Turkey back in the Muslim world

Published: June 26, 2011
The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former finance minister of Pakistan

The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former finance minister of Pakistan

There is no doubt that the year 2011 brought about irreversible changes in the way the Muslim world is organised politically and the way it is likely to shape its relations with the West and in the West, in particular with the US. As the year 2010 gave way to 2011, even the most well-informed Muslim world watchers could not have seen what the next six months would bring. A fruit vendor in a small Tunisian town set himself on fire, not able to live with the insult heaped on him by a police-woman. This act of self-immolation had far-reaching and hard-to-imagine consequences.

Some of the more obvious results have already entered as important markers for the unfolding history of the Muslim world. The exploding streets in Tunisia and Egypt forced out of office long-serving presidents. While Tunisia’s Zine elAbidine Ben Ali has found a sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was unable to leave the country. He is now facing the courts that he had once packed to serve his regime. He is defending a number of charges, some of which carry the death penalty. A third long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, after having been seriously injured in the bombing of the mosque in the presidential compound, is in Saudi Arabia being treated for the burns on his body. It is unlikely that he will be allowed to return.

Two other regimes — those in Libya and Syria — are under attack by large numbers of dissidents who have drawn courage from the actions of those who were successful in getting rid of the rulers in three other countries. The regimes have managed to survive by using the tactics that kept them in power for so long. The governments headed by Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Bashar al Assad in Syria have used terror to stay in power. They may have bought some time but it seems unlikely that they will continue to hold on to power when so much change is occurring all around them.

One of these changes is in Turkey, a Muslim country that had once ruled the Arab world as part of the Ottoman Empire. When it was dispossessed of its imperial domain, it tried hard to turn the other way. Kamal Ataturk, the father of modern day Turkey, worked hard to de-Islamise his nation and to associate his country with Europe. But Turkey’s attempt to Europeanise itself was not reciprocated by Europe, especially after Islamophobia became a potent rallying cry in the continent. It was in this state of uncertainty that a new Turkish leader stepped in with a new political, economic and social philosophy. His impact on the Muslim world may also be of as much consequence as that of the explosion in the Arab street. In the elections held on June 12, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, AKP) took 50 per cent of the vote and comfortably retained its majority in the unicameral legislature. The party, whose roots are in Turkey’s Islamic movement, fell shy of the 330 seats needed in the legislature to send for a referendum to make the changes in the constitution written by the military. In fact, the prime minister had hoped for a super majority of 367 seats that would have made it possible to pass the constitutional changes by the parliament acting alone. Mr Erdogan wanted a French style republic with a strong presidency and himself as president. But the verdict from the electorate was clear: It liked the prime minister but wished to give him constrained powers. The re-elected prime minister seemed to have received the message. “We’ll go to the opposition and we’ll seek consultation and consensus,” he said, responding to the results. “We will bring democracy to an advanced level, widening rights and freedoms. The responsibility has risen, so has our humility.” While the exercise of people’s will was open and in full public view, there is a consensus amongst Turkey watchers that the country still had some distance to go before it could become a truly democratic state.

Turkey has important lessons for those busy designing new political systems in Muslim countries where the street won over the establishment. There are also lessons for Pakistan, another Muslim country that is trying hard to find its political feet. The Turks have shown that they can trust a political party that does not profess to be secular; one that has deep roots in the conservative elements within the society. It is of some comfort for the moderates in Turkey that Erdogan’s party has not made any attempt to impose its views on the society at large. It is happy to go as far as the electoral process will let it proceed. Prime Minister Erdogan has handled his relations with the powerful military with great restraint but also with firmness. He was not afraid to push the generals back if they attempted to assert their right to protect what they regard as the legacy of Kamal Ataturk. If ‘Kamalism’ is not what the majority of the people desire, then it would not be forced on them.

What the world is watching with breathless anxiety is the political and social transformation of the Muslim world. Change is occurring all over. The process has begun and cannot be resisted for too long by those who favour the status quo. America under President Barack Obama appears to recognise this and instead of resisting political modernisation in the Muslim world, as it did on several occasions in the past — in Iran, for instance, when Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh tried to assert its constitutional authority — it is prepared to go along with it.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Mir Agha
    Jun 27, 2011 - 12:10AM

    It’s not surprising that the secularists are falling. They relied on misinformation, repression and outside support to prop themselves. Their agenda was anathema to the society at large. They were a reactionary movement to a reactionary movement. Islamically inclined (whatever that means, but certainly more ‘Islamist’) governments and forces will/have gain/ed the upper hand. You can see that in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. In Tunisia, exiled Islamists have been let back in. In Yemen, the people at large don’t support the dictators attempt to take on its people for the west’s agenda. In Syria, they’re revolting against a staunchly secular (baathist) regime. Egypt is finally letting a more natural society take place (most egyptians say Islam should play more of a role in government and life in general). The extreme minority of pakis that are secularists would do learn lessons. More human rights, women’s rights, rule of law, pro-self foreign policy, etc. will only happen under an Islamic context.Recommend

  • Talha
    Jun 27, 2011 - 12:12AM

    The difference it that Turkey is a society which is deep rooted in secularism, tolerance and openness.

    Pakistan on the other hand is seeped in intolerance, bigotry and closeness.

    You cannot apply their example to Pakistan.

    We need an Ataturk before we have a AKP in power.

    Jinnah was our Ataturk but he died way too early.Recommend

  • Khurram
    Jun 27, 2011 - 12:29AM

    Mr. Burki, nice article but I do not believe the change in Turkey can ever be a perfect example for us to follow. Turks know who they are and take a deep pride in their ethincity and history, where as we even after sixty-four years and much social experimentation still unable to find our true identity and are more confused now than ever before, all this social unrest and extremism is a direct outcome of the forced imposition of Arabnization upon the masses. First of all we have to have the moral courage to admit that we are not Arabs we are ethnically and culturally Sub-Continental Indians who practice Islam, soon we accept this the rest please trust me, would be a cake walk. As I said many times before the Islam our ancestors practiced and few of us still do in my own opinion is much superior to the recently imported versions. Yes we are waiting for a change but the change must be brought about from the within that would suit us and be most suitable for our political, social and economic set up not because we are Muslims and we can transplant the Tunisian or Egyption revolution here, that shall never work.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 27, 2011 - 1:19AM

    Turks have the moderate Erdogan but we have sectarian mullahs who dont even offer prayers under a single imam. Intellectually the Turks are light years ahead of us.Recommend

  • Talha
    Jun 27, 2011 - 2:06AM

    @Mir Agha

    Odd logic.

    The revolutions in those countries is nationalistic in approach and they shunned the Islamist elements.

    Islamists are the ones who have relied upon misinformation, repression and outside support to prop themselves. and they have failed, you have failed.Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Jun 27, 2011 - 4:57AM

    “Turkey back in the Muslim world ” – In many ways, the image of Turkey as a secular country was preventing a Muslim v.s non-Muslim polarization in the world. Now that Turkey is emphasizing its Islamic identity, this polarization will solidify – to the determent of the Islamic world.Recommend

  • Jun 27, 2011 - 8:14AM


    Intellectually ahead? Have they got Shah Wali Ullah, Iqbal? economic success is not cultural success.

    We have our own ethos and the true dilemma is that we think religious vested interest is the ONLY voice of Islam in Pakistan.Recommend

  • ARiaz
    Jun 27, 2011 - 8:17AM

    Message from Turkey: Be afraid, be very, very afraid. Creeping Islamism couched under a “Secular” image, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Something we have seen before. Einstein said it best, “Lunacy is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome.” God help us, if there is one.Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Jun 27, 2011 - 9:44AM

    Pakistan cannot be compared with Turkey although it should strive to adopt it as a role model. Recommend

  • Noman
    Jun 27, 2011 - 10:53AM

    Proposing Turkey as a secular-democratic model for a Muslim world is not a good idea. We all know a long repression of ethnic Kurds by fascist Turkish state. Recently, Turkish state try to ban pro-Kurdish party, BDP, to run for election. How is Turkish state democratic, tolerant, and open? Recommend

  • Aftab
    Jun 27, 2011 - 11:16AM

    The perception of Islam in moderate countries like Turkey or Malaysia is way different than that in Pakistan. In those countries, it is something spiritual and self-motivating towards rightness.
    In Pakistan, on the contrary, in is way to lengthen Martial Law, to oppress people on gun-point, to make them practical slaves and extend the radical way through sheer thuggish means.Recommend

  • Manoj
    Jun 27, 2011 - 11:38AM

    One should accept the people’s verdict in democracy. If the people want rule of a party inclined towards Islam, so be it. Nothing wrong in it.

    But I do not agree to the hypothesis of the writer that since Europe did not reciprocated the Turky’s effort of becomming secular, hence a particular party with islamic inclination were elected.

    Becuase I firmly believe that basic idiology of a nation is always based on the belief and conviction of the people of the land and NOT on acceptance or rejection of outside force.

    Hence, If people of Turkey believed in secularism, they would never have choosen for Islamisation. That show, either people did not had conviction in secularism from day one or they may have choosen a political party with Islamic agenda but may be for better governense and not for implementation of Islamic agenda as sometimes people of India do by electing BJP in Power but do not want their Hindu nationalist agenda to be implemented or secularism be sacrificed.Recommend

  • Sharif Lone
    Jun 27, 2011 - 11:50AM

    I do not disagree with Mr. Burkey, except that his article only touches subjects on the surface without studying it deep enough. Only repeating what we read every day in papers does not justify his stature. Perhaps, he should highlight more on economic policies, for which he is supposed to be an expert.
    For example discuss AK’s success in this month’s elections. They largely reflects the rise of conservative Sunni Muslims from Anatolia, who have supplanted the army-backed elite. Their influence is increasingly felt in the economy as well as in the media. The government is stacked with AK bureaucrats, and there are more and more AK-chosen judges. The army has been defanged: scores of generals are in jail awaiting trial in the so-called Ergenekon case against alleged coup plotters. I do not back military power, but if secular ideas of Attatruk are being erased slowly, we should be worried. But there is good news. Erdgon has not been able to get two third majority and therefore, will not be able to change the constitution and try to make Turkey more religious.
    His government has brought economic prosperity and that is something to write home about. Recommend

  • muhammad yousuf
    Jun 27, 2011 - 12:00PM

    dark days ahead for turkey.the islamic fascists have taken over and now it will become a dysfuntional state like us.ataturk had the right idea and made turkey’s society a moderate and free society,but now the islamic fanatics have taken control and will impose their barbaric,women oppressive homophobic laws,policies and rules and regulations on the turkish people.
    from a vibrant successful country turkey will become like us ,full of suicide bombings,murders of brave speakers like salman taseer shaheed.do the turks want their women to be stoned to death,do the turks want their women to be whipped like animals on the streets.the turks should ready themselves for beheadings now.

    The great Ataturk must be rolling over in his grave seeing his country being destroyed by islamic fascism.Recommend

  • Muhammad
    Jun 27, 2011 - 12:53PM

    We actually need Imam Al-Mahdi to unite Muslim World into one. We do out best to unite Muslims but still it is still disunited… Only God can unite us successfully under one Leader.Recommend

  • R
    Jun 27, 2011 - 5:22PM

    Turkey is trying to have the best of both worlds – grow a modern economy and embrace conservative Islam. So far so good. But gradually and rapidly, the Islamists are taking control of education, social and foreign policies. The sponsorship of flotillas to the West Bank, the embrace of Iran and assertive ‘demands’ for EU membership are all steps in the direction of an Islamic society.

    Lastly, the so called secular credentials that are often touted by people in muslim countries. The definition is at odds with that of the other practicing democracies of the world. In Turkey, like in Pakistan, the ‘secularists’ participated fully and willinglly in marginalizing their non-muslim minorities by ceding space to Islamists. Once that was achieved, the establishment with the active support of their armed forces, decided to keep the Islamists at bay and away from policy making. That did not last. We are witnessing it in Pakistan and now Turkey also. Recommend

  • Ayse Shanal
    Jun 27, 2011 - 7:33PM

    Pakistan needs a collective revolution. The Zardari government, under the thumb of the US, is squeezing the life out of its citizens! They don’t fear God. Who has heard of an intentionally imposed loadshedding for 20 hours a day? And even gas cuts? It is summer there right now with temp up to 48’C and no electricity because the gov says so. There is no excuse. China offered to help. Iran offered to help. Turkey offered to help. The only reason why they are doing what they are doing is because the US is telling them to. Zardari and company, this world is nothing compared to eternity. You will meet your Creator.;

    The difference between Turkey and Pakistan is this. One, AKP is run by genuinely pious people who LIVE Islam. Their acts are the very translation and result of the strength of their Iman which makes their conscience aware. Pakistan’s government and the elite who run the country are as far removed from religion as atheists.

    Two, literacy rate: Turkey has a literacy rate of 89% and Pakistan 58%. I hope an intelligent person can see what kind of a difference this makes to a country. Ataturk knew the importance of it, so did Jinnah. One country did something about it, the other, didn’t.

    Three, CORRUPTION. Believe me, Turkey before AKP had corruption in every part of society, police, healthcare and yes Government, to name only a few. They ALL got flushed out competely and systematically. This has to happen in Pakistan. You can’t have fools becoming cops and taking all kinds of bribes and watching as bystanders when a crime takes place, because they are cowards.

    The moment people in Pakistan stop the fitna within them and start living true Islam, instead of bickering Jamaati, Milaadi, Ahmady then Pakistan will see true results. Also, get rid of the current puppet government. After thatm, Pakistan needs to go to Turkey and say with dignity ‘Help us lay the infra-sctruture’. Turkey has man power and expertise to do it. With electricity, for example. My brother-in-law was the former general director of Electric Production in Turkey under AKP. After his post, he went to Poland, Balkans, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and other Turkic countries building Electricity Power Plants. So because I am speaking from personal experience I know how methodical, straighforward, fast and most importantly economical it can be. Recommend

  • Ayse Shanal
    Jun 27, 2011 - 7:43PM

    @Sharif Lone:
    The Australian ruling party, the American ruling party also chose the Judiciary to only name a couple. So what? It’s not dodgy when a Western country does it, but it is when a Muslim country does it? Give me a break. Recommend

  • Cautious
    Jun 27, 2011 - 8:50PM

    Nonsense. Erdogan promotes anti Western propaganda to his political base which are the poor and illiterate of Turkey and talks allot about Turkey being a regional power the envy of the Muslim World — blah blah blah. In reality Erdogan is consider a blow hard by the West and despite his rhetoric when the West say JUMP – he responds “how high”. His foreign policy has been a disaster — his “best friends” were/are Iran, Syria, and Libya and much to his embarrassment have all been caught massacring their own civilians in desperate attempts to eliminate criticism. Further, Erdogan’s policy of repressing freedom of speech have all but eliminated any chance of Turkey gaining entry into the EU. On the bright side – Erdogan knows that every time he walks the street one out of every two Turks voted for the opposition.Recommend

  • Linga0123
    Jun 27, 2011 - 11:41PM

    No mention of Bahrain. It doesn’t fit into the picture?Recommend

  • Sone
    Jun 28, 2011 - 7:07PM

    @Ayse Shanal:
    Yes, but if a government is unable to change constitution and uses judiciary to get the required results, it is not the same as in countries you mention. I am talking about ideology. Zia did that in pakistan, punished those who opposed him and introduced religious and gun mentality. Pakistan has not got over that after 30 years of his death. If it happens in Turkey, it will be the death of secular Turkey.Recommend

  • Ayse Shanal
    Jun 29, 2011 - 5:10AM

    What happened in Pakistan cannot happen in Turkey. They have a totally different cultural and political make up. The ethnic and religious divide in Pakistan is far too extreme, for example. Plus, in Turkey there is social welfare in Turkey. The government does so much. There’s, food, electricity, free healthcare, clean water and gas and other luxuries and a quality of life that Pakistanis will not believe unless they have been there. Pakistani people are utterly deprived of the basic needs, by their pathetic government, because the US makes them. At the end of the day, if people have food on the table and roof over their heads then they are happy. Can you see why there’s anarchy in Pakistan and why there cannot be in Turkey? I am Turkish who’s family is politically involved and my husband is Pakistani. We know both these countries like the back of our hands.

    I think you base your assumptions about possible dangers for Turkey in raising the argument about Zia on two things.

    First, the Kurdish issue. The problem of PKK comes from Northern Iraq where there’s an already annexed Kurdish area. It doesn’t come from within the borders. Those who infiltrate do, because Turkish borders in that region are hard to monitor, due to the terrain. If you see, there are now 35 Kurdish Parliament members. This, everyone is very happy about. Turkey has one of the most representative govs in the developing world dispite the 10% barrier, which was there before AKP. Whereas countries like Australia and US offer only two parties, both with identical neo-liberal ideologies and policies. How does that leave room for any democracy? I say none what so ever.

    There wouldn’t have been any Kurds in the Parliament if CHP (pro militaristic secularist) had been in Government. Even worse if MHP was elected. Turkish intelligence is now also aware that PKK is receiving help from Mossad. Get the picture?

    The Turkish media coverred the election showing its transparent process with 87% turnout. They also broadcasted in the Kurdish populated regions, where the ballot box officials (pro PKK) were handing the voting papers with the independents’ section on the top and signalling (I would say forcing) the voters. These footages were shown everywhere. Still the gov did not intervene

    Second, the arrest of the journalists in Turkey. They were not arrested for their capacity as journalists. They were part of factions formed by the suspects from the military, who were plotting for the coup. They were very much involved in the meetings and were proactive in all the planning stages of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer (code names for the coups).Recommend

  • Ayse Shanal
    Jun 29, 2011 - 5:29AM

    I met you before :) Turkey has a literacy rate of 87% as of 2009. To make a quick calculation, if Erdogan was to appeal to his political base then that would mean the majority of those who have voted for him would be illiterate. Can you see that the numbers then cannot amount to 87% percent literacy? Not a very intelligent argument. The voters for Erdogan are from all spectrum of society. Small and big business owners. Lower to middle to upper-middle class.

    Plus 50% vote for a party, which paves way for a sigle party rule is an AMAZING result. By all political experts, this is seen as ‘thriumphant’. Haven’t you read the headlines after the elections? Pity you don’t understand politics.Recommend

  • Ayse Shanal
    Jun 29, 2011 - 9:45AM

    Sorry cautious, an error. Turkey has a literacy rate of 89%.Recommend

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