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July 28, 2008

Tragedy in Turkey?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I am genuinely surprised that the ongoing assault on Turkey’s democracy hasn’t gotten more attention in DC policy circles or in the broader commentariat. For an overview of the crisis and the (dissapointing) U.S. response, take a look at the article I recently co-wrote with Alex Taurel last week in the Christian Science Monitor.

Very briefly, let’s look at the facts: a pro-West/ pro-EU political party wins 47% of the vote in last year’s elections – an unprecedented number in a country where parties rarely win enough of the vote to rule alone. Since first being elected in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has passed a series of far-reaching legal and political reforms in order to meet EU accession requirements. The list of what the party has done is long: it has eased restrictions on freedom of expression, civilianized the National Security Council, granted the Kurdish minority greater rights, and abolished the death penalty. Not only that, it has helped usher in an impressive period of economic growth. Good for democracy and your pocketbook.

Yet, as soon as tomorrow, Turkey’s Constitutional Court may very well decide to close down the AKP and ban its leading figures, including the current President and Prime Minister, from political participation for five years. The Court's case is premised largely on the fact that the AKP lifted the country’s longstanding headscarf ban, an action which the majority of Turks supported (Turkish women are not allowed to cover their hair in universities and other government/ public institutions). I've always found it interesting - and somewhat bizarre - that women in the U.S. can wear the hijab anywhere they want, while in Turkey it can be grounds for a judicial coup. Former Ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, sums it up: "the banning of a ruling party—one that has been in power for over five years, and quite successfully at that—is unprecedented in the modern West."

In a region where optimism is rare, and where successful democratic experiments are almost unheard of, one would think that democracy enthusiasts would issue a call to action and do whatever in their power to avert what may become a great tragedy, and one that will surely have lasting consequences for a region already in turmoil. But this is not a good time for talking about “democracy” abroad (tainted by Bush, Iraq, and the neo-cons). It is not a good time for those who believe that American and European power should be employed - peacefully - in the service of freedom. So we avert our eyes, just like we have many times before. It is an old story. We do not, it appears, learn from the lessons of the past, even though 1953 and 1991 stand out as clear warnings.

The closure of the AKP would be akin to our Supreme Court dissolving the Democratic Party and banning Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy from politics for five years. I imagine that some fervent conservatives have contemplated this possibility but, luckily, the vast majority of Americans do not believe in disbanding democratically-elected parties, even if those parties have chosen to shred the constitution, spy on citizens, effectively legalize torture, and – let’s not forget  – invade foreign countries. Still, despite these sins, I don’t think the Republican Party should be banned.

There may still be time to act. Turkey is in crisis and its future at stake. The Court could rule as early as tomorrow and then it will be too late. But it may wait until August 5th to make its decision. We have already waited too long. But there remains a small window for America and its European allies to take a principled stand against what would be one of the most blatant breaches of the democratic process in recent memory.


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I have been surprised by the tepid response from our pundits and politicians as well. Maybe everyone's just hoping for the best and readying their shock and surprise press statements for the worst case outcome.

I wonder what's going on in Europe. Do these leaders secretly hope for such a ruling to make the admission of Turkey to the EU an impossiblity, at least for the next decade or so?

And yes, this would be a fine way to reprise 1991. Turkey could decend into lot's of violence and repression if they tank the last five years. Can they really be so blind?

I am a dual citizen (Turkish/American), educated and raised in the western world, and am in Turkey as I write this.

I can say without any doubt that the writer of this article knows close to nothing about the true political situation of Turkey (beyond what he read in the latest edition of his local newspaper.) He seems well read, and seems to have lots of discussions with policy researchers and such, but I don't think he's once spoken to a Turkish person in the Republic of Turkey to get a grasp of even one aspect of the complicated politics of this country.

He mentions nothing of facts like the AKPs bribing of communities for votes by giving out food packages, or their record of trying to pass laws that are derived from sharia law (ie: making adultery punishable by jail time.) As I said I'm a western educated Turk who's spent considerable time living in Turkey and in Europe/America. The current ruling AKP is making people like myself afraid of losing our freedoms as they continue to pass they sneak their islamic laws into the massive western reform packages that the western world cherishes so much.

Tell me, if the AKPs tenure is a good thing for the west, then why are the most 'modern', western Turks so afraid of them ?(and considering fleeing the country if their reforms continue to pass.)

I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence, I just think that this is the product of secondary, not primary, research.

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