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Prime Minister Erdogan speaks in blunt ways and is a populist. But he has done nothing--no changes in laws or practices--to warrant the charge that he is dismantling secularism. In fact, Erdogan's government has passed more economic and political reforms than any other Turkish government in history. It has made unprecedented concessions to Turkey's Kurdish minority. In its quest to secure European Union membership for Turkey, Erdogan's AK Party has passed hundreds of pieces of legislation over the past several decades to make Turkey's political system conform to the guidelines set out by the Brussels bureaucrats. And by the way, the Turkish military has, over the years, planned and executed four coups against elected governments, so it is not inconceivable that it had been planning a fifth.
If there is a worry regarding Turkey, it is not about political Islam but about the autocratic tendencies of a wildly popular politician. Turkey has a highly authoritarian legal system, a legacy of its military era. (A human rights group notes that about half the nation's prisoners have never been charged with crimes.) And Erdogan, having won his third thumping electoral victory, has used this system to harass opponents, including politicians, journalists and generals.
In other words, the danger in the Middle East is not that Islam corrupts but that power corrupts. A more open and democratic system is no panacea, but it will begin to create a more normal, modern politics for the region, one that will allow for populism and demagoguery but also provide greater accountability, transfers of power and media oversight. And that will move the Middle East forward, not back.