When a popular military coup dislodged Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from power earlier this week, it became fashionable once again to speak of the Turkish model -- the country is relatively well functioning, it is Muslim majority but also secular and democratic, and it has a history of military interventions against Islamist-leaning governments that supposedly advanced democracy.
The idea that other countries could learn from the Turkish example has been around since the early days of the Arab Spring. It might be tempting for Egyptians to latch onto it now, hoping that the Egyptian military’s actions over the past few days will lead to a similar outcome. And despite the fact that the coup’s immediate aftermath has brought reprisals against members of the Muslim Brotherhood and armed clashes in the streets between the Brotherhood’s supporters and opponents, there are certainly arguments to be made that this particular coup may have a happy democratic ending. But looking to Turkey as an example badly misreads Turkish history and political development. Turkey did not get where it is today because of the military but, rather, in spite of it.
The so-called Turkish model, in which the military provides the space for secular democracy to thrive, is built on the assumption that decades of military tutelage in Turkey were beneficial. The army, the thinking goes, served as an important check on elected governments until Turkish democracy had matured to the point that it could run on its own. In fact, military rule in Turkey, particularly following the 1980 coup, did the opposite. For one, it brought the torture, imprisonment, and disappearance of thousands upon thousands of Turkish citizens. In addition, although the coup had enormous public support -- much like the recent one in Egypt -- it did not lead to political utopia. No country can be democratic until there are no unelected bodies with power over elected officials. So long as the Turkish military had the ultimate veto, elected governments had to
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