Rights Violations Detract from "Turkish Model"

Article Summary
While Western countries continue to promote a Turkish Model of secular Muslim democracy, some Arab commentators have criticized the limits on press freedoms in Turkey. The imprisonment of journalists and violations of free speech cast a pall on the Turkish Model, argues Sami Kohen - whether or not Western governments raise objections to these practices.

“Turkish Model” is a [catchphrase] that has been frequently heard, particularly from the Americans, since the onset of the Arab Spring. Although Turkish officials like the idea, they prefer to use more modest terms such as “example,” or “source of inspiration.”
The debate on the now cliché “Turkish Model” rages on. The BBC’s “Doha Debate,” taped yesterday in Istanbul, was on the Turkish Model.

What is meant by “Turkish Model”? How is it perceived? Don’t forget it is the Americans who coined the phrase, with the notion of presenting Turkey as a source of emulation for the Arab world.

Western officials, academics and writers emphasize the free and democratic nature of Turkey. This is used as an indicator of how a predominantly Muslim country can also be a modern state of law.

Insofar as the Arab people are struggling for the freedom, justice and democracy that have been achieved by Turkey, we could be cited as an example. But, in the words of a Tunisian academic who spoke at a symposium in Istanbul, a fully matured Turkish Model does not yet exist.

He and other Arab participants were referring to incarcerated journalists, [prisoners held under] indefinite detention, and restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey. “These are precisely what Arabs protesting in the streets are fighting against,” they said. Those who follow Turkey closely are of course aware of what is going on in the political life of this country. Frankly, these [violations of freedoms] cast a pall on the Turkish Model.

In recent days these negative practices have attracted criticism in the Western media, while no official reactions have been forthcoming from either the U.S. or the EU.  Clearly in the midst of the present upheaval in the Middle East, strategic interests have taken priority and statements that could anger Ankara are being avoided.

Secularism, an important feature of the Turkish Model, is a cause for another debate in the Arab world.  Prime Minister Erdogan’s defense of secularism in his Cairo speech was approved by liberal-minded Egyptians but denounced by the Islamists.
We should not expect Arab societies that are profoundly divided over such basic issues [as secularism vs. religious rule] to adopt the Turkish model. As an Egyptian thinker said: “Arabs will prefer to develop their own models according to their own requirements.”

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