A Comparison of the Turkish and Nordic Experiences

In Search of a Model for the Middle East: A Comparison of the Turkish and Nordic Experiences  

The social protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have set in motion processes of transition in the region. In some cases autocratic regimes have been toppled, while in most, social fissures and latent or manifest forms of conflict have emerged as established forms of authority and solidarity break down.

The process of transformation is open-ended, and there is no doubt that transition from authoritarianism is replete with challenges. Decades of authoritarian rule have destroyed societal institutions that could provide solutions at turbulent times; conflict needs to be managed; a national consensus and sustainable and democratic modus vivendi premised on respect for human rights has to be devised.

Driven by the often uncritical discussion on what models should MENA emulate, The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), in cooperation with Istanbul Policy Center (IPC), Sabanci University, Istanbul has set out to critically explore two different paths widely known as the Nordic and Turkish “models”. And then consider whether and to what extent they represent relevant, culturally sensitive and appropriate institutional transition frameworks and how they can be adopted and adapted to meet the cultural specificities of the MENA region by examining their applicability to Egypt and Tunisia.

Taking issue with the way in which what we would call the “model talk” is structured, the project intends to

(i) identify and unpack in a systematic way the different experiences and societal processes that have been associated with the two models;

(ii) examine whether there is experience derived from these two “models” that can constitute the subject of a dialogic, constructive relationship between the Nordic region and Turkey on the one hand and the MENA societies on the other (but also between the societies from which these “models” are derived) and what this experience may be and (

iii) explore appropriate and culturally sensitive ways in which dialogue and exchange can take place.

The present research initiative is a joint effort by researchers from different institutions and researchers from the Nordic countries, Turkey and the MENA region as well as other experts on these three focal areas.

The project was coordinated by Umut Ozkirimli, Professor of Contemporary Turkey Studies at CMES and a Senior Fellow at IPC, and bring together a team of excellent researchers from key disciplines, including, in addition to Professors E. Fuat Keyman and Leif Stenberg, Directors of IPC and CMES respectively, Professor Lars Trägårdh (Ersta Sköndal University College, Stockholm), Henrik Berggren (former cultural editor of Dagens Nyheter and biographer of Olof Palme), Professor Emeritus Sami Zubaida (Birkbeck College, UK), among several others.