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RAY SUAREZ: In four countries across the Islamic world, religious parties have pulled off a string of successes in recent elections. In officially secular Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won a landslide election earlier this month.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Justice & Development Party (Translated): We wanted Turkey to wake up for different hope on the 4th of November and our expectation has come through.
RAY SUAREZ: Erdogan is banned from serving as prime minister, charged with publicly reading an Islamic poem, a violation of a law against religious incitement. His deputy Abdullah Gul has just become prime minister.
Further east, in Pakistan, Islamist parties recorded their best ever electoral results in national parliamentary polls last month, the first elections since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup. A coalition of Islamic groups increased their share of the vote from less than five percent to 17 percent. But political wrangling continues over how much power they will have in a new government. Parliament is expected to pick a prime minister on Thursday.
And two monarchies, Morocco and Bahrain, opened up the political process. In Morocco’s first elections since King Mohammed VI took the throne in 1999, women were guaranteed 10 percent of parliamentary seats. Islamists nearly tripled their representation by winning 42 seats, and became the third biggest party in the 325-seat parliament.
In Bahrain, a Mideast base for part of the U.S. Naval fleet, Islamic fundamentalists won 19 of the 40 seats in the country’s first legislative elections in three decades. Turnout topped 50 percent, despite a boycott campaign in the majority Shia population. Women were allowed their first opportunity to cast ballots and stand as candidates in the national poll.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on these election results, we turn to Henri Barkey, who worked on the State Department’s policy planning staff during the Clinton administration. He’s now a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. And Mary Jane Deeb, an Arab area specialist at the Library of Congress. She’s writing a book on understanding Arab and Muslim cultures. The views she expresses tonight are her own.
Henri Barkey, is there any broad lesson to be drawn from these election results in these countries or do you really have to take each of these countries one by one?
HENRI BARKEY: I think we should take each one one by one, especially because the Turkish election results were very, very different than the others. I think it would be wrong to call the party that won in Turkey an Islamist party. It is… its roots are in an Islamist party.
But this is a party that has moved considerably to the center, has incorporated a lot of centrist, a lot of people from the center right in other parties and this is a party unlike the Pakistani Islamists, for instance, a party that embraces the west, embraces especially Europe. The first thing that Mr. Tayyip Erdogan said after his election victory was that he was going to speed up the process of European accession. So we have to look at these parties in a case-by-case basis.
RAY SUAREZ: You’re ready to take Tayyip Erdogan at his word when he says that AKP is just a conservative, democratic political party?
HENRI BARKEY: Well, it is maybe the equivalent of what the Christian Democrats are in Europe. It’s a Muslim Democrat party. You can’t escape the fact that their background, their roots are in the Islamist party. They see the world very much from a Muslim perspective, at least most of the leadership does.
However, they have understood one thing, and that is that they will not remain in power unless they democratize Turkey, unless they implement the forms that the European Union would like to see in Turkey and unless Turkey becomes a member of the European Union.
In many ways their best insurance policy against another military coup is becoming more European, so in that sense this is a very awkward or very paradoxical situation. You have a pro Islamist party that is more pro European than a lot of the other secular parties that ran in this election.
RAY SUAREZ: Mary Jane Deeb, any broad lessons here, or do you agree that really Turkey is a special case?
MARY JANE DEEB: Turkey is perhaps a special case because the Islamist Party has come to power and because it has become the only power really in government to date. It’s the only political party that was able to form a government. Now, I have reservations about the rhetoric that has been used, and I would say the rhetoric is fine because the Islamists are afraid of a military intervention.
On the other hand, you have to look at some of the things they are going to be doing. And already there are issues such as the Cyprus issue. Suddenly Erdogan has come out and said we’re all for Cyprus becoming part of the European Union as long as Turkey becomes part of the European union at the same time. So that’s a change in policy.
The second thing was his initial… was the prime minister’s initial choice of a minister of education — an Islamist. And the president had to come in and make him change his mind. So that was somewhat worrisome.
The third thing that was said was about wearing the veil, wearing the scarf. The statement was absolutely correct. I think everyone should have the right to wear or not wear the scarf. However it’s symbolic to take that issue up as early on as now. In other words….
RAY SUAREZ: Hasn’t there been a tough social issue in Turkey, banning the scarf as had been done amongst university students and government workers?
MARY JANE DEEB: Absolutely. And, you know, banning the scarf really should not be an issue at all but bringing it up now is somewhat symbolic. So I’m saying let us watch and see before we assume that this is another Christian Democratic Party.
On the other hand, I completely agree with Henri Barkey. Each case is quite unique. The elections in Pakistan are not the elections in Turkey, are not Morocco, are not Bahrain. Each case is unique and each brings another dimension, if you want, of the changes that are taking place in the Muslim world.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s take a look at some other of these cases. Henri Barkey, how do you read Pakistan and its results?
HENRI BARKEY: Well, in Pakistan, the Islamists did not win. I mean, they came in… the showing was surprising to a lot of people. But we also have to look at the Pakistani results in the context of the war against terrorism, the post 9/11 atmosphere. There are a lot of people in Pakistan who are very upset about the American presence there, about the war against Afghanistan. They were sympathetic to the Taliban. In many ways the Islamists have used that to increase their share of the vote.
But I don’t… in that sense I actually see the big difference between Turkey and Pakistan because the Islamists in Pakistan ran a campaign that was anti-American, anti-West, and they want certain changes that are unacceptable to President Musharraf. Musharraf may have to make a deal with them in the end. We don’t know that yet. But in that sense I think it’s a very, very different case than Turkey. But it wasn’t… it was an anti-West and anti-American vote.
RAY SUAREZ: Mary Jane Deeb?
MARY JANE DEEB: I agree. And what Musharraf and his party, the Muslim League, is going to have to do is sort of walk a tightrope between the two other major groups, the PPP of Benazir Bhutto, which is really the most pro-western, pro, you know, opening to the rest of the world and won actually probably even more votes in the absolute majority, more votes than the Muslim League of Musharraf.
They are in a way, if you want, on one side and the Islamists, especially those in the northwestern provinces of Pakistan are somewhat on another, if you want, they have a different agenda. They’re seeing things in a different way, et cetera. Their perception of what is a threat is not only the West but India. It is India. It is Hindus. It is their history and their past.
And that is what brings those parties closer to each other. On the issue of the West that’s what divides them. They have different attitudes towards the West — each of the three groups. But they have the same attitude towards India. So in a way, the debates that are taking place in Pakistan are unique to Pakistan, very different from those in Turkey, and again very different from those in Morocco and Bahrain.
RAY SUAREZ: Can any of these elections be assessed without looking at the United States and how the possibility of a war in Iraq, the current war on terrorism, the terrorism attacks in 2001 have ruffled the landscape?
MARY JANE DEEB: It has certainly ruffled the landscape for several of them, but in different ways. For Pakistan, it’s perhaps… the landscape is the most difficult. It has Afghanistan on one side and then a war in Iraq, the possibility of a war in Iraq is certainly something that is very unsettling for Pakistan. Furthermore, there are the Kashmir threats, the India and so on. So for Pakistan it’s a country on high alert, if you want.
For Turkey, it’s a different situation completely. The Turkish Party has to deal with the army. It is an internal, primarily an internal problem, because with Europe, Turkey is not going to be moving into the European Union soon but what the party has to do is make peace with its military.
In the case of Bahrain, well, it’s the first election after 25 years. The women are… have been brought in, not that they’ve been elected but at least they have the right to vote. Bahrain is in a critical position. It is in the Persian Gulf.
RAY SUAREZ: Henri Barkey, should the United States take any comfort from these results, that Islamic parties didn’t sweep the board and there is pro-Western sentiment among the voters? Briefly please.
HENRI BARKEY: Well, they did sweep Turkey. They got almost two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in the Turkish parliament. I would argue that the United States should be concerned about the results in Pakistan certainly especially if President Musharraf has to make a deal with the Islamists and then make all sort of concessions to the Islamists. This will be a very bad sign for Pakistan.
By contrast, I would argue that the elections in Turkey and I somewhat disagree with Mary Jane Deeb about this party, the elections in Turkey are in some ways good news for Turkey because the previous secular politicians have completely failed Turkey. And this pro Islamic party has come in, has a clean sweep but we for many, many years have been pushing the Turkish model on the Arab world.
We’ve been saying, for instance, that Turkey as a secular, democratic pro-Western country knocking on the door of Europe should be a model for all the Arab countries. And the Arab countries have been saying in return, look, this is a country that has periodic military interventions.
RAY SUAREZ: I’m going to have to stop you there, sir. Henri Barkey, Mary Jane Deeb, thanks for being with us.