Turkey's Transformative Tectonics

August 8, 2016

Global tectonic plates are shifting.
First, Brexit defied the odds. Flying in the faces of Ladbrokes, polling places and the mass punditry. Determining that enough was enough.
Next, the rise of Donald Trump. Defying the gravity of the mainstream media. Locked in a contentious battle for the White House.
Now, Turkey. A secular constitutional republic and NATO member that has recently become increasingly Islamist and autocratic.
And while it sounds heterodox, this evolution may be more positive than we think.
First, some context.

Turkey's preeminence in the Middle East hinges on three concepts. First, Turkey possesses the second largest military in the NATO alliance. Second, Turkey represents the geographic and philosophic transition point between the Europe and the Middle East. Finally, though Turkey remains culturally Islamic, it was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a secular constitutional republic.
In 2002, the regional dynamic began to shift. Religious Muslims gained increasing influence as Islamists began asserting themselves. Turkey's current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became an agent for the Muslim community. Pitting his AKP party against the military, which is constitutionally responsible for upholding secularism.
The military has always been pro-American. And euro centric. Erdogan, on the other hand, came to power in 2014 and has never been eager to assist with an American agenda.
Moreover, Erdogan has instituted a number of increasingly autocratic laws. Leading some to believe that he plans to take Turkey towards a dictatorship.
Accordingly, the army staged a coup when Erdogan was on vacation. Presumptively to restore Turkey's secular birthright, and undermine what has been viewed as Erdogan's increasingly Islamic overtures. The coup was unsuccessful. And today the nation finds itself under a three-month "state of emergency" declared by Erdogan. Providing him dictatorial powers. And the unique authority to purge all elements of dissension throughout Turkey's military and political structure. Thus far, tens of thousands have been arrested.
Astute observers like Stratfor's George Friedman believe that most of Turkey's problems stem from the inability to cope with the stresses related to rapid economic growth, the tensions between its secular and Muslim regions, and its rise as a great power.
The ugly truth, as Friedman has noted, is that this does not come down to right and wrong.
The military has its constitutional function. And Erdogan was elected. So placing blame is futile. As both are performing their roles. Religious Muslims will pursue their interests. As will secularists. The military is charged with protecting the state against the religious.
As Friedman notes, "New money always challenges old."
Turkey sits at a crossroads. Pro-European secularism has been weakened. The economic boom has introduced an entirely new set of players. The military will have a difficult time serving as the protector of Turkish politics. And while none of these constituents will fade quietly, Erdogan now attempts to bury the past.
Turkey is not failing. But evolving. Strengthening its ability to act regionally. To pursue its own interests. The political equivalent of Schumpeter's creative destruction. Much like the United States required the Civil War in order to continue its evolution as a great regional power.
If Turkey can successfully combine a secular constitutional government with an conservative Islamic cultural identity, it may serve as a beacon for religious Muslims throughout the Middle East. Proving that they need not practice the fundamentalist and oppressive brand of sharia that is the objective of much of today's Muslim world. Proving that large Muslim nations can abide by the tenants of their faith. Respect human rights. Practice democracy. And live peacefully and productively within a modernizing world.
As Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, economist and leader Muhammad Yunus said, "Things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems."
For all of the Middle East's complications, perhaps Turkey's current upheaval offers unexpected answers. Born of simplicity. A revolution by evolution.

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