Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Economy Alone Fails to Explain Turkey's Success
By Rammzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 27, 2011
Many commentators today are basing the success of Turkey’s
Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the June 12 elections largely on its
ability to guide the country through a decade of remarkable growth.
Economic indicators are often seen as the obvious logic behind economic
stability - lack thereof. However, they are not enough on their own to reach
such sweeping conclusions.
In an article entitled, ‘Look
toward Turkey’s economy to understand Erdogan’s re-election’, Ibrahim Ozturk
opined: “From 2002 to 2007, Turkey experienced its longest period of
uninterrupted economic growth, which averaged 6-7 percent year on year,
while annual inflation plummeted. Moreover, the economy proved resilient
following the global financial crisis, with growth recovering rapidly.”
(Lebanese Daily Star, June 18).
According to Ozturk’s perceptive
analysis, the AKP’s success in picking up the pieces of a shattered economy
(as a result of the 2001 severe economic ‘crisis’), and the ever-popular
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “appear to have secured democratic
political control of Turkey’s military and bureaucracy.” The powerful
Turkish military had repeatedly interfered in the country’s politics,
leading three military coups which all but destroyed Turkish democracy.
The very promising Turkish political experience, now branded the “Turkish
model”, had its many challenges. It took a new generation of Turkish leaders
to position their country as a politically stable regional power with a
rising economy (the GDP registered an increase of 9 percent in 2010).
Did sound, self-assured policies engender a strong economy, or was economic
growth responsible for the political stability (by keeping the military at
bay, thus further solidifying Turkey’s democratic experience)?
Libya is an interesting example to consider while reflecting on this
question. The North African country, which is currently undergoing an armed
revolt and Western-led war, had been scoring high in terms of sheer numbers.
Thanks to petroleum-generated revenues, and a small population, Libya has
the highest per capita GDP in Africa. Its economic growth has been
relatively stunning from 2000 onwards. In 2010, GDP grew by over 10 percent.
For many Libyans however, social justice, distribution of wealth,
political freedom and other issues proved of greater relevance than
gratifying GDP charts.
In Egypt too, despite the greater poverty
experienced by the much larger population (compared to Libya), the youth of
the January 25 revolution came from varied economic backgrounds. For many of
them, freedom seemed to top mere economic sustenance.
is not dissimilar to these. In fact, a discussion of Turkey’s success cannot
be reduced to one decade of economic growth and political stability. More,
‘modern Turkey’ cannot be reduced to the palpable successes of the AKP. It
goes back to earlier generations, starting with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the
founder of the Republic of Turkey. A larger-than-life figure in the eyes of
several generations of Turks, Ataturk was able to win Turkey’s independence
– no easy feat, considering the challenges of the time. However, neither he
nor his style of politics resolved the question of Turkey’s cultural and
political identity as a majority Muslim country that defined modernity based
almost exclusively on Western values. This question actually lingered in the
country for decades.
One could argue that situating Turkey in
suitable socioeconomic, cultural and political contexts was one of the
greatest challenges facing modern Turkish politicians.
Turkey was torn between its historical ties to Muslim and Arab countries on
the one hand, and the impulsive drive towards Westernization on the other.
The latter seemed much more influential in forming the new Turkish identity
in its individual, collective, and thus foreign policy manifestation and
Even during the push and pull, Turkey grew in import as a
political and economic player. It also grew into a nation with a decisive
sense of sovereignty, a growing sense of pride and a daring capacity for
asserting itself as a regional power.
In the 1970s, when ‘political
Islam’ was on the rise throughout the region, Turkey was experiencing its
own rethink. Various politicians and groups began grappling with the idea of
taking political Islam to a whole new level.
In fact, it was the
late Dr Necmettin Erbakan, Prime Minister of Turkey between 1996 and 1997,
who began challenging the conventional notion of Turkey as a second-class
NATO member desperate to identify with everything Western.
late 1980s Erbakan’s Rafah Party (the Welfare Party) took Turkey by storm.
The party was hardly apologetic about its Islamic roots and attitude. Its
rise to power as a result of the 1995 general elections raised alarm, as the
securely ‘pro-Western’ Turkey was deviating from the very the rigid script
that wrote off the country’s regional role as that of a “lackey of NATO”, (a
phrase used by Salama A Salama in an Al-Ahram Weekly article last year).
The days of Erbakan might be long gone, but the man’s legacy never
departed Turkish national consciousness. He began the process of
repositioning Turkey - politically, as well as economically - with the
creation of the Developing Eight (D-8), which united the most politically
significant Arab and Muslim countries. When Erbakan was forced to step down
in a ‘postmodernist’ military coup, it was understood as the end of
short-lived political experiment.
But the 2002 election win of the
(AKP) rekindled Erbakan’s efforts through a young and savvy new political
leadership. This has just been awarded yet a third mandate to continue its
program of economic growth, political and constitutional reforms.
Now Turkey seems to be offering more than stability at home. It is also
serving as a regional model to its neighbors, an important contribution in
the age of Arab revolutions and potential political transformations.
It is essential that the Turkish experience is not reduced to only charts
and numbers delineating economic growth. Some very wealthy countries are
politically restless. The success of the Turkish model supersedes the
economy to sensible political governance, democracy, the revitalization of
civil society and its many institutions.
Good economic indicators
can be promising, but without responsible leadership to guide growth and
distribute wealth, political stability is never guaranteed.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.