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A Case Study in the Reversal of Reforms

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
March 21, 2014


Since well before the Arab uprisings, Turks, the American foreign policy establishment, the U.S. government, and some Europeans touted Turkey as a "model" for the countries of the Middle East. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (A.K.P.) had charted a third way in which Islamist politicians accumulated power in an officially secular republic, undertook democratic change, and presided over a booming economy.

Today, few speak in such terms. Turkey has become a case study in the reversal of political reforms, especially in the area of freedom of expression. The recent ban on Twitter is the logical next step in a process that has unfolded during the last few years in which the Turkish government has sought to intimidate and thereby silence critical journalists, academics and other observers. Erdogan, who is both paranoid and calculating, has sought to frame his offensive against freedom of expression as a fight against foreign plots to dishonor Turkey and undermine its recent prosperity and diplomatic influence.

The Turkish educational system nurtures a not entirely unwarranted mistrust of foreign powers, lending credence to Erdogan's message among his sizeable core constituency who will vote for the A.K.P. in the March 30 municipal elections. Still, for many Turks the ban on Twitter is reminiscent of the tactics that recently deposed Arab leaders employed to gain political control. It did not work for them and it will not work for Erdogan. Turkey has gone from a country many Arabs sought to emulate to one that reminds them of the authoritarianism they endured in the recent past.

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