APP reports that Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to explore further economic cooperation. This is fantastic news, and provides a great opportunity to re-orient the country onto a productive and prosperous path. Actually, looking at Turkey, we may find an alternative way out of the mess that we currently find ourselves in.
Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir praised Turkey’s important role for bringing peace and stability in the region. And he is not the only one singing Turkey’s praises lately. On a visit to Istanbul last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the country high marks.
“I just want to see Turkey get stronger and more prosperous and have your democratic institutions be even more durable and be an example for so many of the countries that themselves are trying to figure out how to make political and economic reforms,” she told the coffeehouse audience.
Clinton went on to note that Turkey can serve as a role model for other new democracies.
“I think across the region, people from the Middle East and North Africa particularly are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey’s experience,” Clinton said. “It is vital that they learn the lessons that Turkey has learned and is putting into practice every single day. Turkey’s history serves as a reminder that democratic development depends on responsible leadership, and it’s important that that responsible leadership helps to mentor the next generation of leaders in these other countries.”
This is important to think about not because it was praise from an American official, but because the American official is RIGHT. Turkey can be a great role model for how to develop a successful democracy without giving up religion and culture. Irene Khan, Consulting Editor for The Daily Star, made this same observation recently.
Under nine years of AKP rule Turkey has changed radically, shedding its military past in favour of liberal democracy and combining strong economic growth and social development with Islamic conservatism and an assertive foreign policy.
Turkey’s economy is booming. A member of the G20 group of developed and emerging economies, last year its GDP grew by 9%. The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) predicts Turkey will have the fastest-growing economy in the OECD until 2017. Unemployment has fallen from 14.4% in 2009 to 11.5% this year, and social development programmes are beginning to tackle poverty in some of the more remote and troubled areas.
This economic miracle has spawned a new political class of Sunni Muslim businessmen from Anatolia, committed to global market principles but fiercely conservative and deeply religious. They form the backbone of support for AKP and have replaced the military-backed urban elite as the new ruling class of Turkey.
Notice however that the “Islamic conservatism” that Khan speaks about is not the same as backwards-looking calls for medieval kalipha systems or Talibani brutality. Rather Turkey takes an approach of tolerance for individual religious practice. AKP has been a voice for women who want to choose to wear hijab, but they stop well short of suggesting that the state should be making that choice for women.
This is the way of the future for Muslim democracies. Even in Egypt, which many Westerners feared the Muslim Brotherhood would turn the country into a new Iran, the MB is disovering that being in power means that they have to move beyond organising street protests and learn how to govern.
As the Arab Spring turns to blazing summer, Islamist movements have quickly formed political parties and mobilized national campaigns designed to unveil their new image before elections in the fall and winter. Paranoid rhetoric about threats to Muslim identity have given way to political messaging that could have been lifted from the party platforms of any Western democracy: It’s all about jobs, investments, inclusiveness. A new broom to sweep clean decades of corruption. A new dawn of can-do Islamism.
And governance is the key because people take responsibility for their own souls – from the government they expect results.
The group has long been feared in the West as the source and exporter of radical Islamist ideology: violent groups like the Palestinian Hamas are direct offshoots of the Brotherhood. Some scholars trace the origins of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to the Islamists. In Egypt, however, the group long ago rejected the rhetoric of violent jihad, and it is seen as a social movement as much as a political entity. Egypt’s poor have long associated the Brotherhood with its social services, like free clinics and schools.
Now the Brotherhood needs to broaden its base to include middle-class and affluent Egyptians. Many of the young men and women hanging out on the October 6 Bridge on a Thursday evening — enjoying a cool breeze off the Nile and the chance for some mild flirting — seem comfortable with the idea of an Islamist-led government. “We know these guys. We go to school with them, eat with them, play soccer with them,” says Fadel, a 20-year-old university student. “If they come to power, we’ll judge them by their results, not the size of their beards.”
President Zardari is meeting with regional leaders like Ahmedinejad as he should. After all, these are our neighbors whether for better or for worse. But it is our ties with nations like Muslim nations that are looking to the future – not the past – that has the most promise for improving our own path. Turkey and Egypt are giving a glimpse at the future of Muslim democracies in Europe and the Middle East. Pakistan should follow this path of democratisation and restore its place as an example for Muslim democracy in South Asia. This was the dream of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is up to us to make it real.