Democracy and Human Rights and Market-Oriented Economy in Islamic Societies: An Analytical Study of Turkey


by anthonykhi

Executive Summary

For centuries only Great Britain and its former colonies; Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and

United States could be called democratic. And even in those countries, the struggle to acquire both Liberal and Democratic values had been a long and hard invader.

Separation of religion from state was the key to the development of liberal countries in the West and is the key to the emergence of any such states in the Muslim world.

At the present there are other Muslim and Muslim-dominated countries, including Mali and Senegal that provide some degree of respect for individual liberty. Kuwait has improved personal freedom since it was liberated from occupation and Pakistan has expanded press freedom.

The first element among the Muslim nations with tendency toward a more liberal and democratic society, is the effort to detach and separate religion from the state and politics. In this process there are few countries with varying approaches to achieve this objective. Turkey can be considered a secular nation, Indonesia by constraining Islamic leaders, or by a combination of religious traditions and secular rule like Morocco.

By contrast, the autocratic rules of the Muslim Middle East (or Near East) have either installed theocratic leaders (Iran 1979-present and Taliban of1990s-2001) or suppressed religious dissent without allowing any political freedom (Syria and Iraq under S. Hussein) or a combination of both (Saudi Arabia-Yamane) (Wilson, J.Q. 2011).

Turkey, one of only secular Muslim nations, has a weak civil and political rights record despite having been a functional democracy since the 1950s.

Despite the formation of democratic institutions, economic and democratic instability and limits on civil and political liberties continued and been persisted.

Turkish governing institutions from of side, and political economy from the other, shows that economy is highly integrated not with state regulations and or a rule of equal law, but with client list networks competing aggressively over state rents.

It is suggested that the nature of Turkey’s economy may explain the unstable nature of Turkey’s democracy (Mousseau D. Y. 2006)


The variation in civil and political rights among nations tends to fall into two main categories: Institutional and Economical.

The institutional category tends to consider democratic institutional structures as the key determinant of political rights and economic category tends to give importance to a country’s form of economic integration and distribution of capital and wealth.

Institutional Views

Some studies conclude the longevity and stability of democratic institutions as the best guarantor and expansion of human right in a nation (Diamond, L.1997)

Institutional democracy as a context for the improvement of human rights across the nations has its roots from the Lockean philosophy emphasizing property rights, civil liberties, representative government and limited state.

However, empirical research on human rights provides contradictory findings on the relationship between democracy and civil right practices, especially in the developing nations.

Poe and Tate, for example, report that when a democratic country with good human rights practices stops being democratic, the new government typically violates human rights by taking political prisoners and conduct executions (Poe and Tate, 1980).

Other analysts have observed the phenomenon called ‘illiberal democracy’ (Zakaria, F.1997).

One example is that Whitehead found respect for human rights deteriorated during the recent wave of democratization in Latin America (Whitehead, L. 1992) a result also observed by Diamond (Diamond, L. 1996) Aidoo found the same phenomena occurring in Africa (Aidoo, A.1993) and Gingranelli and Richards linked the post-cold war democratizations with increased government respect for the right against, for example, political imprisonment , and suggested that human rights was short lived, especially in Africa (Gingranelli, D. L. and Richards, D.L. 1999)

Economic Views

Some studies emphasize economic factors such as market-oriented economic development and the state regulations of the economy and market expansion as factors in improvement and expansion of liberty and political rights (Dahl R.1998).

On the other hand a number of studies have shown the economic development correlates closely to liberal political values (Inglehart, R. and Baker, W. 2000). Lipset asserted that the increased size of the middle class, urbanization and higher levels of education that accompany development give rise to democratic values (Lipset, S. M.1995).

While considering the contradiction between markets and political rights-markets supposedly favor economic inequality and political rights are about legal equality (Barber, B. 1995) some research suggests the importance of market-oriented economic development with egalitarian state policies in improving civil and political rights.

Dahl points out that highly decentralized economic decision-making in market economies may foster independent thinking and thus a political culture that favors’ individual rights (Dahl, p.71)

In the other words the correlation between individual-based economic activities and promotion of liberal values and human rights exist since dependence on strangers in the market promotes the norms of trust in contracting and respect for the rule of equal law.

In the absence of opportunities in the market, however, individuals organize in groups for physical and economic securities, and therefore in –group values stress collective responsibility and loyalty over individual rights and democracy (Mousseau, 2006)

As an alternative view, Donnelly highlights the importance of egalitarian state policies for the reduction of poverty and income inequality in the advance of human rights.

In the case of Turkey to understand why the practice of democracy since 1950s has not led to strong respect for civil and political rights, it is important to study the paths of both democratization and economic development taken to achieve the objectives.

In Turkey the ideas on rights and ownership and markets generally came as a Western influence on elites, not as a grass-root civil and political experience. However, the political elites often abused human rights even within democratic institutional settings.

The Democrat Party (DP) was rooted in the landowning class and as such never initiated any progress on individual rights. Instead, it developed a dictatorship style of governance and curtailed the activities of the opposition, the Republican People’s Party (RPP) which was founded by Kemal Ataturk, the creator of the modern Turkish Republic.

DP policies were aimed at restriction of the press, speech of opponents in the universities and judiciary. It forced early retirement on bureaucrats and military officers opposed to them, and even attempted to close opposition parties such as Nation Party (Ahmad, F. 1993).

The DP won the following elections in 1954 and 1957 but when they attempted to outlaw the opposition parties, the military assumed power in 1960.

The military immediately formed a committee to draft a new constitution to include the university professors, researchers and various professionals and independent of judiciary was strengthened with creation of several independent courts such as constitutional court and the council of state, and a multiparty system and proportional representation system.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the political system gradually fractioned, partly due to the proportional representation system (Mousseau, 2006) and political conflict and violence among university students gained momentum along the left-right spectrum.

The formation of socialist and communist parties at that time, and increased activities of trade unions and student organizations increased the polarization between extreme left and right and increased the violence.

The military intervention in March of 1971 resulted in resignation of Demirel and formation of a technocratic government until a new election was held in 1973.

Once again, however, the return of democracy did not result in a return of stability.

Violent terrorism killed many people and increased the deaths from 230 in 1977 to 1,500 in 1980.

Finally in 1980 Military returned to power and once again restored order. After three years of military rule and a new constitution however, civil rights and liberties were restricted, organizational and political activities based on ethnicity and class was banned and students and academicians and other civil organizations were prohibited from engaging in political activities.

In the 1980s the revival of Kurdish identity developed in Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey, and religious and extreme nationalist political parties gained ground in Turkish politics, with the winning of Welfare Party ( a radical religious party) in 1995 and the Nationalist Action Party become the second-largest party in 1999.

According to some other studies, the Turkey of the 1980s corresponds to liberalization with substantial opening to market oriented modern economy, however, the state largely maintained its pervious role in the economy as it redistributed resources among political and economic rent-seekers through client-list networks (Heper, M. 1990)


To analyze the trends toward democracy and liberalization in Muslim countries, the question were narrowed down to two sub-questions and used Turkey as a secular Muslim nation to research the questions.

1-I s the market-based economy associated with the improvement of human rights and stability of democracy?

2-Is the longevity and stability of democratic institutions the best guarantor and expansion of human right in a nation?

In general it is important to note the continuing impact of the West on Muslim nation’s political systems. The persistence of Salamis based institutions and other factors specify to each Muslim nation can be a struggle to achieve a stable and sustainable peace and democracy.

In case of Turkey, the persistence of Ottoman traditions in Turkish politics in combination with the persistence of Islamic traditions, conflict with secularist and national Ataturkism, strong influence of military in politics and politicization of Islam and the Kurdish question have been factors to slow or reverse the democratic process.

Economic inequality may directly affect the level of conflict and thus human rights (Donnelly, 2006).

The deficiency in the respect for human rights and liberties in Turkey may be attributed to the delay of a grass-roots markets economy and lack integration of people into the markets as a driving force by using state regulations.

Finally, less developed countries, including the majority of Muslim nations, should take advantage of broad institutional reforms to promote economic growth and consolidate both political and economic reforms to complement each other.


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