Is there hope for a better democracy in the Middle East?

    The strength of Turkey’s democracy and the Turkish people showed their dedication to democratically-elected institutions when they took to the streets following the July 15 coup attempt.

    In the turbulent history of emerging democracies, you might have expected much to have changed, but as the politics of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have shown, there is still much progress to be made.

    Past coups in the region have always created unstable and autocratic regimes. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Bashar al Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq are just a few examples that remind us how destructive military regimes after a coup d’etat can be for any country.

    July 15 marks the third anniversary of the coup attempt which left around 251 people dead and more than 2,000 wounded. The bloody struggle became a part of Turkish political history after a rogue section of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Turkey’s road to democracy has not been an easy one. On the contrary, progress has been exceedingly difficult at times; a road beset with obstacles and interrupted by many setbacks. Turkey has a long history of coups, and they all came at a cost. People in Turkey vividly remember the consequences and pain of each past coup: in 1960, 1971 1980 and 1997.

    The July 15 military coup against Turkey’s democratically-elected government is the first to fail. Due to a long history of coups, the Turkish people have come to dislike military intervention, and this coup attempt once again brought them together around their shared identification with their country. Despite ideological, ethnic, and religious differences, they were able to join forces against an existential threat to the democratic government.

    Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets after Erdogan’s call to confront the military was broadcast on television. Many waved Turkish flags and chanted their wholehearted support for democracy. Some climbed on tanks; some blocked the path of military vehicles with their cars. With an ill-prepared coup plan and dissension among their ranks, the perpetrators could not stand up to the unified force of masses in Turkey.

    The message was clear: the government can only be replaced through free and fair elections; the time of coups in Turkey are long over. Many Turkish people share the feeling that a democratically-elected government is better than undemocratic military rule. Similarly, all political parties in Turkey supported the government; they were also resilient and restrained masses.

    Being well acquainted with the price of leaving the country in the hands of dictators, the Turkish public chose to stand with democracy, liberty and justice. The Turkish experiment in parliamentary democracy and its present progress, therefore, rests on a far stronger, broader, and deeper base of experience. Turkey has set itself the objective of becoming one of the ten biggest economies in the world by 2023 with an impressive economic performance in recent years, which has distinguished it regionally and the wider world.

    It is not easy to create and maintain democratic institutions and civil society, and Turkey has paid a heavy price in order to create a stable democracy. The events and outcome of this latest coup have shown that the Turkish people understand the value of democracy: the rogue military ‘intervention’ has been thwarted, and it is now up to the politicians to ensure that a full and fair democratic system is maintained. No military rule, no dictatorship, no autocratic decision-making.

    Turkey stands at the threshold of a new era in political and economic development and is a key influence in the region. A strong, democratic and humanitarian Turkey can be a leading light for its neighbours and across the world.

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