Turkey: A Case Study in Democratic Reversal

Project Expert

Steven A. Cook

Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies

About the Project

Just a decade ago, Turkey seemed on track to becoming a full-fledged liberal democracy. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and oversaw a period of dramatic political reform. By the time the European Commission recommended, in 2004, that Ankara begin pursuing EU membership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was earning praise for having discovered a Turkish "third way," in which Islamists pursued political and economic reform without sowing dangerous social divisions. A decade later, however, Turkey's democratic transition is over. Although more Turks are voting and engaged in politics than ever before—thanks to AKP reforms that have helped produce a growing middle class—over time, the government has increasingly restricted their ability to contest its decisions. Pressure on journalists, restrictions on freedom of expression, police brutality, and limits on social media have all become hallmarks of Turkish politics. Overall, Turkish leaders have used the quasi-democratic institutions of the political system to advance an anti-democratic agenda. My work on Turkey—articles, blog posts, and roundtable meetings—aims to identify the trends in Turkish politics and what they may mean for the broader region.