Promoting Democracy: Lessons From Turkey


Last night, Turkey’s staunchly secular Constitutional Court decided against throwing out the ruling, moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). The decision, which cut Prime Minister Erdogan’s party’s public financing in half and warned it to abide by Turkey’s strictly secular constitution, averted a potential political crisis.
Prime Minister Erdogan celebrated the decision, claiming a victory for democracy and stability. Meanwhile, Onur Oymen, the deputy chairman of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, expressed confidence that the court’s decision will compel the AKP to respect secular principles.
The European Union, which is considering Turkey for membership, welcomed the ruling, while calling for further political and constitutional reforms to avoid a similar crisis in the future.
Interestingly, the reaction in Washington was more ambivalent. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack simply said that “the court has rendered an opinion, and we’re going to continue to work with this government. We work quite well with them,” and encouraged Turkey and the EU to continue their ascension negotiations.
While the State Department’s neutral position may be designed to avoid alienating the secular military establishment, it serves to undercut the administration’s policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East, given that many of the major political opposition parties in the region have at least some Islamic roots. A key question for the next president will be whether the United States should isolate and marginalize these parties, or whether it should engage them as partners in the democracy promotion process. The Turkish case suggests that Islam can be compatible with both democracy and secularism.
— Ben Katcher


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