Monday, June 15, 2015

Enough Rule of Law to Matter?

I haven't written anything about Turkey's elections that provided a setback to Islamist hopes to reset Turkey as an Islamic state. One vote is not necessarily significant if there is no rule of law. So I'm waiting to see how this plays out. But Austin Bay has some commentary.

The vote is hopeful, anyway:

In nationwide parliamentary elections held June 7, Turkish voters rejected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's "soft Islamist" power grab. In doing so, Turks strengthened their secular republic's democratic system and provided the globe with an example of democratic temperance. ...

Turkey's achievement has immense implications for the Middle East and, for that matter, the whole developing world. One of the major questions the Arab Spring posed in 2011 is how to modernize culturally Islamic nations.

If Erdogan truly evolved to accept rule of law rather than holding to his earlier claims that democracy was just a means to reaching an Islamist state--and if it didn't work other means would be used--then this is a good event.

If even Turkey can't manage rule of law, however, it might say a lot about hopes for the Arab Spring movement.

I was encouraged by the movement in that it called for democracy--even if those calling for it did not fully appreciate what the term means--rather than Islamic rule as an alternative to monarchies and autocrats. That alone was progress.

Unfortunately, Islamists were able to exploit the weakening of the autocrats (although not the monarchs). They had the organization to move against the autocrats.

My hope is that in the long run, the Arab Spring can succeed, and that these early setbacks to getting democracy can be overcome as the pro-democracy forces strengthen and organize (that's where the West can help).

But if Turkey, after so many years of secular rule to help inculcate respect for rule of law, can't navigate the process to real democracy with real transfers of power, who in the region can we expect to pull this off?

In that case, my long-run hopes for the Arab Spring become a longer range hope than I thought they might achieve.

Perhaps. But also consider that the secular part of Turkey has been out-bred by the more Islam-friendly part of Turkey. So it isn't necessarily the case that Turkey is rejecting rule of law and democracy as much as parts of Turkish society that long rejected rule of law and democracy in favor of Islamist rule are demographically gaining.

Yet it may also be that enough of the pro-Islamist part of Turkey has absorbed enough of the concept of rule of law to be a different breed of Islamists used to operating within a democracy.

So I'm waiting to see how this turns out.

UPDATE: There are limits of hope:

A recent opinion poll in Turkey about which countries were most of a threat to Turkey revealed that 42.6 percent of Turks saw Israel as the biggest threat followed by America (35.5 percent) and Syria (22.1 percent). When it comes to Islamic terrorism 85 percent regarded ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) as a terrorist organization but only 65.4 percent believed ISIL was a threat to Turkey while 24 percent believed ISIL was not a threat to Turkey. To Westerners this may seem odd but for over a decade Turks have been exposed to more and more government sponsored anti-U.S., anti-Israel and pro-Islam propaganda. This was part of an deliberate effort to return Turkey to its virtuous Islamic roots and undo nearly a century of efforts to “westernize Turkey”.

So I'm still waiting to see how this turns out.