing transformation occurring in the political landscape. The AKP’s outreach to the West had turned the tables, and now the Kemalists, who were also horrified that the EU was asking for more rights for Kurds and other minorities, had started to turn anti-Western.

Yet the Kemalists were not alone in suspecting that the AKP had a “hidden agenda.” Some Western observers also believed that any party made up of devout Muslims must necessarily be illiberal and undemocratic. Critics could certainly point to traces of Islamist sentiment in the AKP’s ranks, along with the typical problems of Turkey’s patrimonial politics, including nepotism and corruption. Erdoğan also showed signs of what can be called “Muslim nationalism”—or simply “Muslimism”—in the way he demonstrated an emotional affinity for Muslim actors around the world. Yet still the AKP’s post-Islamist position was genuine, for a few good reasons.

First the new direction that the AKP embraced, “democratic conservatism,” was not unheard-of in Turkey. Quite the contrary; it had its roots, as we have seen, among the Islamic liberals of the Ottoman Empire as well as in the center-right tradition of Turkish politics represented by the Progressive Republican Party in 1924, by Adnan Menderes between 1950 and 1960, and by Turgut Özal between 1983 and 1993.

Second, the AKP’s political transformation was in line with the changing intellectual landscape in Turkey. Classical liberalism, an idea popular in the late Ottoman Empire but denounced by the Kemalist Republic, was rediscovered in the late 1980s, thanks to the reforms of Özal and the efforts of new organizations such as the Ankara-based Association for Liberal Thinking. The nascent group of liberal intellectuals was critical of Kemalist secularism and in favor of broader religious freedom. Their growing interaction with Islamic conservatives gave the latter group new perspective and rhetoric. Hence, from the early 1990s onward, Islamic intellectuals started to question the idea of “an Islamic state” and instead spoke of “a non-ideological state” or “a neutral state,” defending “pluralism” as their social ideal.

In 1998, the influential Gülen Movement, an Islamic community, organized a conference entitled “Islam and Secularism,” attended by a handful of the most prominent theologians and Islamic pundits of Turkey. Following three days of discussion, they declared that Islam and the secular state were compatible, as long as the latter respected religious freedom. The modernist theologian who championed this view, Mehmet Aydın, who promotes “liberal democratic culture” for the whole Muslim world, would become the minister responsible for the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in the AKP’s first term.

The third factor that helps explain the transformation of the AKP was a gift from Özal to Turkey: free market capitalism. And it was this factor that ultimately was so definitive and vital to the change in Turkish Islam.

The Rise of Islamic Capitalism

As I argue in my book, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, Islam was born as a business-friendly religion. The subsequent rise of “Islamic capitalism” facilitated the dynamism and splendor of Islamic civilization, while its decline resulted in the stagnation and eventual decline of Islamdom. The Ottomans realized—albeit quite belatedly—the importance of private business and tried to jumpstart it via some of the Tanzimat reforms. However, even though the Ottoman efforts led to the appearance of a Muslim middle class, this development was very limited in scope. The bourgeoisie remained primarily non-Muslim until the fall of the empire.

That’s why the Young Turks, and later the Kemalists, sought to create a “national bourgeoisie” that had state support. They were successful to a certain degree, but it occurred by unfair methods. An “opportunity space” for Turkish capitalists opened up because of the wartime expulsion of Armenians—a tragic decision that led to sporadic mass murders—and later a “population exchange” with Greece. The Kemalist regime also imposed a hefty “wealth tax” on Jews, Greeks, and Armenians between 1942 and 1944, under a cabinet with Nazi sympathies. Those unable to pay, in line with the dark standards of the time, were sent to a labor camp in Eastern Turkey.

Both the formation and the composition of this state-made “national bourgeoisie” were unfair. Only urbanites who could wine and dine the secular politicians and bureaucrats received lucrative contracts and loans from the state. By the end of the 1940s, the Kemalist “center” had successfully created a business elite in its own likeness.

Meanwhile, religion had survived mainly among the less privileged. “The nation-state belonged more to us than to the religious poor,” says Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate in literature, recalling his childhood days in 1950s Istanbul. But, he adds, secular people like him were also afraid of “being outclassed by people who had no taste for secularism.”

Pamuk’s fears would start to be realized a few decades later, during the Özal Revolution. By liberalizing the economy, diminishing the role of the state, and personally inspiring a religiously devout and economically entrepreneurial spirit, Özal created space for Islamic-minded entrepreneurs. As early as the late 1980s, economists started to talk about “Anatolian Tigers”—companies founded in the conservative cities of Anatolia that quickly utilized the groundbreaking opportunities for manufacturing and exporting in the brave new world of the free market.

In 1990, a group of these conservative businessmen created a union named MÜSIAD, a clear alternative to the well-established TÜSIAD (Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association), which represented the more secular “Istanbul bourgeoisie.” The letter “M” stood for the word müstakil, or “independent,” but many thought it actually meant “Muslim,” as most MÜSIAD members are mosque-going conservatives whose wives and daughters wear headscarves.

In 1994, MÜSIAD published an Islamic economic manifesto in a booklet titled Homo Islamicus. The document encouraged hard work and free trade, referring Turks to the life of the Prophet Mohammed as a merchant. It vigorously defended the free market system and opposed the state’s intrusive role in the economy. It also added that theirs was a capitalism tamed by the compassionate and altruistic values of Islam, not a “ruthless” one.

The ‘Calvinists’ of Islam

One of the urban centers that gave rise to the Anatolian Tigers was Kayseri, a mid-size city in the heartland of Turkey. Kayserians had always been famous for both business-mindedness and religiosity, but they had their great leap forward courtesy of the Özal Revolution. From the mid-1980s onward, the city experienced an industrial boom, with hundreds of new factories opened. By the mid-2000s, just one of its textile companies produced one percent of the world’s denim for brands such as Levi’s, Wrangler, and Diesel. Kayseri’s furniture companies supplied 70 percent of the Turkish market and exported their wares to many countries in the Middle East.

In 2005, a Berlin-based think tank, the European Stability Initiative (ESI), studied Kayseri to understand the secret of its economic miracle. After several weeks conducting interviews with the city’s prominent businessmen, the ESI team wrote a report that emphasized the curious role of religion in the motivation of these entrepreneurs. “Nine out of ten of one’s fate depends on commerce and courage,” one of the Kayseri businessmen said, quoting the Prophet Mohammed. Another businessman argued, “It is good for a religious person to work hard,” and “to open a factory is a kind of prayer.” The founder of a furniture company stated, “I see no black and white opposition between being modern and [being] traditional,” and said that he was “open to innovation.”

“To understand Kayseri,” the former mayor of the town, Şükrü Karatepe, told the ESI researchers, “one must read Max Weber.” Weber, of course, pointed to the role that ascetic and hardworking ethic of early Protestants, particularly Calvinists, played in the rise of modern capitalism in Europe. According to Karatepe, one could observe the same work ethic in Kayseri and a few other Anatolian cities, thanks to the teachings of Islam. Fittingly, the ESI researchers titled their report “Islamic Calvinists.” Their conclusion was that Kayseri was only a single case study, and, in general, “over the past decade [1995–2005], individualistic, pro-business currents [had] become prominent within Turkish Islam.”

These “individualistic, pro-business currents” were certainly capitalist, but not materialist, hedonist, or selfish. Quite the contrary, they went hand in hand with a strong sense of social responsibility, as emphasized by Islam. Kayseri’s Islamic entrepreneurs spent more than $300 million in five years to support clinics, schools, and various other charitable organizations. By 2005, sixteen separate soup kitchens in the city were serving almost ten thousand people daily. Kayseri’s culture was a combination of “entrepreneurship, asceticism, and altruism.”

The AKP’s political transformation was not unrelated to the interests of these Islamic Calvinists. The latter needed a Turkey that had been integrated into the global economy, had anchored its stability in the EU, and had closer ties with all the neighboring countries—the exact strategy of the AKP. No wonder all of the “Islamic Calvinists” were supporters of Erdoğan and Gül, and Kayseri was in effect an AKP city, giving the party a staggering 66 percent of its votes in 2007.

The Muslim Middle Class

In July 2009, the founder of MÜSIAD, Erol Yarar, a practicing Muslim, gave an interview to a Turkish newspaper, sparking a nationwide debate. The headline read, “We Are the Real Bourgeois Class of Turkey.” Yarar argued that while some big businesses were supported by the state, “we grew with our own effort, much like the bourgeoisie in Europe.”

Yarar also noted something significant: on the one hand, Muslim entrepreneurs were creating a capitalism inspired by their religious values; on the other hand, their religious values were being altered by their engagement in capitalism. “When we held our first meeting in a five star hotel,” he recalled, “some of our friends [in MÜSIAD] were asking, ‘What are we doing here?’ Most of them had never traveled abroad and were hostile to Europe, America, and Russia. . . . They wanted to leave their companies to their sons, and did not care much about the education of their daughters. Since then, these wrong notions have changed a lot. Now they are traveling to Europe just to see it more and more. . . . Recently I entered a little mosque in a big shopping mall in Istanbul. I looked at the shoes; they were all high-quality brands! This is the revolution that is taking place in Turkey.”

In other words, engagement with the modern world as its partner has ameliorated formerly negative attitudes toward it. The experiences of these Muslim businessmen are quite different from engagement with the modern world as its victims—as Muslims under Western occupation or a secularist dictatorship would see themselves. It is also different from being the modern world’s outsiders, as many marginalized Muslim immigrants in European societies feel.

The Islamic Calvinists also created jobs for a new generation of Muslim professionals. Hence, in just two decades—from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s—a “Muslim middle class” emerged, to the shock of the secularists. And as its social context changed, this middle class started to change its political attitudes. One example was the decline of Islamism. A public survey conducted by a liberal Turkish think tank in 2006 (when the AKP was in power) showed that the demand for a “sharia state” in Turkish society had fallen from 21 percent to 9 percent in just seven years. When questions were asked about some extreme measures of the sharia, such as stoning, this support dropped to one percent.

“Ah, those idealist mujahids of the 70s,” wrote an Islamic pundit in 2009, “now they all have become moneymaking müteahhids [i.e., building contractors].”

In addition to its changed outlook on political life, the new Muslim middle class started to develop a whole new culture. An interesting study that demonstrates this transformation comes from a Turkish sociologist who examined the content of “Islamic novels” in Turkey. The change became clear when he contrasted two eras of novels—the first being the 1980s, the second starting from the mid-1990s. In the first era, all of the characters in these novels were clear-cut figures—immoral secularists versus exemplary Muslims. Each story had a hero who, after some soul-searching, saw the light and became a devotee of “the Islamic cause.” Even his marriage was about “raising good kids for Islam,” and not focused on romance and love.

In the second era, though, the characters in the “Islamic novels” became much more real and their stories more complex. Now the secular figures were not necessarily all bad, and the Islamic ones were more human—with sins, self-doubts, and love stories. Moreover, criticism was now directed not only to the outsiders but also to the Islamic camp itself. One of the female authors whose earlier novels idealized “the Islamic way of life” was now criticizing injustices within the Islamic community, such as misogynist husbands who adopt mistresses as “second wives.”

In short, in the words of sociologist Kenan Çayır, Islamic literature shifted from “a rhetoric of collective salvation” to “new individualistic Muslimhoods.” And this was directly related to the changing socio-economic background of the writers and their readers. The Islamic novels of the 1980s “reflected the experiences of the newcomers to the big cities… people of the lower class.” But in the late 1990s, those people were no longer newcomers; “they had found modern jobs as engineers, mayors, businessmen, and businesswomen.” No wonder that, in this era, the old “salvation novels” and other “ideological books” did not sell well anymore. What instead had become popular were books about personal development. As pious Muslims entered the urban middle class, in other words, their understanding of religion became less ideological and more individualistic.

In 2009, an Islamic Turkish intellectual summed up the change: the modernizing Muslims of Turkey, he wrote, were now more interested to hear about “the Koran and freedom” rather than “the Koran and obedience.”

Democracy and the Market Economy

This is the story that lies behind the make up and the success of Turkey’s AKP—a party which still contains some traits of Turkey’s intrinsically authoritarian political culture, but whose post-Islamist transformation has been genuine and significant.

In a nutshell, what has happened in Turkey in the past eighty years is that the society has not become as thoroughly secularized as the Kemalist Revolution intended. A large part of the society remained piously Muslim but, thanks to their access to democracy since 1950, these pious Muslim Turks never followed a radical, let alone violent, agenda. Instead of opposing democracy—as some Middle Eastern Islamists have done—Turkey’s Islamic movements gradually became the champions of democracy.

On the other hand, the expanded market economy, along with urbanization, gradually closed the gap between the urban seculars and the formerly rural conservatives and “Islamist Calvinists”. This is important, for throughout the whole Middle East, the secularist-Islamist divide is often also a class conflict—the rich versus the poor. Turkey’s “Islamist Calvinists” have overcome this added layer, making themselves as cosmopolitan-minded as, or sometimes even more than, the secularists.

Therefore, one could well say that Turkey’s secret lies less in secularist legacy of Atatürk—and more so in the “conservative” legacy of Menderes, Özal, and lately Erdoğan. Atatürk’s vision was based on a rejection and suppression of Islam for the sake of modernity. The latter vision, however, is about how to be modern and Muslim at the same time. Therein lies the better “Turkish model,” if other Muslim nations would ever need one.

Mustafa Akyol serves as the deputy editor and columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News. He also writes a column for the Istanbul Star. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Newsweek, Huffington Post, and Foreign Affairs. He is the author of Rethinking the Kurdish Question: What Went Wrong? What Next? and most recently, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Images of War

Mohamed Messara seems enveloped by calm, which is surprising given his occupation. The year 2011 was a very dangerous one for photojournalists. Revolutions present opportunities for dramatic pictures, but the risks for conflict photographers like Messara are immense. Five journalists died in the uprising in Libya, and twenty have been killed elsewhere covering the Arab Spring.

One afternoon last May in the city of Sirte, Messara, 36, chief Middle East photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency, was shot. The bullet pierced his collarbone. “I was trying to cross a road, and though there was high water, up to my knees, there was no clear danger,” he recalls. “Then I heard a ‘pfffft,’ and that was the bullet.”

Messara’s professionalism and bravery yielded some of the most memorable images of the fall of the Gadhafi regime. One shows a Libyan rebel carrying the body of a bloodied comrade, which the New York Times published the next day. Many of his pictures capture combatants engaged in street fighting at a chilling close range. We see the ground around them littered with spent shells although Messara, the journalist, is defenseless.

Messara’s photographs, along with pictures taken by his colleague Amr Abdallah, of Reuters, were exhibited recently in Libya: The Road to Freedom at the Photographic Gallery at the American University in Cairo. Messara is an Algerian who became fascinated with photojournalism as a boy flipping through the pages of Paris Match.

Messara covered the harrowing Libyan uprising against Muammar Gadhafi from the beginning. Even when the bullets weren’t flying, there was the risk of run-ins with Gadhafi’s secret police. He recalls the bizarre scene when a Libyan woman naked under her abaya and screaming that she had been raped by Gadhafi loyalists ran into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, where the regime was keeping the visiting foreign press under a tight watch. Gadhafi’s thugs pushed journalists away and broke a few cameras, but Messara managed to get shots of the badly bruised woman by sneaking out a tiny point-and-shoot camera.

Along with many colleagues, Messara broke loose from his minders once the regime began to disintegrate. He made his way to Sirte, where rebel forces captured and killed Gadhafi in October. Messara’s image of the dead dictator’s corpse laid out on the floor of a storage freezer appeared on front pages around the world. This was five months after Messara’s own brush with death. His bulletproof vest had saved him that day, and he was back on Sirte’s mean streets again within twenty-four hours. His best guess is that a sniper shot him at short range from the second story of a nearby building.

So, why does he do it? “My work is really just to show people what is happening,” he explained, speaking in an interview at EPA’s Cairo Bureau. I’ve been asked if seeing all this made me want to pick up arms, or, if this was happening in Algeria, would I feel differently. But I see my role as a documentarian.”

Oriental Hall, etc.

Egypt is a mustgo destination for American specialists on international affairs these days. A number of them stopped by the American University in Cairo recently to offer their insights on the Arab Spring and the Obama administration’s response to it.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recalled various conversations with White House officials amid the protests that overthrew the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. Ignatius learned that President Barack Obama opposed referring to the events as the “Arab Spring” because “he believed it implied that it’s going to end with music and flowers and dancing, and we don’t know that.” Ignatius hailed both Obama’s appointment of Anne W. Patterson, “probably our best diplomat,” as the post-revolution U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Washington’s efforts to support the Egyptian economy despite an ailing economy at home.

Martin S. Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution, spoke of a seismic shift in the “security-versus-democracy balance” that has anchored American policy in the Middle East over the past six decades. Proof, he said, came when Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William Burns held talks in Cairo with Freedom and Justice Party leader Mohamed Morsi. The meeting ended Washington’s longstanding ban on dealing with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Indyk explained, “He [President Obama] recognizes that the Egyptian people have spoken, and that he should try to focus on what we imagine the people of Egypt want: jobs, a clean, transparent and accountable government, respect for minority rights, and the democratic rules of the game.”

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman expects Islamist parties to cool their rhetoric now that they have won seats in Egypt’s first democratic election for parliament. “They have never had to make hard choices because they have never been in power,” Friedman said. “They were elected on promises, and four years from now they will be judged on their performance.”

Speaking at a forum on “Iran and the Arab Spring,” Gary Sick, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute, cautioned that any external effort to change the Iranian regime would be counterproductive. “Regime change is essential, but if it gets done it’s going to have to get done by the Iranians,” said Sick. “If we go in and, in our usual clumsy way, try to overthrow this regime, we’re going to strengthen it.” The reality, he said, is that “The real regime change that took place in Egypt wasn’t done by Washington and the regime change in Syria will not be done by Washington.” A lesson from the Arab Spring, according to Sick: “You don’t need Washington if you really decide you’re going to get rid of your government.”

Exceptional People

Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future. By Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. Princeton University Press, 2011. 352 pp.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that more than fifteen hundred people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2011, making it the deadliest year since UNHCR started to record these statistics in 2006. Various steps taken to heighten border controls led to fewer arrivals to Europe in 2009 and 2010, but the uprisings in Tunisia and Libya in early 2011 have created an increase in the number of refugee boats trying to make it across the Mediterranean.

Those making this perilous journey are most likely aware of the grave dangers and potentially grim fates awaiting them. Yet, they go ahead, increasingly, for a combination of reasons, ranging from seeking better employment and lifestyle opportunities (migrants) to escaping political persecution (refugees), not to mention the many possible variations in between. Hence, the emergence of the “mixed-migration” phenomenon, which is not altogether new but has been gaining increasingmomentum and attention in recent years. In Exceptional People, Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan provide an excellent background against which to understand how and why this phenomenon has become so pervasive and so pertinent to the study of migration and displacement. They also provide a realistic reason explaining why this will continue to be an issue of global concern: “The future will probably be as messy as the past, and all predictions are likely to be wrong, but one thing is clear: there is no return to the neat idea of closed-off nation-states with homogenous national communities.”

We live in an age of dynamic interaction where borders are being challenged on a daily basis by the transfer of knowledge, money, goods, and most importantly, people. Our understanding of migration has also been challenged. I struggled to discover the true impact of globalization while carrying out research on how the nature of state sovereignty was changing, and how this was allowing for a rise in the relevance of and interest in human rights issues. In Exceptional People, the authors focus on the trends toward simultaneous integration and disintegration, where “accelerating cross-border movements of goods, services, ideas, and capital are drawing the world into an interdependent and interconnected community.”

Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan argue that global economic flows and growing transnationalism, which they define as interaction where people’s identities are not solely related to  national origins, will most likely fuel a long-term movement toward increased integration and cooperation across borders, and migration will be a key result. Social and economic development across the globe is fueling growth in the number of potential migrants, especially those in developing countries where urbanization is taking place on an unprecedented scale and has resulted in, for the first time in history, more than 50 percent of humanity living in cities. This urbanization often occurs without the required creation of jobs, thus leading to pressures to emigrate in search of employment and growth opportunities.

Another factor in contemporary migration is the decline in fertility rates and population sizes in developed countries. Various policy options, including raising taxes and postponing retirement, are often proposed as solutions to offset this demographic shift. The authors point to a report issued by the United Nations Human Development Programme in 2000, which indicated that “only international migration could be instrumental in addressing population decline and population aging in the short and medium term.” Peoples and governments in Europe, Japan, and North America will need to make important choices in this regard. And these decisions will most likely be influenced by other social and political trends, including rising racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia, which have been challenging the trends of global cultural conversion and have created a “securitized” perspective on migration management.

The authors recognize that both globalization and migration are not new occurrences but they escort the reader on a journey through time to understand how migration has been an essential part of human life and development since the earliest days of human consciousness. Even as far back as 20 millennia ago and the first migration movements of the earliest men and women in Africa, when mobility was key to survival in difficult and unpredictable climates. The first era of globalization (1820–1920) was characterized by falling transportation costs, higher wages (allowing people the means to travel), booming international trade, and the development of transnational migration networks. The second era of globalization, which began in the 1920s, had similar characteristics but was marked by one distinct difference—the rising tide of nationalism; the ability of states to better control their borders and the need to distinguish citizens from outsiders. The construction of societies and identities around national borders thus created new barriers to migration, which to date had been only hampered by financial means and physical distance. Thus, the era of “migration management” began. During this era, the world also came to notice the beginning of more prominent patterns of forced migration and the emergence of the modern refugee. The concept of the refugee, as described by the authors, was a product of the European focus on the increasing importance of state borders and sovereignty over national territory. Dramatic increases in the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers were witnessed after World War II, which displaced some thirty million people. More recently, refugee figures have risen from 2.4 million in 1975 to 15.1 million in 2009, due to the increase in intra-state conflicts in the post Cold War era.

Exceptional People delves into the personal side of migration and focuses on how decisions to migrate are made in the face of the increasing extent, velocity, and impact of global connectedness across the range of human domains. They highlight the fact that the decision to migrate is usually taken within the context of a broad range of overarching considerations while simultaneously being shaped by factors at various levels: at the micro-level (in which choices are generally based on a cost-benefit analysis, based on wage differentials); at the meso-level (where networks and social capital inform decisions); and finally, at the macro-level (where structures of economic, demographic and political conditions both push and pull the decision to migrate). The authors criticize the neoclassical approach—to assess the causes of migration purely on a financial calculation—as too simplistic. They propose (and rightfully so) that this approach does not offer a comprehensive explanation as to why people migrate because it does not give due consideration to various other factors evaluated by would-be migrants, such as subjective well-being, identity, and belonging. The authors thus summarize the desire to move as based on a “dynamic interaction” between individual goals and desires, networks, and the political and economic structures that could either facilitate or hinder movement. Again, globalization is a key influence on how these structures are evolving and impacting decisions to move and forming migration patterns.

Though Exceptional People spans a wide historic range, its conclusions and recommendations make it an extremely pertinent contribution to the future of global interconnectedness. As the authors themselves say:

The movement of people has never been entirely peaceful, and the history of migration is narrated by tragedy and warfare as much as by commerce and education. But migrants­—free, forced, or constrained—have always been a powerful stimulant to innovation and progress. They bring new ways of doing, thinking, and understanding, and their integration into society challenges ingrained racial or parochial attitudes, pushing back cultural frontiers. Migration is not a problem to be solved; it is an intrinsic element of international society and inextricably bound up with globalization itself.

Shaden Khallaf teaches at the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo. She served in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1998 to 2010, most recently as an advisor on Middle Eastern humanitarian and political affairs.


Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. By Michael Lewis. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York, 2011. 213 pp.

As the world economic crisis continued to take us to ever lower depths, I picked up financial journalist Michael Lewis’ latest book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, to gain a better understanding of how it all began. And I could not put it down. I was astounded by the titanic irresponsibility and recklessness Lewis recounts that led to the grave threat to our global economic system.

I heard an echo of Boomerang when I attended an oil conference in London recently. There, I listened to the opinions of representatives of banks and companies on our economies and oil markets. One symbolic figure that stuck with me cropped up in conversation with an oil futures trader who said that his firm of some 450 employees traded more than 120 million “paper” barrels of oil per day. To fully understand the significance of this figure, consider that only 86 million barrels of “real” oil are traded on markets every day, meaning that a single company trades 50 percent more futures each day than actual barrels transit through markets in the same time period. The extent and impact of this speculation is tremendous, and lines the pockets of a tiny elite at the expense of ordinary people.

This made me reflect on my experience at the Saudi oil ministry in the late 1950s, when the gross revenue Saudi Arabia accrued from one barrel of oil was counted in cents, not dollars. We finally realized the value of oil in the early 1970s, when Arab countries and OPEC saw, via the oil embargo, just how critical petroleum was to Western economies. As oil prices increased sharply, Saudi Arabia broke with other OPEC producers and decreased prices from $36 to $26 per barrel to give some relief to consumers and the global economy. Reading Boomerang, it is difficult to imagine anyone, let alone futures traders, doing such a service for the public good today—although Saudi Arabia has intervened in the markets for this reason many times.

Instead, as Boomerang illustrates, markets today, particularly the derivatives and futures markets that skew our economies while lining the pockets of a small elite through obscure financial instruments, are driven by greed. As we begin to discover the manipulations, mismanagement, and scandals behind today’s economic crisis, it becomes obvious that this self-interest and greed has become systemic in the rich, controlling few.

A story Boomerang tells is that of a Texan named Kyle Bass, who trades futures on government bonds. Bass has never been to Greece or even left the United States, but as he watched the escalating threat to the Greek economy from the global meltdown, he thought he could make some money from it. As Lewis recounts:

Greek government default insurance cost him 11 basis points for instance. That is, to insure $1 million of Greek government bonds against default, Hayman Capital paid a premium of $1,100 a year. Bass guessed that when Greece defaulted, as it inevitably would, the country would be forced to pay down its debt by roughly 70 percent—which is to say that every $1,100 bet would return $700,000. “There is a disbelief that a developing country can default because we have never seen it in our lifetime,” said Bass.

So, this is our broken financial system: one small trader in Texas can look at his computer screen, bet that a country will default and die economically, and reap a massive return on that bet. This is the disease that derivatives and futures markets have infected us with: greedy opportunists skewing world markets at the expense of ordinary people. This one trader may not be responsible for bringing down the Greek economy, but his actions and those of many others have undoubtedly played their part.

We are told that the futures market helps companies average out their future incomes and ensure safety for forward planning. But for the rest of us, it is a scary financial instrument developed and understood only by a small financial elite and one that ultimately brings great volatility and risk to essential markets. What is more, the logic behind futures markets—let’s take gold for example—seems utterly flawed. Some people are paying $1,800 for an ounce of gold, but all they own is a piece of paper; they have no actual gold in their vaults. And as with all futures markets, when things go bad all you have is a depreciated piece of paper bearing huge losses. This is the nature and danger of derivative trading. These markets have made life even more difficult for developing countries while making easy money for traders and profiteers in the West. Whether markets go up or down, it is always the poor commodity-producing developing countries that bear the full weight of any losses.

The indignity goes much further. In Boomerang, Lewis reports on the illusions and foolishness of the supposed economic booms in Iceland and Ireland. Fed by a wave of bank loans and foreign investments, Iceland’s fishermen suddenly believed themselves to be bankers, while Ireland’s poor were made to think that they lived in El Dorado. In Greece, the government’s cooking of the books—including its euro accession requirements—meant that when George Papandreou became prime minister in 2009, he learned that his country owed almost $1 trillion, with no discernible way of paying it back. The actions of those responsible are hard to comprehend: they indulged their greed while undermining the livelihoods of ordinary Greeks.

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg. With Italy, Spain, and Portugal similarly flailing in Europe, not to mention America’s flagging economy and $14 trillion of debt (costing some $455 billion a year merely to service), there may be far worse news to come. Our economic system is not just sick; it is coming completely undone.

This is not a situation that will go ahead and work itself out or be resolved with stopgap measures, as many people still hope. Governments are complicit in everything that has happened and continue to shirk or decline any true responsibility. And they are making their citizens pay for their greed. Seeing the food, taxi, gas, and hotel prices while in London, I thought it preposterous to believe British government figures on annual inflation, which were put as low as 1.5 percent in 2008. What this shows is that governments and corporations are effectively robbing people of their money and ability to fend for their families by not allowing salaries to follow true inflationary rises.

People are already losing hope—yet most have little idea of how broken and corrupt our economic system has actually become. Lewis has done an admirable service in Boomerang in alerting us to the extent of the dangers we face.

Hassan Yassin is a foreign policy and media relations advisor to the Saudi government, and a commentator on international affairs. He served as head of the Saudi Information Office in Washington, D.C., and is a former official at the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum. His articles have appeared in the Sunday Times, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times and Arab News.

Ankara Looks East

It is not as headline-grabbing as the Arab Spring, but Turkey’s return to the Middle East—and Ankara’s gradual recalibration of its relations with the West—may prove to be one of the most significant changes on the international scene in these early decades of the new millennium.

Not long ago, Turkish diplomats were busy making business in Brussels and Washington their main priority. Advancing Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union (EU) was the focus of Ankara’s foreign policy. Now, a Eurozone crisis and an Arab Spring later, Turks are more preoccupied with Syria’s future, Iraq’s stability, and Iran’s nuclear program than anything happening on the Potomac or the Place du Luxembourg.

This is largely because Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderately Islamist party that won power in 2002, finds Turkey’s prospects for regional leadership more appealing than its strained and demanding ties with Europe. As AKP leaders see it, the country’s return to the fold of the Middle East bolsters Turkey politically and economically. It allows the AKP to fashion itself as “the model” for Arab nations transitioning to democracy, and gives Turkey greater standing in the emerging global order. Ankara’s eastward shift has been gradual and has had its share of slipups. But taking into consideration the boost it has given Turkey’s self-confidence as a regional power and the popularity of the AKP government’s foreign policy at home and abroad, Turkey’s new engagement with the Middle East is likely to be both deep and lasting.

The Architect

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is often credited with being the architect of AKP foreign policy; and in many ways, this is accurate. Previously a relatively unknown conservative scholar of international affairs, he came to prominence as the AKP’s foreign policy advisor in 2002. He has preferred to focus on rebuilding Turkey’s relations with the Arab world, which had been largely neglected since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the first quarter of the last century.

And Davutoğlu has earned himself a special place among the advisors and ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The two men could not be more different in their outward temperaments; Erdoğan is a populist firebrand with little regard for diplomatic niceties, while Davutoğlu is the epitome of the soft-spoken academic. Yet they have established a close working relationship over the years and Erdoğan calls him hocam, or “my teacher.”

In addition, Davutoğlu has gained popularity across the political spectrum. Since being picked as foreign minister in 2009, he has become one of Turkey’s most prominent public figures. His Islamist background appeals to conservatives, his concerns for the emerging world are appreciated by the left, and his polite manner makes him tolerable even for the secular opponents of the AKP, those particularly turned off by Erdoğan’s belligerence. By the time Davutoğlu became foreign minister, his theory on Turkey’s new position in the global order as a regional leader—initially spelled out in his 2001 book, Strategic Depth—was already the basis of Turkey’s foreign policy.

Born from the ashes of a declining empire and consecutive military defeats, the young Turkish Republic was focused on creating a Western-oriented, secular nation state. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and modern Turkey’s other founding fathers were wary of the Ottoman heritage of a multi-ethnic goliath and saw no benefit in engaging with the troubled—and at the time still colonized—Arab world. Their modernizing spirit and desire to catch up with ‘contemporary civilization’ —that is, Europe—consequently set the political course for the next century. Much changed, however, with the advance of the AKP, in particular, Ankara’s current willingness to delve into regional affairs and its ability to leverage this with allies in the West.

Strategic Depth remains the key to understanding Turkish foreign policy under the AKP. The book was loosely inspired by the regional activism of the late Turkish President Turgut Özal and by the new, emerging cadres of liberal Islamist politicians in countries such as Malaysia, where Davutoğlu lived and taught for a while. Davutoğlu argues that Turkey’s potential is best fulfilled not by solely focusing on its ties with the West but by expanding its influence and engagement with the Middle East and former Ottoman territories. He criticizes former Turkish establishments’ Euro-centric approach, and advocates instead for concepts of the ‘pivotal nation’ (Turkey as the epicenter of a new order), ‘active diplomacy’ (increased diplomatic presence and engagement in the Arab world, Asia, and Africa), and ‘zero problems with neighbors.’

Davutoğlu’s notions and outlook do perhaps exaggerate Turkey’s standing in the world, and its ability to shape developments in its neighborhood. After all, Ankara is a newcomer to Arab affairs and, despite its growing economic and diplomatic presence, it is far from being a regional hegemon. But Davutoğlu’s rhetoric has served two important purposes. It has boosted the self-confidence of the Turkish people and enabled Turks to see their nation as a significant member of the international community rather than a developing country with a pile of problems. It has also weakened the long-held public perception of being surrounded by enemies who are out to harm Turkey one way or another. This is known as the Sèvres Syndrome in the Turkish media—a reference to the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres that divided up the Ottoman Empire. Today, in a nation that has long verged on the xenophobic, there is nonetheless widespread support for rapprochement with Arab states.

European Dreaming

Since attaining EU candidacy status in 2005, a tenet of AKP foreign policy has been to boost trade and diplomacy with both the Balkans and the Middle East. Turkey’s deepening engagement with its own neighborhood has run almost parallel with its growing disillusionment with the EU accession process. Turkey initially applied for EU candidacy in 1987, but Ankara’s poor democratic and economic record made the progress of its EU aspirations difficult and humiliating at every turn, although in 1995, Turkey did join the EU customs union. In subsequent years, the carrot-and-stick from Brussels did successfully encourage democratic and economic reforms.

The AKP saw the EU accession process and the respectability it gained from diplomatic engagement with Europe as a tool that could be used against the staunchly secular Turkish military’s strong interference in politics, and so pushed ahead with accession during its first term. Erdoğan also saw the advantage in Turkey serving as a bridge between East and West and he has been keen to sponsor international gatherings around such themes as ‘Alliance of Civilizations.’

But obstacles continued to emerge against Turkey’s EU aspirations. Anxiety grew across Europe regarding Muslim immigration as Turkey’s new Islamist elite cooled its ties with Europe. In Germany and France particularly, right-wing politicians sharpened their criticism of Turkey and its EU accession. Ankara faced fresh hurdles in its membership application with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as French president in 2007 and the rise of Angela Merkel as a German government coalition partner in 2005 and as chancellor in 2009. Sarkozy and Merkel point to “cultural” reasons in opposing Turkey’s membership, read by Ankara as an open admission of anti-Muslim prejudice in the heart of Europe.

Polls show that European support for Turkey’s candidacy is declining. This can be explained not only by the resurgence of rightist and anti-Muslim sentiments but also by economic anxieties within the Eurozone. Europe’s desire to keep Turkey at arm’s length has in turn diminished Turkish enthusiasm to join, with polls showing a steady decline in support for EU membership among Turks since 2005. For AKP leaders now, EU membership is a useful goal to pursue but they increasingly feel that the EU is a club they will never get into. It is no surprise then, that in the past four years, Erdoğan has rarely visited Europe but has made frequent stops in Middle Eastern countries, to talk trade and regional issues.

Taking Sides

By 2010, Turkey’s EU accession process had become stuck. Meanwhile, Turks were enjoying an upsurge in trade with the Arab world, which fueled Turkey’s enviable growth figure of 8 percent in 2010. Turkey’s trade with the Middle East and North Africa now accounts for roughly a third of all its trade; figures that have tripled over the past decade. Turkey is a major supplier of commercial goods and infrastructure services in Iraq, and is aggressively pursuing construction, telecom, and other infrastructure tenders in Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the region. Iraq remains the most profitable market for Turkish goods and services.

Ankara’s interest in the Middle East now extends beyond trade, however. In 2005, the AKP began to capitalize on a ‘mediation vacuum’ in the region—notably the disinclination of the U.S. administration under George W. Bush to play an active role in the Middle East peace process. Albeit with limited success in achieving tangible results, Turkish diplomats embarked on a wide range of mediation efforts—between Israel and Syria, rival Palestinian factions, Iran and the West, Sunni groups in Iraq and the Baghdad government, and the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.

Ankara increasingly finds itself siding with fellow Sunnis: in Iraq, Lebanon, or Syria. Gradually, by taking a more assertive role in intra-Arab conflicts and increasingly acting as a counterweight to Shiite Iran’s ambitions, Turkey has assumed the mantle of being the premier Sunni power of the region. In the run-up to the 2010 elections in Iraq, for example, Ankara actively supported the formation of the more secular Iraqiya coalition led by Iyad Allawi over what it saw as the more sectarian Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist alliance, known as the Watani List, or the National Iraqi Alliance led by Nouri Al-Maliki. Al-Maliki continued as Iraq’s prime minister, but his relations with Ankara remain strained.

Turkey developed close ties with Iraq’s Sunni groups, including the Iraqi Islamic Party, and, since 2008, with the Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani in northern Iraq. AKP government officials were quietly critical of the U.S.-supported de-Baathification program that targeted Sunnis in Saddam Hussein’s fallen regime. But Erdoğan and Davutoğlu also publicly criticized Al-Maliki for pushing terrorism charges against Iraq’s most senior Sunni official, Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi. Ankara worked to broker peace among Sunni groups during the U.S. military’s “surge”—Washington’s effort to quash the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq.

Kiss and Make Up

No claim to regional leadership in the Middle East can ring true without a serious attempt at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and this is precisely what the AKP had hoped to address during its first term. Instead, relations gradually deteriorated between Israel and the AKP’s pious leaders—partly as a result of differing views on the issues and partly due to a calculation that Ankara had more to gain in its regional standing by distancing itself from Israel. Amid the drift in Turkish-Israeli ties came the Mavi Marmara affair in May 2010—in which nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli commandos raided a vessel in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to bring aid to Palestinians blockaded in Gaza.

Since then, Turkey’s relationship with its one-time ‘strategic ally’ has deteriorated to the point of non-existence. Ankara reacted fiercely to the deaths of its citizens and demanded a public apology. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was unable to publicly apologize after several rounds of discreet talks, Ankara cut off military and diplomatic ties. Turkish officials say privately that short of a full apology from the Israeli government, normal relations will not be restored any time soon.

In reality, with or without an apology, it is unlikely that the Turkish-Israeli alliance will return to its former state in the foreseeable future. This is because the fundamental parameters of Turkey’s foreign policy have changed under the AKP; where Israel sees threat, Turkey sees opportunity and new allies. Back in the 1990s, Turkish-Israeli relations largely formed under strategic and military requirements—and were crowned with lucrative military deals over the years. Yet the main advocate of close relations with Israel, namely the Turkish military, has receded in political influence in Turkey. Unlike Israel, Turkey is very supportive of the Arab Spring and its leaders feel an ideological affinity to resurgent Islamist parties in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere. On the other hand, AKP leaders strongly disapprove of Netanyahu’s policies and see that the upsurge in Erdoğan’s popularity in the Arab world stems to a large extent from his confrontations with Israel.

Turkey has therefore adopted a new partner in the region. After the Hamas election victory in Gaza in 2006, Turkey was the first country to invite Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Meshal, for an official visit. Meshal has visited Turkey frequently, and an official welcome was recently extended to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on his first overseas trip. Ankara has since become one of the main backers of Hamas in international public diplomacy. Erdoğan has personally become a fierce advocate of Palestinian rights and often uses Israel-bashing as a tool in domestic politics. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have consistently called for the inclusion of Hamas in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Ankara has also encouraged the formation of a Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah and was instrumental in convincing Hamas to move its military headquarters out of Syria.

Washington Compartmentalizes

What is curious about the demise of Turkish-Israeli relations is how little it has affected Turkey’s rapport with Israel’s top ally—the U.S. government. Since the early 1990s, Ankara had successfully leveraged its close relations with Israel to bolster ties with Washington and in particular Congress. Turkish officials were fond of repeating the adage that the “Turkish-Israeli alliance is not a two-way but a three-way relationship”—it increased Ankara’s kudos, Congressional support, critical intelligence, and lobbying power in Washington.

After the Mavi Marmara affair, the Turkish government was concerned that the state of its deteriorating ties with Israel would also sour relations with Washington. But that hasn’t happened. Although the Obama administration periodically urges Turkey to avoid escalating tensions with Israel, it has adopted a convenient policy of “compartmentalization.” It seems that one of the reasons for this American stance is Turkey’s agreement to facilitate a strategic missile shield developed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Iran as well as its constructive role in the Arab Spring. It appears that the Obama administration is being careful not to let Ankara’s feud with Israel spoil Washington’s bilateral ties with the Erdoğan government.

From the Obama administration’s viewpoint, Erdoğan has been a helpful ally and there is just too much at stake to push Turkey away. A few years ago, or under a different administration, such a harmony with an ally at loggerheads with Israel would have been unthinkable. But Erdoğan and Obama enjoy an unprecedented personal relationship and have learned to work together over the years. In an interview with TIME’s Fareed Zakaria in January 2012, Obama cited Erdoğan and four other leaders by name in discussing the “bonds of trust” that he had established with certain global leaders. In 2009, Obama arrived in Turkey on his first official trip to a Muslim nation and, according to a senior U.S. official, he is “invested in the personal relationship.” The two leaders often speak on the phone­—ten times over the past year alone—to exchange views on Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other regional issues. When Erdoğan reversed his opposition to the missile shield and agreed to place a critical early-detection warning system in central Anatolia, senior American officials called it one of the biggest strategic deals between the United States and Turkey in the past fifteen to twenty years.

Turkey is also playing an important role by encouraging Islamist groups in the region—including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, An-Nahda in Tunisia, and the Justice and Development Party in Algeria—to move toward the center and take part in electoral politics. Erdoğan’s surprising emphasis on secularism during visits to Egypt and Libya won him praise in Washington. And officials within the Obama administration appear to believe that Turkey represents a reasonably good model for Islamist participation in democracy, and are willing to overlook not only Ankara’s poor relations with Israel but also the AKP government’s worsening record on free speech and the Kurdish issue.

New Opportunities

In this context, perhaps no government in the region welcomed the Arab Spring more unequivocally than the AKP in Turkey. From its onset, the Arab Spring was the icing on the cake for Ankara’s new regional aspirations; ushering in a new era of democratization that would benefit AKP-affiliated moderate Islamists and potentially open up new markets for Turkish companies. When Erdoğan declared, in February 2011, “we are with the people,” his strongly worded public demand for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave power marked the start of a new era for Ankara. In Davutoğlu’s view, the Arab Spring was a “natural process” that had to take place, sooner or later, in the Muslim world, like “a river finding the riverbed.” He believes that the Arab Spring cleaned up the last vestiges of the Cold War and will allow democratization in the Middle East. Turkish officials believe that their nation will benefit strategically and morally from the spread of freedom in the region.

After the glitch in Libya—when Ankara initially opposed outside intervention and tried to mediate between Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi and the West—Turkey went on to support the NATO military operation against Gadhafi in the spring of 2011. In Libya and Syria, Turkey publicly suggested regime change early in the uprisings. Furthermore, the AKP has provided campaign and electoral advice to Islamist parties in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco in order to facilitate electoral participation and promote a smooth transition to democracy.

Dissidents and opposition politics are new concepts to Turkish diplomats who have traditionally weighed in on the side of preserving the status quo and territorial integrity in the region. In the early days of the recent Balkans wars, Turkey was reluctant to support any breakup of Yugoslavia—despite the Turkish public’s cultural and religious affinity to the Bosnians. Ankara once viewed exiled Iraqi dissidents with great suspicion fearing that opposition to Saddam Hussein could lead to the breakup of Iraq. Yet, in Libya and Syria, Ankara has actively courted opposition activists and offered them diplomatic support.

In Syria, Turkey abandoned its policy of rapprochement with President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime a few months after the uprising when Ankara’s repeated calls for domestic reform were ignored by Damascus. The Turkish government subsequently facilitated the formation of Syrian National Council, the umbrella opposition group, and allowed more than 10,000 Syrian refugees into newly established camps on the Syrian border. Turkey has also permitted Syrian military defectors to establish an opposition group called the Free Syrian Army on Turkish soil. Turkish officials claim the group does not plan military attacks inside Syria and is only loosely affiliated with other smaller units of defectors who have adopted the same name. Whether or not Turkey-based dissidents have any say in the events on Syrian ground—and it is doubtful that they do—their presence in Turkey has given a psychological boost to the revolt against Al-Assad’s rule. What happens to the Al-Assad regime remains an open question and risky issue for Turkey. Besides calling on Al-Assad to quit, Turkey has supported the Arab League initiative for Al-Assad to hand over power to a deputy as a prelude to democratic elections, and has supported the UN Security Council resolution (vetoed by Russia and China) condemning Syria. Uncharacteristically, Ankara made it public that Turkey is willing to establish a buffer zone inside the Syrian border if there is a UN mandate or a human exodus of major proportions. To do this, Turkey would need clear support from the Arab League and the U.S. and, while there is no doubt that Turkey seeks regime change in Syria, Ankara will certainly not take the lead in achieving that goal. A senior Turkish official says privately, “Eventually this regime will fall. How soon, that I cannot tell yet.”

The Iran Learning Curve

Similarly, Iran remains a complex challenge for Turkey’s foreign policy. Iran is another area where AKP foreign policy has evolved dramatically over the past decade, from something bordering on sympathy for Tehran to a discreet rivalry with the Islamic Republic. Relations between Turkey and Iran experienced an almost historic high point during the AKP’s first two terms in office. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper as recently as 2009, Erdoğan called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a friend and questioned international efforts to impose sanctions on Iran. But a year and a half later, Turkey signaled its willingness to sign up for NATO’s missile shield.

Today Turkey is actively working to provide a counter-balance to what it sees as Iran’s tendency to exploit sectarian differences in the region. While trying to engage with Iran and continuing a semblance of good relations, AKP’s views on Iran’s nuclear ambitions now seem very similar to those of Turkey’s former, secular establishment. Ankara welcomes efforts to stall progress of Iran’s nuclear program and at this point, Turkish policy seeks to avoid both war and direct sanctions for fear of further destabilizing the Middle East. Strategically, Ankara has agreed to host the most critical part of NATO’s missile shield against Iran.

On an ideological level, too, the AKP no longer sees Iran as a kindred non-aligned spirit and is wary of what they view as Tehran’s destabilizing policies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Key factors in Ankara’s policy revision include Iran’s support for the Al-Assad regime in Syria and Al-Maliki’s fight against Sunni political leaders in Iraq. Turkey has also at times suspected Iran—and Israel, too, for that matter—of supporting PKK activities and is careful to keep an eye on Iran’s influence in northern Iraq.

At the same time, Turkey is keen to avoid confrontation with Iran, with whom it has shared a largely peaceful border since 1639. Ankara believes that regime change in Iran is a remote possibility, another reason it is careful not to look supportive of anti-regime activities there. Yet Turkish-Iranian rivalry is a distinct feature of the new regional order. To Ankara, it is a shadow war that needs to be managed rather than won.

Rough Neighborhood

Ahmet Davutoğlu coined the ‘zero problems with neighbors’ concept, but Turkey still finds itself surrounded by problems. Yet, while some neighboring governments may be unfriendly and Ankara has all but lost hope of EU membership in the near future, Turkey’s economic and cultural influence, as well as its diplomatic soft power, is being felt far and wide across the Middle East.

Today, Istanbul is a top destination for Arab tourists and a major hub for regional political gatherings. Turkey is exporting everything to the Middle East from kitchen appliances and television sitcoms to a model for political Islam. The focus for Turkey’s leaders has shifted. As it was throughout the Ottoman Empire, the country will always be a bridge between East and West, but it is in the East that its fortune may well lie.

Aslı Aydintaşbaş is a columnist for Milliyet, and a former Ankara bureau chief for Sabah. She has also written for the New York Times, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, Middle East Quarterly, and Daily Beast.

Educating Turks

On a warm evening last June, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stood victorious before thousands of supporters to deliver his third “balcony speech.” He humbly thanked the nation for once again returning his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to parliamentary power. He promised that the next term under AKP leadership would be defined by “consensus” and identified his priorities as further democratic reform and the drafting of a civilian constitution.

Erdoğan’s commitment to consensus would soon be called into question, however, with the case of an opposition politician. Hatip Dicle, of Kurdish origin, won a seat in parliament from the Diyarbakır district in southeastern Turkey, but was barred from taking it up due to a terrorism conviction—that is, a trumped up case stemming from Dicle’s outspoken sympathy for the rights of the Kurdish minority. Erdoğan refused to support an emergency legal change that would have permitted Dicle to enter the national assembly, despite the fact that Erdoğan himself used such a loophole to take up his own parliamentary seat when the AKP swept to power in the 2002 election. Dicle’s seat instead went to a candidate from the AKP.

Since then, Erdoğan and other AKP leaders have become fond of repeating the mantra, “One in every two citizens voted for us.” In the view of many Turks, the thrice-victorious party has acted in ways that have alienated and even angered Turkish opposition parties, Kurdish and other minorities, labor unions, academics, journalists, and others. Erdoğan’s ambivalence toward consensus is increasingly a cause for concern as the AKP embarks on the fundamental reform of an institution at the heart of the Turkish society and state: Turkey’s education system.

Time for Reform

The AKP’s social policies are a key factor in the party’s political success and strength. It introduced an expansive health care program after the 2002 election and proceeded to construct state-of-the-art public health care institutions. The AKP also resuscitated the so-called “Green Card Scheme” initially launched in 1993 to provide free health care to the poor, the unemployed, and the disadvantaged. World Health Organization figures show that between 2002 and 2009, Turkey’s spending on health care rose exponentially to 6.7 percent of GDP. The mortality rate for children under five years old has continued to decline over the last ten years, bringing Turkey very close to the European average. Equally striking is the result of the government’s program to lower maternal mortality: records from 2009 showed a reduction from 70 to just 19 deaths in every 100,000 births over the last decade (1). Challenges remain, but without doubt the AKP’s action on health care is a prime reason for the party’s popularity with voters.

The AKP’s handling of education, however, with its ideological, political, and cultural battle lines, is proving more problematic. Clearly, Erdoğan sees education reform in the context of consolidating the AKP’s political, economic, and cultural power. Education is the social policy arena that attracts AKP politicians and followers of all levels. And it is an area where the AKP has weathered many challenges. It’s worth remembering that AKP reforms in general—and in education in particular—have been the product of difficult negotiations and formal as well as informal engagements with the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations and its various bodies, and other such institutions. Turkey’s Constitutional Court, public prosecutors, and security sector bureaucracy have confronted the AKP on education in ways that have not only hindered the AKP’s reform program but also came to pose an existential threat to the party.

Nevertheless, the AKP is demonstrating a readiness to take on education reform, and with two broad objectives in mind: providing quality education for all, and transforming the structure and philosophy of Turkey’s education system from one that is republican (read: authoritarian), secular, and centralized to one that is democratic, pious, conservative, and decentralized. The first aim is a largely technical task to be handled primarily by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE); the latter is a delicate political and social undertaking that will require the support of Turkey’s legislature, judiciary, and other national and international principals.

Although the AKP started early and began introducing substantial social reform in its first four years in power, it took almost as long to specify policy targets for education. At the end of 2009, the MoNE drafted and submitted its first ever strategic plan, for the years 2010 to 2014 (2). It identified technical and quantitative policy targets that were cited in the Ninth Strategic Plan (2007–13) from the former State Planning Agency as well as AKP campaign statements.

This strategic plan listed key policy priorities as follows:

(1) Compulsory, free, and formal early childhood education;

(2) Higher rates of enrollment, specifically 100 percent in primary school and over 90 percent in secondary school;

(3) Better equipped and technologically advanced learning environments;

(4) Equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers and guidance counselors;

(5) Development and implementation of quality standards for formal education;

(6) Reform of vocational technical education (VTE) in secondary and higher education levels in collaboration with economic factors as well as in response to labor market requirements;

7) Establishment of inclusive education for children with special needs in all levels of formal education;

(8) Expansion of life-long learning opportunities;

(9) Reform of assessment and selection systems for each level of education to facilitate easier access and better placement.

With large-scale funding from international organizations such as the World Bank, the European Commission, and the United Nations, policy goals were enriched to target vulnerable groups such as girls; Roma children; religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities; children with special needs; and the poor. Outside funding was also obtained to further increase the capacities of classrooms, schools, educators, and administrative departments within the ministry.

Moreover, this strategic plan included a number of policy formulations related to structural and contextual changes.

Education is vital for Turkey’s economic growth. Therefore, first, the AKP will adopt a flexible and modular approach for secondary and higher education so graduates can transition smoothly into labor markets.

Second, the AKP seeks international stature. Turkey’s private and public education institutions aspire to gain international recognition and demonstrate the competitiveness of Turkish and Islamic civilizations against both developed and developing nations.

Third, the AKP wants to end centralized education policy-making and administration in favor of greater involvement by local government bodies and non-governmental organizations. The AKP aims to achieve this through structural reforms that target higher administrative bodies such as the Higher Education Council (Yükseköğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) and its Assessment, Selection and Placement Center (T.C. Ölçme Seçme Yerleştirme Merkezi, or ÖSYM), as well as the MoNE itself.

Finally, the AKP wants to revise the content of formal education to reflect the party’s core values, such as democracy, human rights, and the welfare of Turkey’s youth.

Republican Values and the Turkish State

It is now becoming apparent that the AKP has added a fifth item to its list of basic goals in education: the party wants the Turkish system to inculcate the core values of religious conservatism. Hitherto, AKP policy pronouncements, as well as the planning documents of government bodies it controls, have always affirmed the AKP’s commitment to Atatürkism and Republican principles, which include secularism. Although Erdoğan and most AKP leaders have been active as Islamists in the past, the party rejects characterizations that label it a fundamentalist political organization. But in February, at an annual summit of AKP provincial administrators, Erdoğan expressed his government’s philosophy of education by saying, “We aim to nurture a pious generation.” Such an intention, if actually implemented, will overturn ideological and psychological norms that have long held sway in the Turkish Republic.

The makers of Turkey’s modern education policies designed the education system to be part of a larger, nation-building project following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate. The “pedagogical state” has imparted ideas of citizenship, authority, sovereignty, and nationalism through formal education since the earliest days of the Republic (3). Countless references to militarism were woven into the fabric of everyday life at schools. School curricula, teaching programs, forms of socialization within and outside classrooms, ceremonies, assemblies, and relationships between various stakeholders have been characterized by a vertical hierarchy and strong authoritarian tendencies. Configured as gendered, unequal, and undemocratic arenas, the institutions for formal education were designed to breed disciplined patriots loyal to Republican values.

Militarism’s influence in formal education peaked in the run-up to the military takeover on September 12, 1980. In February of that year, a decree had been passed to add “national defense education” to formal secondary education. Serving and retired military officials were authorized to vet curricula and teaching materials provided for the instruction of young adults in modern warfare. Then, in 1981, the YÖK was established to regulate and police universities—which had become sites of political violence—and academia in general. The advance of the regime led to the weakening of key Republican ideals such as secularism and positivism. Influenced by the philosophy of the Intellectuals’ Hearth, a community of Muslim and Turkish nationalist scholars who believed that the secular Republican education system of 1960s and 1970s actually nurtured an anarchist and unpatriotic youth, Kenan Evren’s junta introduced compulsory courses in religion into formal education, created vocational high schools to train preachers and prayer leaders, and revamped the public body to regulate the sphere of religion, the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı, or DIB).

The junta policies failed on two fronts: the political and the pedagogical. Though great care was given to homogenizing generations of students through methodological, monolingual, secular, and Atatürkist teaching, high schools and universities nonetheless harbored diverse political, ideological, and faith-based factions that responded to larger social and political movements of the time. Right-wing nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists, leftists, Kurdish activists, anarchists, and the ‘deep state’ all mobilized and continued to mobilize in universities, secondary schools, public and private boarding schools, private college prep centers, and private Koranic programs. The new policies also yielded undesirable learning outcomes and failed to provide generations of students with a sound education.

Of all adult citizens aged between twenty-five and thirty-five today, more than 300,000 women are illiterate. Sixty percent of Kurdish-speaking women under twenty-nine hold only primary school diplomas, according to research published in 2009 by the Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM). In 2008, 58 percent of women and 43 percent of men under twenty-four did not have a secondary school diploma. Episodes of political and economic conflict dampened the prospects of nurturing and maintaining quality education across the country. And consequently, it isn’t surprising that in 2003 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, placed Turkey well below the OECD average in  the “quality of schools’ educational resources” category.

In 2002, the AKP inherited an education system that had failed to deliver quality learning outcomes or foster a democratic, fair, equal, and humane relationship with its users. Considering the weight of the burden and the size of the challenge, the AKP started out fairly strongly. Per capita public spending on education rose from 3 to 4 percent between 2006 and 2012 and significant strides have been taken, especially in pre-school and primary education. Since its introduction in 2009, early childhood education has become a pillar of AKP education policies. MoNE recorded a 43.1 percent net increase in pre-school enrollment in 2010 (4). It reported an increased enrollment rate in primary education from 91 percent in 2002 to 98 percent in 2011, and in secondary education from 50 percent in 2002 to 70 percent in 2011. Today, Turkey’s schools, boarding facilities, and classrooms are all better equipped and less crowded than they were in 2005.

Yet, compared to most European and some developing countries, Turkey still underperforms in crucial areas such as literacy and enrollment in secondary and higher education, and it spends less on education than the average spent by member countries of the OECD. Regional, ethnic, linguistic, and gender inequalities continue to pervade Turkey’s education and health care systems. In parts of central and southeastern Turkey, girls’ enrollment rates in primary school fall below 92 percent. In the cities of Kars, Iğdır, Ağrı, and Ardahan in eastern Turkey, more than 50 percent of the youth between the ages of fifteen and nineteen do not hold primary school diplomas, and eight out of ten women in their early twenties did not attend primary school. Children from disadvantaged families, Roma children, and children whose parents are victims of forced migration continue to face barriers to entering the education system. Turkey has not fully and sufficiently delivered quality education for all, despite the work of organizations such as UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Bank to develop standards, performance criteria, and governance mechanisms in all levels of education, from the classroom and the school to district and central administration. In the PISA test, Turkey is achieving higher scores than a few years ago. However, with 454 average points in mean science performance, it still ranked far lower than the OECD average of 501. Similar trends are observed in Turkey’s literacy and math scores.

A Half-Hearted Farewell?

The AKP registered results for many of its qualitative and quantitative education policy goals in its first two terms in power. But, at least until recently, it has proved to be more cautious in pursuing some of the goals related to changing the philosophy and content of the Republican education system. Such an effort means confronting the judicial and military elites that serve as the Republican system’s protectors. But it may be, too, that the AKP’s farewell to the Republican legacy is only half-hearted, at least where the AKP shows an inclination to use Republican-style authoritarianism to advance its own interests. Observers of Turkish politics such as sociologist Tanıl Bora have noted that Turkey’s Islamists have co-opted Republican references of statehood, sovereignty, and political institutionalism and corporatism.

Until now, the AKP has been very cautious about the issue of religion and education, and rightly so. In March 2008, Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya drafted a 162-page indictment against the party, claiming that its philosophy and actions were anti-secular and therefore unconstitutional. The indictment contained nearly eighty references to İmam Hatip Liseleri, or IHL, the system of vocational high schools for Muslim preachers, to argue that AKP support for IHLs demonstrates the party’s anti-secular character. In fact, IHLs were launched in 1924 to train future generations of religious leaders whose loyalty to the state would be assured by government oversight and patronage. IHLs have been a source of political tension in the past between conservative governments that sought to expand their size and influence, and secular military and civilian elites who sought to contain them (5). This tug of war naturally migrated into the AKP era; most of AKP’s leadership, notably Erdoğan himself, are graduates of IHLs.

Yet, given that its core constituency includes families and students who rely on IHLs for education and jobs, the AKP has become more intent on defending equal opportunities for IHLs. The party has removed some of the barriers that IHL students and graduates faced, such as the practice of calculating the university entrance exam scores of IHL and other vocational technical high school graduates by a lower coefficient to dampen their prospects of securing a better/higher placement in a reputable Turkish university. However, the AKP did not abolish the YÖK, a Republican institution that has in the past pioneered and administered discriminatory practices against IHL graduates and headscarved women.

On another religious issue, the AKP is proving reluctant to end Republican-era faith-based discrimination in education. Community associations representing Turkey’s sizeable Alevi minority, whose faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, have regularly petitioned the government to end the constitutional requirement to teach religion—that is, the mainstream Sunni brand—in state schools.

Then, there is the AKP’s curious handling of the headscarf issue. The headscarf ban—on the grounds that it violated Turkish secularism—is one of the darkest legacies of Republican rule. It has cost hundreds of thousands of headscarved women, about 65 percent of Turkey’s female population, their equal opportunity in education and employment. Nonetheless, and despite its political support from pious Muslim women, rather than truly promoting freedom and equality for headscarved women the AKP prefers to pay lip service to the issue—and effectively perpetuate the headscarf ban—out of an apparent concern not to provoke staunch Republican opposition in the military and judiciary.

Similarly, the AKP has failed to practice its pluralistic preaching when it comes to Turkey’s longstanding monolingual policy in national education. Children of Turkey’s Kurdish and other linguistic and/or ethnic minorities have been systematically deprived of equal chances in life through education, a fact that is clearly understood and appreciated by AKP policy makers. As part of its overtures to the Kurds in 2009, the AKP explored the possibility of permitting education in languages other than Turkish. However, the AKP could not or ultimately did not wish to successfully mobilize support from the public or its bloc in parliament for the abandonment of monolingual education.

Finally, the AKP has shown scant commitment thus far to reversing the legacy of Republican control over Turkish universities or implementing governance reforms. Many proponents of democratic change, including NGOs, student unions, academics, and journalists, have advocated the disbanding of YÖK. But the AKP has preferred to keep the Republican-era policing body intact and has packed the YÖK council with acclaimed professors and scientists, albeit many known for their AKP sympathies. The AKP era has seen the continued practice of firing academics and researchers on grounds that they have violated Republican values. The Middle East Technical University, for example, refused to grant a professorship because the scholar was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s policies in the Kurdish conflict.

Religious Motives

Education matters more to the AKP now for two main reasons: it wants to sustain sound economic and human capital growth and fight unemployment, and it seeks to expand the influence of Islamic morality, conservative values, and Turkish culture at home and abroad.

As Turkey strives to keep its economy forging ahead despite persistent global economic and financial crises, Erdoğan has placed a high priority on sustaining the links between better education, stronger human capital, and higher rates of employment. A 2011 poll by the International Republican Institute showed that 75 percent of Turks highlight unemployment as the country’s most pressing problem. Almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for whoever offers the most convincing solution to joblessness.

Last October, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan outlined the AKP’s plans to reduce unemployment to below 10 percent by synergizing education with business and labor markets. One of the best performers in Erdoğan’s 2007–11 cabinet, former labor and social security minister Ömer Dinçer, became minister of education, while Emin Zararsız, former head of the social security organization, became his deputy. These cabinet picks testify to Erdoğan’s plans to sustain labor market productivity and economic growth as well as combat unemployment through education.

Speaking to his party members in late December 2011, after the national budget was approved in the parliament, Erdoğan boasted of generous investments in education. He singled out the Increasing Opportunities and Improving Technologies Movement (Fırsatları Artırma ve Teknolojiyi İyileştirme Hareketi, or FATIH) project, which he pioneered and helped launch, as the single most crucial service that his government will give to children and young adults in Turkey. Through FATIH, every child will have a tablet or laptop computer and 620,000 classrooms will be equipped with smartboards within five years. Erdoğan sees this colossal investment in technical equipment and e-content in education perhaps not just as an opportunity to “spend” his government toward more popularity, but also as a civilizational leap through which Turkey’s children will compete with more advantaged kids elsewhere. Critics see FATIH as a nonsensically large investment with no real potential to increase the quality of education and the public procurement process within FATIH has already been tainted by rumors of cronyism.

Clearly, not all AKP moves have been well received, in part thanks to AKP’s lack of commitment to consensus building, and a suspicion that the party has ulterior religious motives for many of its reform initiatives. A second policy reform undertaken after last year’s election victory is a radical shakeup of education bureaucracy. On the surface, it is intended to promote stronger links between education and employment, but again, critics say that this reform will fill the ranks of the MoNE with AKP partisans who share the party leadership’s underlying philosophy for education, namely raising a pious generation.

Under Executive Order No. 652, adopted in August, MoNE is being restructured. Some departments in the ministry headquarters in Ankara have been closed, while others have been merged to form general directorates in a leaner central administration. High-ranking officials, including heads of provincial administrations, were released from public service without any notice or explanation. A new personnel regime came into effect where qualified persons, from within or outside of the former pool of MoNE staff, are to be hired on a contract basis. The AKP has been mooting administrative reform since winning power in 2002; but its abrupt adoption of Executive Order No. 652 has angered unions representing public servants and educators; has caused contempt and disenchantment among MoNE bureaucrats; and has annoyed AKP critics on the political left who lament the use of executive orders to significantly alter the principles of public service.

Another reform proposal that has created a storm of reaction due to suspicions of ulterior religious motives is the AKP’s initiative to extend the number of years of compulsory education to twelve—–with the creation of a ‘4+4+4’ system of equal parts primary, middle, and secondary schooling. The AKP argues that the proposal will render the entire education system more flexible, that it will facilitate more parental involvement in education, and will strengthen vocational technical education in secondary and higher education and improve the prospects for VTE graduates moving into the labor market. Critics of the draft bill, however, believe that the ‘4+4+4’ structure is intended to open IHL religious education for middle-school-aged students and thus reverse a ban on that practice imposed during Republican rule. An overwhelming majority of NGOs, foundations, secular institutions of education, children’s rights groups, universities, educators, and opposition parties have raised serious questions about this AKP plan. They fear that a three-tiered system that introduces children as young as eleven to vocational and technical courses raises risks for boys and girls and that the option of homeschooling in the second tier may encourage parents to pull girls and children with disabilities from schools very early on. Critics also predict that the system change will prove a chaotic management challenge at a time when the MoNE is already undergoing major administrative reform. Recently, AKP members of parliament physically attacked opposition MPs during a debate on the proposal, indicating the divisiveness on the issue. Opposition politicians believe that the AKP will act unilaterally and force the proposal through the parliament no matter what.

Countless critics viewed Erdoğan’s statement about nurturing “a pious generation” as evidence of the march of Islamism inside the Turkish state under the AKP. There have been other signs as well. The AKP has removed the obligation for schools to hold public ceremonies to commemorate Republican holidays, and for students to recite Mustafa Kamel Atatürk’s “Address to the Youth.” Over the past few months, the Directorate of Religious Affairs has worked with public schools to organize package pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina for students and their families. And Turkish anthropologist Sibel Özbudun suggests that the AKP is even encouraging religious-based theories of evolution as an alternative to Darwinism.  Conservatives, both intellectuals and public figures, have been quick to lend Erdoğan support in this evolving culture war. One columnist for Zaman wrote a spirited essay on how Turkey’s youth will discover Allah’s might through education. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç defends Erdoğan’s “pious” statement as consistent with the AKP’s conservative and democratic identity; such a defense of democracy was conspicuously absent a few weeks earlier, when Arınç declared that ending monolingual education was off the agenda.

AKP Report Card

Education is a key battleground in the struggle for Turkey’s soul—and for the future prospects of the AKP. Besides the expected resistance from opposition parties and the judicial and military establishments, dozens of interest groups and initiatives have sprung up over the past two years to curb the tide of AKP policies and style. When the AKP acts in an authoritarian manner—such as resorting to law enforcement to stifle critical voices or fistfights to stifle parliamentary opposition—it will annoy its conservative base as well as mainstream public opinion. But, if the AKP fails to deliver meaningful improvement in education, then it will surely suffer a fall from grace.


1 Yet Turkey remained below the regional average since WHO classifies Turkey under the region, Europe World Health Organization (WHO) Turkey,

2 Turkey has lacked a tradition of strategic planning. Traditionally, policy planning was done by the State Planning Agency (Devlet Planlama Teşkilatı, DPT), now a part of Ministry of Development, which was tasked to draw up five-year development plans. The AKP inherited the Eighth Development Plan (2001-2005) in 2002, and by extension, the mandate to fulfill education targets of the Eighth Plan. The AKP presumably added its own education policy goals, which could be pieced together by studying the public statements of the party leadership, MoNE decrees, orders and announcements. In May 2006, a decree authorized public institutions, particularly ministries, to draw up their respective strategic plans and to establish departments and mechanisms to track their progress of and manage strategic goals.

3 See The Pedagogical State: Education and the Politics of National Culture in Post-1980 Turkey, by Sam Kaplan, Stanford University Press, 2006.

4 Source: Education Monitoring Report, Education Reform Initiative, Istanbul, 2010. The figure for pre-school enrollment is for the four- to six-year-old age group. The enrollment is about 30 percent for three- to six-year-old children in 2010-2011.

5 See İmam Hatip Liseleri: Efsaneler ve Gerçekler, by Ruşen Çakır, İrfan Bozan and Balkan Talu, TESEV Publications, 2004.

Ebru İlhan is a former analyst at the Education Reform Initiative of Sabanci University’s Istanbul Policy Center. She has been an assistant program manager for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation in Istanbul.  

The Guerilla Cartoonist of Rio

Carlos Latuff has penned some of the most acerbic political cartoons of the Egyptian revolution. One of them shows a shoe hurtling toward Hosni Mubarak, such use of footwear being one of the gravest personal insults in Arab culture. Another iconic image portrays Egypt’s longtime ruler as a diminutive figure, dangled from his collar by Khalid Said, the young Egyptian whose death in police custody fueled the January 25 uprising. Latuff’s cartoons are ubiquitous in Egypt, adorning everything from blog sites and Tahrir Square t-shirts to the front pages of Cairo dailies. Yet, the cartoonist is not an Egyptian, but slings his ink-tipped arrows from a studio in far away Brazil, his native country.

The Latuff phenomenon illustrates the unexpected ways that social media is being harnessed for political change in the Internet Age. Latuff, a freelance cartoonist in Rio de Janeiro, closely follows Egyptians on Twitter and Facebook to gain knowing insights for his cartoons. Egyptians, in turn, flood the Internet with the resulting drawings to amplify their revolutionary messages. Arab admirers have launched more than ten Facebook pages to promote Latuff’s cartoons, with some boasting thousands of fans. “We don’t feel like he’s foreign, because he knows all of the Egyptian jokes,” says Samar Sultan, a sophomore at the American University in Cairo. Latuff has won loyalists by continuing to produce his political commentaries long after the fall of the Mubarak regime. One of his most popular has Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi taking a club to a television camera-–symbolizing the ongoing crackdowns on the news media. Another, which made the front page of theAl-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, celebrated “The Amazing Flagman”–a young Egyptian, depicted by Latuff in a Spiderman-type suit–who scaled the Israeli embassy in Cairo and took down its flag.

Latuff, 43, who has family roots in Lebanon and veers to leftist political views, launched his work as a self-styled “artivist” in the mid-1990s by faxing cartoons in support of Mexico’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation. When he first gained access to the Internet, he saw it as “theater for virtual guerrilla tactics.” In Brazil, his cartoons have raged against political brutality and homelessness. He first gained a reputation in the Middle East for cartoons sharply critical of Israel and in support of Palestinians. In a Cairo-to-Rio Skype call, Latuff explained his solidarity with the Arab Spring. “Sometimes I feel as if I am only giving their ideas a visual approach by converting their opinions into cartoons,” he said. “As a human rights activist, I seek to give a voice to the voiceless.”

Long View

Eugene Rogan is an American, but when he arrived in Cairo recently, to present a talk at the Cairo Opera House and appear on a panel at the American University in Cairo, he was in some way coming home. The son of a military contractor, he spent much of his childhood in the Middle East–initially in Lebanon, where he witnessed the reverberations of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War; and later in Egypt, at the time of the bread riots and Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Israel. Rogan, a lecturer at Oxford University, returned to Egypt for the launch of the Arabic translation of his acclaimed book, The Arabs: A History.

Rogan’s long view proves to be relevant to the history being made today just across the Nile from the Opera House in Tahrir Square and across the entire region. “What most people don’t realize,” Rogan explains, “is that the events of 2011 have deep historical roots.” In his talk, he notes that as long ago as 1834, Egyptian Muslim scholar Rifa’a Al-Tahtawi praised French constitutional government, and how Arab reformers such as Khair al-Din Pasha produced Tunisia’s first constitution in 1861. Rogan describes a history of almost constant resistance, reform, and revolution in the Arab world–in contrast with the common Western narrative of a perpetually stagnant and docile region.

According to Rogan, what would become the “very pernicious role of the military in politics” had its origins in the revolt led by Egyptian army officer Ahmed Orabi in 1879–crushed by the British three years later. He describes the eventual rise to power of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, and anti-colonial military rulers elsewhere in the Arab world, as a “great honeymoon period,” but notes how it eventually gave way to misrule and repression by military regimes. After six decades of darkness, Rogan believes, “the year 2011 marks the beginning of the end of autocracy…. At this point, there is no way to force people back into the box. Revolutionary change and political reform has become universal across the Arab world.”

Having grown up during tumultuous times in the region, Rogan told the Cairo Review after his Cairo Opera talk, “nothing seemed as interesting to me as the Middle East after that.” In between speaking commitments, he did manage to get around the city and visit old haunts. “The most striking difference is the freedom of speech I’ve noticed in every corner of Cairo I’ve visited,” he says. “It is such a pleasure to hear people express themselves without looking over their shoulders.”