Turkey, the Arab world, and the myth of moderate Islamism


For years, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan was generally considered an example of “moderate Islamism,” a loose label that was generally based on a comparison with other Islamist dictatorships like Iran, or with the various semi-secular autocratic regimes that dot the Arab and Muslim world. There was never a comparison with a liberal Muslim democracy, simply because none existed.

In other words, Erdogan earned his credential as the moderate, Islamist democrat in the Middle East, partly because of his success in Turkey, but also due to the lack of any democratic competitors. Admittedly, it was not just the West that labeled Erdogan as a “moderate,” but this pseudo concept was also popular in the Arab and Muslim world. A mixture of glamorous soap operas, exotic cities and beaches, and vibrant economic growth has led many Arabs to build a very idealistic image of Muslim Turkey.

On 27 May, this mirage was…

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