If democracy and political Islam can’t coexist and thrive in Ankara, is there no hope for the rest of the Middle East?

Ken Roth in Foreign Policy:

487287703-croppedThere is no denying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's talent as a politician, or the considerable popular support he enjoys. But under this charismatic leader, Turkey is embarking on a dangerous experiment of undermining basic rights and the rule of law as constraints on majoritarian rule. As I saw on a recent visit to Turkey to meet with senior officials, a major corruption scandal has triggered Erdogan's worst autocratic reflexes, undermining the foundation of Turkey's democracy.

To give credit where due, Erdogan, during the 11-year rule of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), can boast of a booming economy and enormous political progress. The atrocity-ridden repression of a Kurdish insurgency has wound down, with talks under way to end the conflict and with growing respect for the cultural rights of the country's large Kurdish minority. Religious freedom for the Sunni majority has been enhanced: Bans on women wearing headscarves in public-service jobs and universities have been removed without imposing the religious puritanism of harsher forms of Islamic rule. Systematic torture in police custody has ended, though the police's use of excessive force remains a problem. Turkey is also being impressively generous to the estimated 700,000 refugees from the horrible atrocities being committed next door in Syria.

For several years, Turkey's hope of entering the European Union encouraged reform. But the opposition of some key EU states, articulated most clearly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, undermined Turkey's accession hopes. The dashing of EU prospects slowed reform and contributed to some reversals, but it is only in the last year or so that Erdogan has begun to take major steps backward on basic rights.

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