Rethinking Turkey's Soft Power in the Arab World: Islam, Secularism and Democracy
C. Cerami, “Rethinking Turkey’s Soft Power in the Arab World: Islam, Secularism, and Democracy”, in Journal of Levantine Studies (JLS), Vol. 3, N. 2, Winter 2013, pp. 129 – 150, ISSN: 2222 – 9981
This article analyzes the meaning, characteristics and evolution of Turkey's ambitions and limits in the exercising of "soft power" within the Arab World. The article's central thesis is that Turkey's model of "soft power" derives from a "historical evolutionary process", in which the relationship between Islamism and republican secularism creates not two separate and conflicting worlds, but two symbiotic parts within the collective historical development that comprises contemporary Turkey. This process has enabled Turkey to develop a complex and changeable admixture of Islam, secularism and democracy; this "alchemy", and its future developments, are the key to the meaning of Turkish "soft power". The article will trace Turkey's projection of soft power since the AKP's accession to power in 2002. It will highlight both the AKP's potential, particularly as signaled during the first mandate, and the party's limits, which emerged in the subsequent two mandates. The article proposes that Turkey's soft power has progressively diminished as the government's initially fine balance between Islam, secularism and democracy has unraveled.
The article is divided into four parts. The first part explores the origins of the concept of soft power in the literature and the historical process that enabled Turkey to project that power toward the Arab world. The next part depicts the peculiarities of Turkish soft power as instanced during the AKP's first mandate. The third part describes the developments that made Turkey "attractive" to the Arab world and the relationship between the projection of Turkish soft power and the birth of the "Arab spring". Finally, the last part considers the Arab spring's effects on Turkish soft power. Of particular note are the limits and contradictions that have diluted Turkey's soft power credibility.