During Tim Sebastian’s BBC Doha Debates held in Istanbul last week, participants argued over whether Turkey is a good or bad model for the Arab world. After a heated discussion between the panelists, the same question was asked to the audience. 51 percent of the audience decided that the Turkish model was not suitable for the Arabs, while 41 percent of the audience took the opposite point of view.
The panelists who claimed that Turkey is a “bad model” included Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist and Hasan Mneimneh, a Lebanese scholar. On the other side were Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul. Aboubakr Jamai, a Morrocan journalist also voiced arguments in support of the Turkish model.
Those who took a stance against exporting the Turkish model mentioned the following problems:
- There is no Turkish Model as such and Turkey’s own democracy is badly flawed. Freedom of expression is highly restricted, and the number of imprisoned journalists raises concerns. This is not the kind of democracy the Arabs yearn for.
- The fact Turkey is popular in the Arab street, and that people like its TV programs does not mean that they embrace a Turkish Model.
- Certain actors across the Arab world, mainly Islamists, might use the Turkish model as a excuse for empowering Islam within the state.
- The Turkish economic development model is not the only way to prosperity. There are other viable economic models - such as those of Brazil and India - for developing countries.
- Arab countries prefer to develop their own models instead of importing them.
Those who supported the Turkish model made the following assertions:
- Turkey is a source of inspiration. The interest [Arabs show] in Turkish television programs is a manifestation of an Arab cultural and social affinity to Turkey.
- The Arab world monitors the Turkish experience closely and admires its accomplishments. They don’t consider any other country - like Iran for example - as a suitable model for themselves.
- The problems with Turkish democracy are transitional and the Turkish Model is a dynamic process. Turkey will eventually overcome its problems.
- In speaking of the Turkish model, one should not only confine the discussion to the current governments’ practices. The Turkish model is a [manifestation of the actions] of all parties and a confluence of practices employed by various political actors in Turkey.
What was striking about this discussion is that the Turkish panelists who voiced arguments against the Turkish model emphasized the recent anti-democratic practices in Turkey. The Arab speakers, on the other hand, hold different - even contradictory - views on the Turkish model [and democracy in Turkey]. This demonstrates a lack of consensus and a myriad of perceptions on the issue across the Arab world. Therefore, the Arabs might embrace certain elements within the notion of a Turkish model while rejecting others.