Relating Turkey to the Middle East and North Africa: Arab Spring and the Turkish experience
In this article, I analyze the extent to which Turkish experience provided and continues to provide a model for democratization in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). Using the 2011 (Arab Spring) mass movements, and the resulting shifts from autocratic regimes toward democratic ones, I argue that the Turkish experience offered a framework for MENA countries to address radical tendencies. The promise of the Turkish model existed despite the categorical rejection of protest by Turkish authorities. Features of the Turkish model that appeal to the regimes in transition include its experience with parliamentary democracy, the successful shift from a limited economy controlled by elites to an open market system, and a turn from French-style secularism to a more flexible and inclusive model. In addition, Turkey's successful exit from a military tutelage demonstrated that a mild and peaceful transition away from autocracy is possible. I also argue that, based on recent experiences, Turkey should exercise caution regarding its new regional power: Defense of democratic culture and regional cooperation have already created difficulties as Turkey seeks to build global influence and maintain friendly relationships with its neighboring countries. Nevertheless, Turkish policymakers must continue to develop proactive and consistent policies towards the MENA region, in order to preserve the legitimacy built over the last decade. Finally, if democratization and development are major goals for the transitioning MENA countries, I conclude that the models employed matter less than the speed at which goals are achieved.