By Burak Bekdil
When President Barack Obama portrayed prospering Turkey, ruled by sweet Islamists, as “a great Islamic democracy” in 2010, he was probably hoping that this strange democracy that comes with a religious prefix would serve a useful purpose: a glittering role model for the Arab countries that lagged behind even an Islamic democracy. Mr. Obama’s mission impossible has failed – probably – for good.
The Arab Spring did not blossom (or fade) because of Turkey’s Islamic democracy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s short-lived popularity on the Arab Street was not because Arabs envied Turkey’s Islamic democracy; but because they embraced his love affair with Hamas and accompanying hatred of Israel. None of which has sufficed to keep the Turkish model afloat.
In fact, Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, could have appealed to the less and much less democratic countries in the Middle East had it been a democracy instead of an Islamic democracy.
Most Arabs who wanted to breathe democracy, before or after Mr. Obama’s Turkish euphemism, thrived to immigrate to the country Mr. Obama rules, or to Europe where there is democracy, not to Turkey where there is Islamic democracy – unless for force majeure, like in the Syrian case.
Naturally, the talk and praise of the Turkish model for the Arab world had faded away even before Gezi. The never ending scandals revealing how corrupt and undemocratic Turkey’s Islamic democracy was have a message to the Arab world too: Contrary to how it was presented, the Turkish model was neither pious (moral) nor democratic.
When Mr. Obama toyed with the idea of the Turkish model he subtly conveyed a pejorative message to the Arab nations, clearly hinting“bon pour l’Orient” thinking: an Islamic democracy a la Turca –which western institutions portray as a “flawed democracy” – is more than good for you. Turkish democracy may have been better than the Arab regimes, but apparently was not good enough to attract Arab attention other than handsome but shady business deals or inherent anti-Israeli rhetoric.
When this column opened with this line: “After all, we are brothers! Our prime minister is your prime minister. So, please do not hesitate to borrow him – and please do not feel obliged to return him any time soon;” and closed with this: “Dear Arab brothers! You have yearned for a Nasser, and God has given you an Ottoman sultan. Enjoy him. Peace be upon you… (Dear Arab brothers: Yes, you may borrow our prime minister!, Hurriyet Daily News, Sept. 15, 2011),” an angry Arab reader sent a protest message, not because of the proposal, but because “I had insulted an Islamist hero.” His message contained an extremely rich vocabulary of insults, curses and threats for which I thanked.
Two and a half years later, the same reader wrote again, this time using a more polite language suitable for print. Here is a summary:
You may remember me from a letter I had sent you to protest your article. I still find your column distasteful, but the Islamic community and party I represent (which I won’t disclose for confidentiality –BB) think that you were right about [Mr. Erdogan]…
“We don’t want to be oppressed under a corrupt democracy like in Turkey. We don’t want our money [to be stolen]. We don’t want our people to die under police brutality. We have had enough of those here…
“So, a belated ‘No!’ to your proposal. Keep him for your failing country. We don’t want a fake Muslim to cheat our people. We have enough of them here too…
“Having said that, we think your proposal to lend your prime minister to your ‘Arab brothers’ at that time was another Zionist conspiracy to ruin our countries! (the letter ends with a smiley sign – BB).”
It is not this letter from a “dear brother” that seals the failure of Mr. Obama’s Islamic democracy endeavour, but a variety of other empirical evidence that pops up daily for the willing mind. With all the filth that has been spread around, the Turkish model is merely a fiasco. Try your luck with “a democracy” next time, President; “an Islamic democracy” has apparently failed.