ISTANBUL — Last month, Davut Dogan, an amiable, 51-year-old businessman from Turkey’s Anatolian heartland, accompanied Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a historic trip to post-Mubarak Egypt. In a single day, Dogan and 259 other Turkish business leaders flush with cash announced $853 million in new contracts.
“We will go to Egypt next month to finalize the deal,” said Dogan, who is opening a $10 million furniture manufacturing plant there. “The factory will employ two hundred people.”
From the rapturous welcome Erdogan received to the economic power the Turkish businessmen displayed, the trip demonstrated Turkey’s potential to serve as a model for the Post-Arab spring Middle East. The violent death of Muammar Gaddafi Thursday in Libya and elections in Tunisia this weekend show the desperate need for an alternative to the region’s two failed models of government: American-backed dictatorships and authoritarian Islam.
Interviews this week with analysts, businessmen and journalists in Turkey, though, revealed a looming tragedy. Ugly and unnecessary authoritarianism at home by Erdogan threatens to scuttle a historic chance to redefine Islam’s relationship with democracy.
During his trip to Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli last month, Erdogan told rapt audiences that Islam and democracy can co-exist. A devout Muslim who has embraced electoral politics, Erdogan asserted that Muslims can be pious and democratic. And his success at creating jobs is desperately needed to prevent instability and violence in post-Arab Spring countries.