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Turkey’s “Demonstrative Effect” and the Transformation of the Middle East

A string of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt followed by those in other countries have rekindled the issue of Turkey constituting a model for reform and democratization in the Arab world, a point raised by many Western and Arab commentators. Independent of this debate, what is lacking in the literature is an analysis of how come there is a “demand” for the Turkish model. This article develops the concept of a “demonstrative effect” and argues that it is this “effect” that makes the Turkish model of interest to the Middle East and that this “effect” is a function of three developments: the rise of the “trading state”, the diffusion of Turkey’s democratization experience as a “work in progress”, and the positive image of Turkey’s “new” foreign policy. The concluding part of the article discusses several challenges Turkey has to meet so that its “demonstrative effect” can have a positive impact.

 

Astring of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in the early part of 2011 followed by those in other countries have rekindled the debate over reform and democratization in the Arab world. The Arab world has long been treated as an exception to the “third wave” of democratization that swept Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of Asia and Africa following the end of the Cold War.1 In 2004 the American administration, to promote a “freedom agenda” and democracy, launched the ambitious Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative. However, this initiative, after having shown some initial signs of hope in 2004 and 2005, very quickly collapsed. The disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq compelled the United States as well as the EU to prioritize stability over reform and democratization and the regimes in the Arab world quickly returned back to old habits of authoritarian and repressive policies.

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