Long before Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Turkey’s prime minister – longer still before he brutally cracked down on protesters, curbed free speech, and blurred the lines between church and state more than anyone in the Kemalist era – he said, “Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want.” And so he has, much to the chagrin of domestic opposition and Western onlookers.But as Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Turkish public intellectual, argues convincingly in a recent NYT op-ed, the country should consider jumping back on the democracy-train, at least for a few more stops. In so doing, it would neither be allowing itself to be remade in the West’s image nor forsaking a larger role for itself in the region, but merely “[following] the example of one Arab country that has managed to avoid political gridlock: Tunisia.”
Ratified on Jan. 26, [Tunisia’s] Constitution is a strikingly “We the people” document in a region where “Me the state” has long been the norm. It protects civil liberties, establishes a separation of powers, and guarantees women parity in political bodies. Though it declares Islam the country’s official religion and refers generally to Tunisia’s identity as an Islamic state, the Constitution protects religious freedom for all. […]I have been following the steady stream of good news out of Tunisia with admiration, if not envy. Paradoxically, Turkey’s democracy, which is more than six decades old, and its economy, the world’s 17th largest in 2012, are better-established and stronger than Tunisia’s. But Turkey sorely lacks the consensus-making skills that Tunisians so clearly possess. Turkish politics is poisoned by bitter fighting between leaders who view compromise as cowardice. Quarreling political figures condemn one another for “high treason,” and often resort to extravagant conspiracy theories to delegitimize opponents. The result is that confrontation is common, and agreement all too rare.
Read the whole piece. It not only helps the non-specialist better understand Turkey’s post-Arab Spring politics in the country’s broader historical context, it also offers some hope that real change is possible in a region that has recently become synonymous with disappointed hopes and seemingly endless strife.