Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2012

From Inspiration to Aspiration: Turkey in the New Middle East

Sinan √úlgen

December 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


With democratic change struggling to take root in the Arab world even after the fall of several autocratic regimes, the question naturally arises whether Turkey can serve as a model for those who hope to usher the region through the difficult transition to a more democratic order. At first blush, there seem to be significant barriers to applying the Turkish model to the Arab context. For instance, the secularism so cherished by Turks was originally imposed on them using decidedly undemocratic means. Arab leaders who aspire to instill secularism in their countries under conditions of democratic opposition would face a much different challenge. Similarly, Turkey’s Western credentials—its EU candidacy and its membership in NATO and the Council of Europe—do not obviously apply in this situation. And the difficulties that the European Union has faced in developing an effective neighborhood policy for the southern Mediterranean region make clear that these ties are complicated. There is no straight-line path to operationalizing the Turkish model in the Arab context. There are nonetheless several reasons to take the idea seriously.