You are on page 1of 8


Democracy In Turkey: The Compatibility of Democracy In Predominately Muslim States Shawn M. Crawford American Public University

Author Note This paper was prepared for Research, Analysis and Writing, taught by Dr. Melissa Rigney PhD.



On 04 January 2011 Mohamed Bouazizi, a citizen of Tunisia, died after committing self immolation. Ten days later Tunisias 23 year dictatorial leader, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, was fleeing for his life en route to Saudi Arabia. In quick succession citizens of Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Libya etc. were suddenly consumed with the possibility of new found freedoms brought about by the end of a dictatorship in Tunisia and the potential for the end of dictatorial rule in their own countries through methods popularized by Gandhi and codified over the past forty years by Sharp. With the end dictatorships in some countries in the Middle East and North Africa what form of governance will this overwhelmingly muslim region turn to? Subsequent to the 2002 elections in the Republic of Turkey democracy may be viewed as a compatible form of governance in these predominately Muslim states.

Democracy In Turkey:


The Compatibility of Democracy In Predominately Muslim States

Starting with the self inflicted death of a humble produce merchant in Tunisia during the first week of January 2011 and continued daily changes in regimes through the third week of May 2011 the World and specifically the Muslim World in the Middle East and North Africa has undergone dramatic change. Decade long rule by Monarchial families in Tunisia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Egypt have come under pressure from a citizenry looking for a voice. A voice that has managed to survive in Turkey for over three decades. As stated by Turkeys current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "Of course politics should be clean. But my nation does this at the ballot box. In democracies, only the nation can redesign politics"(Strauss, 2011 p.7).

Can the current leaders within the citizenry of the states undertaking democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa look to Turkey as a successful model of democracy? What is democracy? According to Merriam-Webster democracy is defined as, government by the people; especially : rule of the majority(, on-line). Indeed Turkey has achieved, in action, the definition of democracy. Post the successful popularly elected government Turkey indeed has been an example of a government in a predominately Muslim country ruled by the majority.

Is there more to democracy than Merriam-Websters definition. Some would say so. According to Morlino (2002) a good democracy is:


A quality democracy is a good democracy. As is evident, the defining problem concerns what is intended by the adjective. Starting from the definition mentioned above, and from the prevailing notions of quality, I consider a quality or good democracy to be one presenting a stable institutional structure that realizes the liberty and equality of citizens through the legitimate and correct functioning of its institutions and mechanisms. A good democracy is thus first and foremost a broadly legitimated regime that completely satisfies citizens (quality in terms of result). When institutions have the full backing of civil society, they can pursue the values of the democratic regime. If, in contrast, the institutions must postpone their objectives and expend energy and resources on consolidating and maintaining their legitimacy, crossing over even the minimum threshold for democracy becomes a remarkable feat. Second, a good democracy is one in which the citizens, associations, and communities of which it is composed enjoy at least a moderate level of liberty and equality (quality in terms of content). Third, in a good democracy it is the citizens themselves who have the power to check and evaluate whether the government pursues the objectives of liberty and equality according to the rule of law. They monitor the efficiency of the application of the laws in force, the efficacy of the decisions made by government, and the political responsibility and accountability of elected officials in relation to the demands expressed by civil society (quality in terms of procedure) (p. 4).

Does Turkey achieve Morlinos standard of democracy? Yes and no. An example where democracy is achieved via the Morlino test is Turkeys ability to maintain over a relatively long time line (twenty eight years) a legitimated regime satisfying the citizenry of the state. On the


other hand a constituency in Turkey that may not clearly be represented (the Kurds) in Turkeys democracy seeks autonomy from the Turkish government through violent means and in turn the Democratically elected authorities react violently to the Kurds. Does this mean the Morlino test fails overall because of the Kurd issue. Not necessarily because the Kurd issue is transnational crossing the border into Iraq. Morlinos second test of a good democracy reflects on the populous of the state to achieve a moderate level of liberty and equality. Indeed by the very nature of the ability of all citizens over the age of 18 having the right to vote regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds and or their political beliefs speaks to the equality and the liberty afforded the Turkish population. Even the Kurds, with there autonomous claims (be they right or wrong) still have the right to vote. Universal suffrage exists. Finally Morlinos third test is the ability for the population to hold accountable and responsible the sitting government and all associated government agencies. Pre the 1983 elections Waterbury offers the following example:

The Turkish Businessmens and Industrialists Association (Tsiad) is paradigmatic. It has existed since 1971 but has been politically docile. During Turkeys major structural crisis of 1979, it issued a stinging critique of the governments economic policies, which was published in the major newspapers. It also supported the military intervention of 1980. It preferred an end to the killing and insecurity even if Turkeys democracy had to be suspended. But it set a precedent of corporately criticizing the government and established the practice of regular appearances by government officials before Tsiads membership to explain policy and seek advice.(para. 60) So here a portion of the community freely holds accountable the sitting government.


Having reviewed Morlinos test one could come to the conclusion that Turkey, generally speaking, has achieved democracy. Does it matter that it is not a US centric democracy? Or even a Western centric democracy? One could say No. The US has a democracy steeped in the founding fathers Christian beliefs and continues today with the rise of the Christian right and the influence they exert over US national politics. Will Muslims exert influence in Turkish politics ? Of course. To what degree will determine both Turkeys ability and in the case of the Christian right the USs ability to continue to sustain democracy and Morlinos good democracy.

Finally can Turkey be shown as an example of a Muslim majority democratic state with ability to sustain its democracy over a twenty three year period be used as a template for the states currently undergoing change in the Middle East and North Africa? One could answer Yes and no again. With a strict adherence to Merriam-Websters definition democracy and the ability for universal suffrage to exist seems inevitable. Democracy using Morlinos test could indeed be an outcome of the current uprisings-but only time and the ability of the populations fortitude will tell. I would agree with David Brooks recent reflections regarding Huntingtons Clash of Civilizations when Brooks reviews Huntingtons 20 year old thesis and reflects,

But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them. Mohamed Bouazizi, a citizen of Tunisia, sought liberty for himself and in turn the possibility of democracy throughout the Middle East and North Africa.



Brooks, D. (2011, 3 March). Huntingtons Clash Revisited. The New York Times, p. A27. Retrieved 26 May 2011 from

democracy. 2011. In Retrieved 23 May 2011, from


Morino, L. (2002, October 31-November 2). What is a Good Democracy? Theory and Empirical Analysis. Delivered at the Conference on The European Union, Nations State, and the Quality of Democracy. Lessons from Southern Europe, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 21 May 2011 from

Strauss, D. (2011, May 23). Sex scandal hits Turkey election. Financial Times, p. 7. Retrieved 23 May 2011 from

Waterbury, J. (1999). Transitions to Democracy. (L. Anderson, Ed.). New York, New York. Columbia University Press.