2 July Monday, 2012
As Lerna Yanık writes, Turkey’s “claim for exceptionalism is no exception” in the world of international politics. However, Yanık goes on to suggest the more compelling study is how these claims of exceptionalism have been used. The metaphor of a “Turkish Model” is one of the more recent manifestations of Turkey’s exceptionalism. While Turkey was seen as a model for the Turkic republics as the Cold War ended, the Arab Spring reposed the old questions about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, forcing the enigmatic “Turkish Model” fully into the spotlight. Turkey’s unique experience as a Muslim nation and democratic state combined with its geographical ambiguity and rapid economic development have made studies of Turkish “exceptionalism” quite commonplace. Interest in both explaining and replicating Turkey’s development successes is hardly novel, and has gained new urgency and attention in the wake of the Arab Spring. However, the “Turkish Model” perhaps serves Turkish political interests more than meets the needs of Arab populations and the Arab Spring’s basic foundations call for a more indigenous approach.
It some ways, the Arab Spring disproved widely –if quietly –held assumptions about the normative conflict between Islam and democracy. While Turkey has always been the footnote to such claims, the Arab Spring –championing popular agency, anti-government protests, and indigenous revolution –ensured all observers were re-evaluating long-held ideas about the Middle East and Muslim world. While the Arab Spring encompasses a variety of distinct social movements in various countries –Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, and Syria –common history, culture, language, and complaints unite the Arab Spring movement. The use of satellite televisions, Al Jazeera, and international news outlets combined with increasing pressure on leadership, rising standards and demands for education, and the growing use of democracy, accountability, and liberty in discourses form the common anatomy of the movement. Despite the diverse outcomes and processes in the different states undergoing Arab Spring transitions, Turkey is commonly offered as a consistent model.
This “Turkish Model,” according to scholar Ömer Taşpınar, can be broken into two unique Turkish experiences. One type of Turkish model looks at how the military interacts in the political sphere. This examines both the military’s role in defending founding Kemalist principles (republicanism, populism, laicism, revolution, nationalism, and statism) as well as Turkey’s transition to civil government control. In states like Egypt, for example, the role of the military needs –if not a model –at least a carefully constructed blueprint. The more common use of “Turkish Model” looks at Turkey as an example for the evolution of political Islam. This idea emphasizes Turkish experience in balancing a Muslim nation with a secular state and in Turkey’s current electoral support of the moderate Islamic AKP. In Tunisia’s fall 2011 elections, the Ennahda party’s victory evoked many comparisons to the AKP, for example. It is this “Turkish Model” of balancing secular democracy with Muslim history and culture –if not religion –that dominated discourse on Turkish policies in light of the Arab Spring.
The “Turkish Model” was not created during the Arab Spring but the “Turkish Model” metaphor overtook other historical idioms during this time. Like the idea of a “Turkish Model,” earlier metaphors reflected Turkey’s contemporary international standing and future aspirations, constructing specific self-understandings of Turkish foreign policy. Metaphors could both justify and explain foreign policy strategies. As Yanık argues, metaphors –like the “Turkish model” –are conscious policy tools. She says:
metaphors...are indeed discursive strategies employed by Turkish foreign policy elite to frame and to justify various foreign policy goals. Since metaphors are more powerful signifiers than simple words modifying the discourse, and since these metaphors of vision contain the claim to accomplish several things at a time, their capability to help shape reality is more powerful. 
Yanık’s argument traces the shifting discursive metaphors in Turkish foreign policy. The first image is that of a Turkish “buffer” or “boundary” during the Cold War. This image highlighted Turkey’s ability to serve as a border against the Soviet Union, a demarcation between the East and the West. At the end of the Cold War, the metaphor was reversed and Turkey became a “bridge” between different cultures, East and West, Asia and Europe. Yanık develops the idea of a “bridge” as a way to emphasize Turkey’s geographic exceptionalism while facilitating a wider range of policy options, courting both the Middle East and Europe. While the bridge metaphors persist, the rise of the “model” metaphor carries the same discursive power and similar policy implications. The idea of a “Turkish Model” continues to stress Turkish exceptionalism and asserts the necessity of Turkey’s significant role in its near abroad and the world.
In the Arab Spring, Turkey’s role varied widely, with foreign policy choices unique to each state. For example, Turkey initially hesitated to join the NATO operation in Libya, with billions of dollars in contracts and roughly 25,000 Turks in Libya at the start of the protests. Despite initial hesitation Turkey ultimately joined the NATO operation and financially supported the Libyan opposition. In Egypt, the Turkish response was more enthusiastic, emphasizing the potential for future cooperation in lieu of competition. Indeed, Erdoğan was the first foreign leader to call for Mubarak to step down and to visit post-revolution Egypt. Turkey and Egypt have enjoyed numerous official meetings and substantial economic cooperation since the revolution. Similarly, Erdoğan made early visits to Tunisia and Libya. Furthermore, Turkey has likewise supported protestors’ demands in Syria and challenged Assad to step down, part of what scholar Soner Çağaptay sees as a larger trend of supporting democracy in the Middle East. The Syrian case –with formerly warming relations, a shared border, the current humanitarian crisis, and now the debate over the downed Turkish plane –has merited special attention by Turkish policymakers. For however much unites the Arab Spring states, Turkish policy has reflected the nuances of Turkish interests and the larger contexts of each state.
Despite such variations, in general terms Turkish policies have supported protestors. According to a study from the European Institute for the Mediterranean, Turkey beat the E.U. as a supporter of the Arab Spring, being perceived as the most supportive of Arab countries’ revolutions. Indeed, Turkey’s economic ties alone provide substantial support to many Arab Spring countries, not to mention specific aid given to post-revolution states. Regardless of the diversity in Turkey’s actual policy responses, the perception of Turkey’s role in the region and in state development has become a relatively straightforward metaphor. The “Turkish Model” appears in Turkish and Western rhetoric as means of advancing Turkey’s own power interests and as a result of Western aspirations to have a friendly ally in the Muslim world.
The use of the “Turkish Model” is perhaps largely a Turkish or Western tool used to enhance Turkey’s discursive power or to contribute to the Western hope that Arab Spring states could become as amenable to Western interests as Turkey has been in the past. The United States and Europe’s history of cooperation with Turkey can make the idea of “Arab Turkeys” very attractive. By advancing the “Turkish Model,” American observers can capitalize on the existing relationship with Turkey, support democratic transitions, and argue that any Arab Spring state can emulate Turkish secularism and Turkish diplomacy. For example, in Voice of America in February 2012 Austin Bay, former colonel in the U.S. Army wrote:
There is no doubt that Turkey is attractive to a number of Muslim countries. It is socially vibrant, it is culturally alive and [there is] the economic growth that Turkey has experienced… Secular democracy is Turkey's most important, strongest foreign policy asset and I also think it is its greatest domestic strength.
From the American standpoint, Turkey’s experience with Islam in politics has benefited the Turkish-American relationship and should be imitated elsewhere. Without engaging with the logistics of what a “Turkish Model” would look like, Turkey’s agreeable attitude towards the United States makes Turkey-like states in the Middle East attractive for American observers like Bay. Arguably, the use of the “Turkish Model” in Western discourse is an optimistic assessment of the ability for outside interests to be represented in Arab Spring states. Perhaps quite distant from the question of how likely or practical a “Turkish Model” would be in places like Egypt or Tunisia, the “Turkish Model” simply advances the American or European interest in having Turkey (and new à la turca modern Islamic states) play a larger role in the Middle East, while still collaborating with Western allies.
For Turkish policymakers themselves the “Turkish Model” holds similar allure. The “Turkish Model” highlights Turkey’s role as a bridge between Western standards of secularism and Arab experiences with Islam. One observer noted “Turkey wants to present itself as the model in the Islamic world, one that can act as the liaison between the West and many of these countries that are experiencing pretty big transitions”. The “Turkish Model” metaphor casts Turkey as the single example for Arab Spring states to follow, emphasizing Turkey’s historic ties and potentially larger future role in the region. For Turkish politicians, the “Turkish Model” is a concept which builds Turkey’s discursive power and bolsters Turkish clout in the Middle East. According to Şebnem Gümüşçü, the use of the “Turkish Model” is a focused Turkish policy emphasizing both historical Turkish exceptionalism and Turkey’s importance in the region:
In this effort to build ties with the new regimes, Turkey has played the cards of anti-imperialism, Islamic solidarity, and historical as well as emotional ties with the Middle East in order to distinguish Turkey from Western powers. In his visits and speeches, Erdogan frequently refers to the sovereign rights of the people, the legacy of Western imperialism in the region, Islamic history and values, as well as current issues such as Palestinian statehood and Israeli policies. The primary aim in constructing this highly emotional discourse built around notions of Islamic solidarity is to discredit the Western countries with which Turkey competes and thus establish influence over these emerging regimes, particularly since Islamic political parties are likely to be at center-stage in those countries.
In discourse, Turkey’s development successes and ties to Arab Spring states are emphasized, portraying Turkey as a model and brother in the region. The use of the “Turkish Model” in discourse is a method to situate Turkey in a specific political context, underlining Turkey’s geographic and historic ties with European and Middle Eastern neighbours while championing the successful Turkish experience with democracy, secularism, and Islam.
The use of the Turkish model of Muslim democracy, though present in the 1990s, has gained new importance in light of the Arab Spring, While outside the standard realist model of international relations, the use of discursive strategies to advance Turkish interests helps explain why the “Turkish Model” is more visible in Turkish and Western discourse than in Arab Spring states. As a means to represent Turkish and Western interests in the Arab Spring transitions, the “Turkish Model” metaphor elevates Turkey’s role in the region. Emphasizing Turkey’s own importance, the “Turkish Model’s” dominance does not necessarily translate to what Arab Spring nations envision for their future.
While the West and Turkey itself see Turkey as an ideal balance between Islam and a secular state, the actual citizens of Arab Spring states may fail to see the attraction. One observer noted, “there is a big gap between theory and practice….Many of these opposition groups do not like the idea of being dictated by a bigger power like Turkey and are more interested in their national interests”. The “Turkish Model” most directly benefits Turkish interests and Arab Spring states themselves have little interest in the “Turkish Model” as a tool for Turkey to advance its standing in the Middle East.
While Turkey has enjoyed growing importance and influence among some Arab states, as Dominique Moisii said in Project Syndicate, “it is one thing to be popular and another to serve as a model”. For example, in December 2011 Ergun Babahan wrote, “I realized that a significant portion of the Arabs who attended the conference were uneasy with the term ‘Turkish model,’ perhaps because of Turkey's secular nature” in Today’s Zaman. In another commentary, Moisi writes that Arab Spring states –regardless of cultural or historical ties to Turkey –do not have the same interest in promoting Turkey as a model. In fact, he writes, “because of [Turkey’s] secular tradition (now being challenged by the current regime), its non-Arab identity, its behavior towards its Kurdish minority, and the ambivalence of the Ottoman legacy, Turkey is as much a counter-model as a model” . A recent Pew Research Center survey also suggests the “Turkish Model” may not be as widely accepted as Turkish or Western commentators may hope. Given the choice between Saudi Arabia and Turkey as a model for the role of religion in government 61% of Egyptians selected Saudi Arabia and only 17% chose Turkey. While Turkey and Egypt enjoy substantial economic and political ties, the actual use of the “Turkish Model,” when it comes to defining the relationship between Islam and the state, lacks popular support.
Without similar data for other Arab Spring countries, such results should not be overemphasized. However, what we can see in Egypt –and elsewhere –is hesitation regarding the overt secularism of the “Turkish Model.” As the Arab Spring allows individuals to reimagine their political realities, these new realities include an important role for Islam. While the West fancies Turkey a beacon of secularism, this same “triumph” discourages some in Arab Spring countries.
The Arab Spring – a movement based upon the acceptance of “the legitimate demands of the people” –cannot embrace the “Turkish Model” without popular support. If many people in Arab Spring countries do not see Turkey as a model, the continued use of the “Turkish Model” metaphor rejects the rising popular agency associated with the Arab Spring and exposes the “model” idiom’s selfish use to advance Turkey’s role in the international politics. Facing the uphill tasks of changing regimes in their own countries, Arab Spring citizens are perhaps little concerned about Turkish politics. Unless the “Turkish Model” is used by the peoples themselves, the “Turkish Model” idiom is more a Turkish tool of discursive power than a foreseeable development in international politics. While an important justification in foreign policy and a critical element of Turkey’s self-understanding and external perception, to put forth the “Turkish Model” metaphor contradicts the popular agency fought for in the Arab Spring.
Amidst Turkey’s own struggles with freedom of the press, secularism debates, and minority rights, the desirability of a “Turkish Model” already faces criticism. While the Turkish and Western use of the “Turkish Model” in discourse provides insight into foreign policy aspirations in the Middle East, the lack of support for a “Turkish Model” within Arab Spring states makes the practical use of a “Turkish Model” all the more improbable. Indeed, the Arab Spring gives the hope to change national identities, government regimes, and political institutions. While Turkey can certainly be a source of inspiration, Arab Spring states should focus on finding a nuanced combination of secularism, democracy, and Islam which meets their own standards. Given this chance to redefine life in Arab Spring States, policymakers should not chase the “Turkish Model” but should emphasis the standards and agency of their own people. Looking at how the “Turkish Model” has been used –and avoided –in discourse, an authentic Arab Spring goes beyond the limiting metaphor of a “Turkish Model” to fully re-write what it means to be democratic, secular, and Muslim in the Middle East today.
 Lerna K. Yanık, “The Metamorphosis of Metaphors of Vision: ‘Bridging’ Turkey’s Location, Role and Identity After the End of the Cold War,” Geopolitics (2009) vol. 14: 532.
 Yanık, 538.
 Ömer Taşpınar, “The Turkish Model and its Applicability” from Turkey and the Arab Spring: Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy from a Transatlantic Perspective, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (2011):11. Available from: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=134202.
 Ercan Balcı, “Turkey and the Arab Spring,” Global-e, 8 February 2012. Available from: http://global-ejournal.org/2012/02/08/turkey-and-the-arab-spring/.
 Yanık, 533.
 Şebnem Gümüşçü, “Turkey’s Reactions to the Arab Spring,” Yale Journal of International Affairs, 16 May 2012. Available from: http://yalejournal.org/2012/05/turkeys-reactions-to-the-arab-spring/.
 Soner Çağaptay, “Ties to Neighbors, Not Their Dictators,” New York Times, 16 November 2011. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/11/15/why-turkey-turned-away-from-syria/ties-to-the-neighbors-not-their-dictators.
 “EU beaten by Turkey at support to Arab spring.” ANSA Mediterranean, 13 June 2012. Available from: http://ansamed.ansa.it/ansamed/en/news/nations/oman/2012/06/13/EU-beaten-Turkey-support-Arab-spring-study_7029652.html.
 Greg Flakus, “Author Touts Turkish Hero’s Model for Arab Spring Nations,” Voice of America, 8 February 2012. Available from: http://www.voanews.com/articleprintview/171016.html.
 Dominique Moisi, “An Arab Spring?” Project Syndicate, 26 January 2011. Available from: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/an-arab-spring-.
 Ergun Babahan, “The Arab Spring and Turkey,” Today’s Zaman, 5 December 2011. Available from: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-264834-the-arab-spring-and-turkey.html.
 Dominique Moisi, “The Nemesis of Turkish Power,” Project Syndicate, 26 September 2011. Available from: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-nemesis-of-turkish-power.
“Muslim Brotherhood and Military Receive Positive Ratings,” Pew Research Center, 8 May 2012. Available from: http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/05/08/egyptians-remain-optimistic-embrace-democracy-and-religion-in-political-life/?src=prc-headline.
 Kadir Üstün and Kılıç Buğra Kanat, “US-Turkey Relations: Arab Spring and the Search for Model Partnership,” SETA: Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (May 2012): 4.
Babahan, Ergun. “The Arab Spring and Turkey.” Today’s Zaman. 5 December 2011. Available from: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-264834-the-arab-spring-and-turkey.html.
Balcı, Ercan. “Turkey and the Arab Spring.” Global-e. 8 February 2012. Available from: http://global-ejournal.org/2012/02/08/turkey-and-the-arab-spring/.
Çağaptay, Soner. “Ties to Neighbors, Not Their Dictators.” New York Times. 16 November 2011. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/11/15/why-turkey-turned-away-from-syria/ties-to-the-neighbors-not-their-dictators.
“EU beaten by Turkey at support to Arab spring.” ANSA Mediterranean.13 June 2012. Available from: http://ansamed.ansa.it/ansamed/en/news/nations/oman/2012/06/13/EU-beaten-Turkey-support-Arab-spring-study_7029652.html.
Flakus, Greg. “Author Touts Turkish Hero’s Model for Arab Spring Nations.” Voice of America. 8 February 2012. Available from: http://www.voanews.com/articleprintview/171016.html.
Gümüşçü, Şebnem. “Turkey’s Reactions to the Arab Spring.” Yale Journal of International Affairs. 16 May 2012. Available from: http://yalejournal.org/2012/05/turkeys-reactions-to-the-arab-spring/.
Moisi, Dominique. “An Arab Spring?” Project Syndicate. 26 January 2011. Available from: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/an-arab-spring-.
Moisi, Dominique. “The Nemesis of Turkish Power.” Project Syndicate. 26 September 2011. Available from: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-nemesis-of-turkish-power.
“Muslim Brotherhood and Military Receive Positive Ratings.” Pew Research Center. 8 May 2012. Available from: http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/05/08/egyptians-remain-optimistic-embrace-democracy-and-religion-in-political-life/?src=prc-headline.
Taşpınar, Ömer. “The Turkish Model and its Applicability” from Turkey and the Arab Spring: Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy from a Transatlantic Perspective. The German Marshall Fund of the United States (2011): 11. Available from: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=134202.
Üstün, Kadir and Kılıç Buğra Kanat. “US-Turkey Relations: Arab Spring and the Search for Model Partnership.” SETA: Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (May 2012): 1-6.
Yanık, Lerna K. “The Metamorphosis of Metaphors of Vision: ‘Bridging’ Turkey’s Location, Role and Identity After the End of the Cold War.” Geopolitics (2009) vol. 14: 531-549.