Muslim Politics Without an “Islamic” State: Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Be a Model for Arab Islamists?

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

As Islamist parties assume power in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, many – in both the West and the region – have turned to the experience of Turkey’s pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) for lessons on negotiating the relationship between Islam and the state.

The “AKP model,” it is argued, occupies the middle ground between the “assertive secularism” of Turkey’s past, and the marriage of religion and politics seen in countries such as Iran. Given striking differences, however, between Turkey, with its Kemalist past, and the Arab world, where “secularism” itself is sometimes almost taboo, can the AKP’s experience really be an effective model? Will Islamists in deeply conservative Arab countries even see it as desirable?

In a policy briefing from the BDC, Muslim Politics Without an “Islamic” State: Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party be a Model for Arab Islamists?, Visiting Fellow Ahmet T. Kuru explores the relationship between Islamism and secularism in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Kuru writes the continued rise of the AKP and its embrace of a “passive secularism” that effectively advances Islamic values provide an important and potentially attractive example for Arab Islamists. The differences between the Arab and Turkish contexts, he argues, need not inhibit the adoption of certain aspects of the AKP model. Rather, the dividends brought by the AKP’s pragmatism and the party’s success in pursuing Muslim politics without seeking an “Islamic” state may yet encourage Arab Islamists to follow a similar path.


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