Democracy in its Western form, that is, constitutional and representative government, is becoming popular again after a long period of relative unpopularity, and many people in nondemocratic countries are beginning to see in the Western form of democracy

Democracy in its Western form, that is, constitutional and representative government, is becoming popular again after a long period of relative unpopularity, and many people in nondemocratic countries are beginning to see in the Western form of democracy the best if not the only solution to their problems. There is, however, a difficulty. The nature and character, the methods and purposes, of democratic systems are usually understood--at most--by those who live by them. Even the best-informed and most sophisticated observers in nondemocratic countries have great, often insuperable difficulties in understanding the political processes of the Western democracies. In particular, it is exceedingly difficult to grasp the meaning of limited government, of civic and human rights, and of participation, other than by direct personal experience over a long period of time--and few outside the existing democracies have had the opportunity to acquire such experience.

There are, however, other, more immediately recognizable advantages achieved by democracy that make it more attractive, and two in particular: economic success and military victory--that is, wealth and power. While success in the market is more cogent, and in the long run more beneficial, success in the battlefield is assuredly more dramatic. It is therefore not surprising that in the past each wave of democratic enthusiasm in the non-democratic world has been preceded, and in large measure encouraged, by some striking military victory of democratic powers over less democratic or undemocratic operations

THE PRE-WORLD WAR I BACKGROUND

That becomes very clear in the Islamic lands, in particular from the mid-nineteenth century, when both rulers and intellectuals were becoming increasingly aware of the poverty of their societies and the weakness of their states, as contrasted with the wealth, power, and aggressive self-confidence of the West. This was a time of closer contact with the West, through the study of language, a growing Western presence, in the form merchants, educators, and, increasingly, military and naval personnel, and the beginnings of a significant Muslim, chiefly Ottoman presence in Western countries. The first Muslims to live abroad for any length of time were diplomats. Then came student missions, followed--after the spread of democratic ideas--by political exiles, and, in the course of time, travelers of many different kinds.

This marked a dramatic change after more than a thousand years during which travel in infidel lands was regarded as something reprehensible or even forbidden, except for certain very limited purposes, such as ransoming captives or buying food in times of dearth.

There were many democratic victories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that encouraged democratic emulation. Already, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the radical ideas of post-revolutionary France and the practical example of parliamentary monarchy in Britain aroused some flickers of interest. Major changes, however, began after the Crimean War, the first in which Turkish and Western troops fought side by side as allies against a common enemy, and in which the news, both from the war fronts and from allied capitals, was brought daily by telegraph and published daily in newspapers. The impact of the victory won by the more-or-less democratic Western powers over their totally undemocratic Russian opponent was therefore more direct and immediate than ever before.

This victory was followed by a wave of democratic movements and quasi-democratic reforms in the 1860s. Some were reform from the top. In 1861, the bey of Tunis under Ottoman suzerainty, promulgated a written constitution, the first ever in a Muslim country. In 1866, the khedive of Egypt went a step further and convened an elected assembly, again the first if its kind. The assembly held its three prescribed terms and was followed by other similar assemblies "elected" in 1769, 1876, and 1881. Contested elections had been held in 1857, in the Rumanian principalities, then under Ottoman suzerainty, but the Egyptian elections of 1866 were the first ever in a Muslim country.

More important in the long run than these grudging and limited concessions from above were the growing movements from below--the first movements of opposition to authority that were neither tribal nor ethnic, neither sectarian nor regional, but inspired by an ideology and an aspiration uniting people of different regional, ethnic, and religious backgrounds in a common cause. The most important of these was the Ottoman constitutionalist movement of the 1860s and 1870s, which finally achieved its aim with the promulgation of the first Ottoman constitution on December 23, 1876. After a general election--the first in Islamic history--parliament assembled in Istanbul in March 1877, with a Senate of 25, and a Chamber of 120 members. Its sixth and last meeting was held on June 28, 1877. After further elections a second parliament assembled on December 13, 1877, and showed unexpected vigor: on February 14, 1878, the Sultan dissolved the Chamber and ordered the members to return to their constituencies. In the words of the proclamation:

Since present circumstances are unfavorable to the full discharge of the duties of Parliament . . . and since under the constitution, the limitation or curtailment of the period of session of the said Parliament in accordance with the needs of the time forms part of the sacred imperial prerogatives, therefore, in compliance with the said law, a High Imperial order has been issued . . . that the present sessions of the Senate and Chamber, due to end at the beginning of March . . . be closed as from today.[1]

A new era of democratic optimism began with the spectacular Japanese victory over Russia in 1905. This victory of a small Asian power over a mighty European empire sent a thrill of exultation and hope through all the Asian lands threatened by European imperialism, including Iran and Turkey. There were some who made the further observation that victorious Japan was the one Asian country that had accepted westernization and as part of it had adopted a constitution and a bicameral parliament on the British model, while defeated Russia was the one European power that still persisted in maintaining the old autocratic order. The lesson, so it seemed at the time, was clear and unmistakable, and was understood even in Russia, where a kind of parliamentary regime was installed. It is surely not coincidental that the Japanese victory, which was closely watched and enthusiastically applauded in both Persia and Turkey, was followed in short order by the Persian constitutional revolution of 1906, and the Young Turk revolution of 1908, the one to introduce, the other to restore, constitutional government.

Neither achieved much success. Both the Ottoman and the Iranian constitutionalists found themselves obliged almost from the start to struggle against both internal dissension and external intervention; both were impeded by their own lack of experience and by the lack of much real understanding or support even among their followers. By the outbreak of war in 1914, both constitutional regimes had degenerated into autocracies that were in many ways more repressive and more destructive than the traditional--and therefore in some degree limited--authoritarian regimes that they had replaced.

THE WORLD WARS AND THE COLD WAR

In 1918, the victory of the democratic Western allies over the much less democratic Central Powers provided further evidence that democracies, though less willing to start wars, are better able to end them. The collapse of Russia, the one autocracy among the Allies, and the triumphant emergence of the United States with a leading role in the Western camp, brought the final proof for the proposition that democracy makes a nation healthy, wealthy, and, if not wise, at least strong. The British and French, the dominant powers in the Middle East and, indeed, in most of the Islamic world, created or encouraged the creation of regimes in their own image, setting up constitutional and parliamentary republics and limited monarchies in almost all the countries under their rule or domination.

By the 1930s, these democratic institutions were in a sorry state. And while much of the blame for their failure could be placed on imperial and other external interference, there were voices, in some countries, that argued that part of the problem lay at home. In most places, however, this seemed an unnecessary hypothesis. By then, liberal democracy was no longer the only model on offer in Europe. Nor was it the most attractive, since in many eyes it was discredited both by the imperial role of those who professed it and by the lamentable failures of the institutions that they had installed or sponsored and the so-called liberal economies over which they presided. In place of liberalism and democracy, a new message, first from Italy, then from Germany, won widespread support. Italian and German unification had long been seen as the model for the creation of a greater national unity, and many Arabs, like many Italians and Germans, were willing to sacrifice personal freedom for national unity and strength. Fascism and nazism seemed to offer a way to success and glory. They also enjoyed the immense advantage of fighting the same familiar enemies. Some Turks too were enticed by the vision of a greater pan-Turkish unity, though for them the common enemy that they shared with Nazi Germany was not the West but the Soviet Union, the imperial power ruling over most of the Truck peoples.

By 1945, fascism and nazism had suffered the most perspicuous of defeats--in the battlefield. But this time the triumph of liberal democracy was neither as clear nor as persuasive as it had been in 1918. The economic disasters of the depression were not forgotten, and the military victory was--with some cause--ascribed to the Soviet Union at least as much as to the Western powers. The case for socialism was further strengthened when the British electorate in the moment of victory dismissed Winston Churchill and his cabinet and elected what appeared to be a Socialist government in their place.

By the 1990s, the power, indeed the existence, of the Soviet Union had come to an end, and the attraction of Marxist economics survived only among the dwindling bands of fundamentalist true believers. The various socialist programs, ranging from the Stalinist Soviet model to the milder West European varieties, had all failed dismally to resolve, or even to keep pace with, their mounting economic problems. "Democracy" retained its magic, but it was a word-magic, unrelated to reality, and all too often designated a one-party dictatorship combining congenial elements from both the nazi and the communist systems, and ruling over an increasingly depressed and impoverished populations.

The striking American success in the cold war--as dramatic as a victory in the battlefield--and the relative affluence achieved by the United States and other Western countries seemed once again to confirm the generally beneficial effects of democratic institutions. The lesson was reinforced, not weakened, by the much greater economic success of Germany and Japan, since both of these countries had renounced their earlier autocratic institutions and had adopted constitutional and representative government.

Even before the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy was advancing and several dictatorships were more or less peacefully suspended. This movement was particularly noticeable in Southern Europe and parts of Latin America; it also affected a number of countries in Asia and Africa. It has so far had little success in the world of Islam. While democratic movements have won some support, especially among intellectuals, they face powerful opposition from a rival appeal to the discontented--that of the different movements collectively and inaccurately known at the present day as Islamic fundamentalists. These often differ considerably from one another, and even more from mainstream Islam. They share, however, a profound aversion to the basic principles that underlie the Western practice of constitutional and representative government. Some observers--and some Muslims--have even gone so far as to argue that Islam as such is inherently incompatible with democracy.

Any discussion of this proposition must begin with definitions of terms. The definition of Islam, in this context at least, is the prerogative of the Muslims. Non-Muslim scholars and other observers may make descriptive and even analytical statements about the Islamic past and present, but it is not for them to say what Muslims should or can do in the future. Only Muslims can answer that question--only they can decide what to retain of the rich and diverse inheritance of fourteen centuries of history and culture, and how to interpret that inheritance and adapt it to new needs and challenges. There will surely be many different answers given by Muslims; much will depend on which answer prevails.

The definition of democracy for our present purpose is a simpler task. What is meant is a system of constitutional and representative government, in which those who wield power can be dismissed and replaced without violence, and by known rules and procedures universally understood and accepted. As Samuel Huntington has observed, this must happen at least twice before a democracy can be regarded as "consolidated."[2]

Continental Europe and Latin American in the 1930s and 1940s offer classical examples of anti-democratic forces that used democratic freedom to win power, and then made sure that they did not lose it the same way. Adolf Hitler rose to power by a free election in a democratic Germany, but there were no more free elections in Germany as long as he remained alive. There are other movements in the world today, very different from nazism or fascism in their declared programs and ideologies, but sharing their contempt for the democratic institutions that they intend to use and then cast aside.

Of the fifty-one sovereign states that make up the membership of the International Islamic Conference, some have never tried democracy; others have experimented, failed, and abandoned the attempt; a few are experimenting again with a cautious and limited relaxation of central power. Several have passed the first test, of a change of government by democratic procedures. Only one in modern times has passed the more searching test, of a second change of rulers by democratic procedures--of a government willing to submit to the will of the people and leave by the self-same route by which it came. That one is the Turkish Republic.

WHY TURKEY?

Turkey's road to democracy has not been easy. On the contrary, progress has been difficult, along a road beset with obstacles and interrupted by many setbacks. Since the epoch-making general election of 1950, when a party that had enjoyed a monopoly of political power for decades allowed itself to lose a free election and submitted itself to the will of the people, there have been no less than three military "interventions," as the Turks call them. What is remarkable is not that these interventions took place--that is, after all, the norm in that region and political culture--but that after all three, the military withdrew to its barracks, and allowed, even facilitated, the resumption of the democratic process. Since then, Turkey has passed the test of democratic change not just once, but several times.

This definition of democracy is admittedly limited and formal, and takes no direct account of such other considerations as respect for civic, human and minority rights. It has, however, the advantage of being both unambiguous and measurable, and there can surely be no doubt that the preservation of democracy, thus, defined, offers the best chance for securing and maintaining those other rights that are an essential part of a free society,

An explanation of the relative success of democracy in Turkey, if one can be found, could also be of value in explaining, and perhaps correcting, the failures of democracy elsewhere.

If I had been writing one hundred years ago, or perhaps even less, I might have begun by considering what characteristics the Turks as a nation might possess that others lack. In the intellectual climate of our times, such explanations are no longer acceptable. Even if we replace the word "nation" by the word "culture," the inquiry would still present some hazards. Fortunately, an inquiry along these lines is hardly necessary, since a wide range of alternative explanations is on offer.

One of the most persuasive is what one might call the political explanation. Turkey alone, it is argued, was never colonized, never subject to imperial rule or domination, as were almost all the Islamic lands of Asia and Africa. The Turks were always masters in their own house, and, indeed, in many other houses, for a long period. When their mastery was finally challenged, they won their war of independence, and are therefore able to achieve a degree of realism, a detachment, and of self-criticism that is not possible in countries where political life was dominated for generations by the struggle for independence, and in which freedom and independence become virtually synonymous terms, to the detriment of the former.

In Turkey, democratic institutions were neither imposed by the victors, as happened in the defeated Axis countries, nor bequeathed by departing imperialists, as happened in the former British and French dependencies, but were introduced by the free choice of the Turks themselves. This surely gave these institutions a much better chance of survival.

That cannot, of course, be the whole explanation. There are, after all, other Muslim countries that were not under imperial rule. Afghanistan was effectively independent until the Soviet invasion. Saudi Arabia conducts its own affairs and contributes literally to those of other countries. Syria and Iraq have been independent for considerably longer than the brief period that they were under foreign rule, yet it is there that the failure of democracy has been most decisive and most dramatic. Iran, like Turkey, has seen its independence threatened but never lost, and has retained, even after the Islamic revolution, the forms and structures of constitutional and representative government. It seems unlikely, however, that a genuine transfer of power will be allowed within the present structure. Old established, sovereign independence may be a part of the explanation, but it is not the whole of it.

Linked with the political is what one might call a historical explanation--that Turkey, of all the Muslim countries, has had the longest and closest contact with the West, dating back almost to the beginnings of the Ottoman state. Turkey, for long the sword and buckler of Islam against the West, made a deliberate choice for westernization, and for a Westward political orientation. Specifically, the Turkish experiment in parliamentary democracy has been going on for a century and a quarter--much longer than in any other country in the Islamic world--and its present progress therefore rests on a far stronger, wider, and deeper base of experience. The vicissitudes of democracy under the late Ottomans, under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and under his successors would seem to confirm the belief that democracy is a strong medicine, which must be administered in small and only gradually increased doses. Too large and too sudden a dose can kill the patient.

Successive governments of Turkey wisely did not attempt to introduce full democracy all at once, but instead went through successive phases of limited democracy, laying the foundation for further development, and, at the same time, encouraging the rise of civil society. This process may be seen in many different aspects of life in the country, as, for example, in the newspaper press, which is certainly free, and which one hopes in the course of time will also become responsible, and in trade unions, about which one might make the same observation. Of interest in this connection is the decision made by the then prime minister of Turkey, Süleyman Demirel, to restore to the trade unions assets that had previously been placed under a sequestration order. This was not because he regarded the trade unions as political supporters of his--indeed, they were quite the reverse--but because of the realization that the existence of such powerful and entrenched interests is a safeguard for democratic institutions, which other interests might otherwise seek to curtail, suspend, or destroy.

Many observers have attached great importance to economic circumstances, and, in particular, to the fact that Turkey, alone among the Muslim countries, has achieved a significant economic growth and a substantial rise in the standard of living, and this by its own efforts, not by some fortunate accident, such as the presence of oil in the subsoil. Turkish economic growth was not due to resources discovered by others and used by others for purposes invented by others. It was due to the emergence of new attitudes to economic activity, of new policies for economic development, and of new social elements able to put these policies into effect.

This kind of socioeconomic change in late Ottoman times, and more especially, by the time of Atatürk, had already produced a professional, technical, managerial, entrepreneurial middle class, displaying, to an increasing extent, the attitudes and mores of their Western counterparts. They form an essential part of the civil society, without which Western-style democratic institutions cannot survive. A parallel development is already under way in some other countries, and may yet offer the best hope for the emergence of free societies in the Middle East.

Some observers, especially among those who see in Islam an obstacle to democratic development, point to secularism as the crucial difference between Turkey and the rest of the Muslim world. The English word "secularism" may be somewhat misleading, since it is often used in the context of antireligious philosophy. The term used in Turkish is based on the French "laicitè," which denotes what we might call "separation"--the principle of separation between religion and the state.

In Turkey, that was accomplished by Atatürk in a series of radical measures, including the disestablishment of Islam, the virtual repeal of the Sacred Law (Shari'a), and the enactment in their place of civil and criminal codes of a nonreligious character. Most other states in the Islamic world either have Islam in some form of words enshrined in their constitutions or else claim that Islam itself is their constitution, and that they need no other. The chief exception is the Republic of Indonesia, which is not secular, but does not establish any one religion. The choices of the former Soviet republics with Muslim majorities are not yet known. The system they inherited from their former masters is not laicitè, but might more accurately be described as the establishment and enforcement of another creed, Marxism-Leninism, with its own scriptures, doctrines, hierarchy, and inquisition.

CIVIL SOCIETY

Reference has been made to the emergence of a "civil society," a term increasingly popular of late. It is sometimes used with different and even contradictory meanings. The modern popularity of the term seems to have begun in communist Eastern Europe, where the pollution of language was at its worst, and where the word "democracy," along with such other words as "peace" and "freedom," had been more than usually tainted. From there it spread to Western Europe, where it was launched in May 1988 by Michel Rocard, then prime minister of France, in an official circular addressed to his government and published in the Journal Officiel.[3] Latterly, it has also been heard increasingly in countries of the Middle East.

The term has a long, complex, and interesting history, and seems to vary in shades of meaning from country to country. Not long ago, a paper that I wrote on "Islam and the Civil Society" was published in a German translation. To my surprise, the German version read "Islam und die Civil Society." The German translator obviously felt that there was no German equivalent to this English expression. Clearly, there had been a German equivalent in the past: the civil society was, for example, discussed at great length by Hegel, who did not write in English. But when I pointed this out to my translator, he replied that the German term used by Hegel, "Bürgerliche Gesellschaft," would nowadays convey something entirely different, and not at all relevant, to the German reader. It may be useful, therefore, to devote a moment or two to the historical and lexical evolution of "civil society."

The term first appears in Western Europe in the thirteenth century, in the Latin translation of Aristotle's Politics--a translation that had a momentous effect on the development of political thought in the European Middle Ages. The idea was taken up by others, notably by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica; finding the term "civitas" used in the Latin translation to render the Greek polis or politeia inadequate, he preferred to use "communitas civilis," which was later translated into English, French, and other languages as "civil society."

This notion was further developed by the Thomists, and then later by such political and legal thinkers as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and the men of the eighteenth-century Scottish enlightenment (Adam Ferguson, for example, wrote an essay on the history of the civil society), and then most notably by Hegel in his lectures on the philosophy of law. In these lectures, he set forth what is probably still the dominant, though by no means the only, definition of the civil society: that which exists between the family and the state; those institutions, organizations, loyalties, and associations that exist above the level of the family, and below the level of the state. In his definition, these are created by private persons, pursuing their own self-interest. They are therefore to a large extent, though not exclusively, economic, consisting of bodies formed for economic purposes, and others formed to protect and enjoy property, to administer justice, and similar functions.

The notion of a civil society was revived and reshaped by the Italian neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who died in one of Mussolini's prisons in 1937 and is principally known by his posthumous writings. Rescuing this idea from near oblivion, he gave it a new development, defining it as the totality of institutions and groups that produce and direct ideology to ensure the hegemony of the ruling class in a given society.

This Gramscian reinterpretation has had a considerable impact in recent years. Some even appear to be under the impression that the civil society was Gramsci's invention or creation. For the present inquiry, I propose to keep fairly close to the Hegelian definition, mentioning these others only to avoid possible confusion. The term therefore denotes those interests, associations, organizations, loyalties, and authorities between the family and the state. For Middle Eastern purposes, we may extend and redefine the notion of the family to include a number of other involuntary automatic loyalties by birth, ethnic group, tribe, clan, and--in a downward spiral--religion, sect, faction, region, and locality. The civil society exists, if at all, between these and the state, the legal though not always effective monopoly of the use of violence in a society. The disintegration of what was a functioning democracy in the Republic of Lebanon, when that democracy was first put to a serious test, can plausibly be ascribed to the absence of a real civil society in this sense. That is to say, there were insufficient associations or allegiances between the loyalty owed by birth and the obedience imposed by force. The voluntary association was either lacking or was undermined and rendered insignificant by older and more powerful forces.

Representative democracy based on civil society is difficult enough to operate even in the most favorable of circumstances, even in its countries of origin in the Western world. Its application to non-Western societies has often been made harder, not easier, by westernization and modernization, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the two.

Part of the difficulty arises from the differences and contradictions of the available Western models. The French Revolution served as the model of democratic change for almost all non-English-speaking societies. Yet if we look back on the slightly more than two hundred years that have passed since the revolution in France, we see two monarchies, two empires, one more-or-less fascist dictatorship, and five republics. Obviously, things did not run too smoothly. If we turn from France to other countries that followed the French model, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and Latin America, the situation is incomparably worse.

The French conception of democracy is essentially optimistic, and rests on the belief that good men can take power and use it for good purposes. The Anglo-American conception of democracy is essentially pessimistic, assuming that men who wield power, however good they may be, would probably be tempted to use it for bad purposes, and that the essential feature of political democracy is therefore the limitation of power--the existence of institutional restraints on its exercise. The meaning of the French Revolution, as Lord Acton pointed out a long time ago, and as is true of others that followed the French model, is not the limitation of the sovereign power, but the abrogation of intermediate powers--in other words, a step not towards, but away from the civil society.

In the Ottoman Empire, before the reforms and the modernization of the state and society, there were many intermediate powers. They included, notably, the religious establishment, independently financed through waaf revenues, the military establishment, and especially the by-now hereditary corps of the janissaries, and, in the later centuries, the ayan, or notables, who amounted to a provincial gentry and magistracy.

In the course of the nineteenth-century reforms, virtually all these previous limiting powers were eliminated or enfeebled or taken over, with the result that while on the one hand the regime was in principle becoming more democratic, through the promulgation of a constitution and the establishment of elected and representative bodies, in fact it was becoming less democratic, through the reinforcement of the sovereign power, not only by the abrogation of intermediate powers but also through the vastly improved apparatus that modern technology could provide for surveillance, repression, indoctrination, and control. All these are at the disposal of any modern dictator, the least of whom can be far more tyrannical than any of the legendary tyrants of the past.

TURKEY'S CIVIL SOCIETY

It is not easy to create and maintain free institutions in a region of age-old authoritarian traditions, in a political culture where religion and ethics have been more concerned with duties than with rights, in which obedience to legitimate authority is a religious obligation as well as a political necessity, and disobedience a sin as well as a crime. That much is obvious, and generally recognized. What is less obvious, and is insufficiently recognized, is that the task of maintaining free institutions have been made harder, not easier, by the processes of modernization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

There were, in both the Islamic and Ottoman heritages, elements that might well have been conducive, in favorable circumstances, to the functioning of free institutions and respect for human rights. For example, there is in the Sunni doctrine of sovereignty an element of contract, even of consent, and consent inevitably implies the possibility of withholding, or even withdrawing, consent.

According to the Sunni juridical statements on the institution of sovereignty, the ruler does not derive his authority from descent, and even God is the ultimate but not the immediate source of authority. The immediate vesting of authority is in principle by a process of election and contract, which in Arabic is called bay'a, and in Turkish becomes biat. The principal obligation assumed by the sovereign under the terms of this contract is to maintain, enforce--and also obey--the Sacred Law, which in principle he did not create and cannot change, and by which he is bound no less than the humblest of his subjects. The jurists did not think in terms of rights of the subject, but their discussion of the duties of the ruler to his subjects can provide a starting point for a move in that direction.

In fact, of course, leaving theory aside, the institution of sovereignty became hereditary, and more or less theocratic. But the traditional concept of a contractual exchange of duties between sovereign and subject remained. The ruler had obligations toward the subject, and his contract was in theory dissoluble, sometimes also in practice dissoluble if he failed to carry out the terms of his contract. The Caliphate, and later the sultanate, were autocracies--there can be no doubt about that. But they never became the unbridled despotism imagined by many European observers of the Ottoman state in its heyday.

In fact, this state, which achieved a greater level of stability and continuity than any previous Islamic dynasty, also showed greater respect than any of them for the Sacred Law, and a greater willingness to submit to its authority. This is aptly symbolized in the rules laid down in the Kanunname of the House of Osman for the ceremonies on the Bayram Festival. When the dignitaries come to greet the Sultan, says the Kununname, the Sultan himself shall rise to his feet to receive the high officers of the state and of the law.[4] The Ottoman recognized a supreme religious authority in the highest instance of the Shari'a, with power even to authorize the deposition of the sultan. The actual role of this authority, the sheyhülislam, was determined in the main by the play of politics and personalities. The significant thing in the present context is that such an authority, with such a jurisdiction, should have been recognized at all.

The same stability and continuity of the Ottoman state allowed the emergence and consolidation of intermediate powers, which were able--to an increasing extent in the later Ottoman centuries--to impose effective constraints and limitations on the sovereign power of the sultans. They could no longer do so after the great changes, especially the technological changes, of the nineteenth century, which enabled, for example, Sultan Abülhamid to wield despotic powers far greater than those ever enjoyed by Mehmed the Conqueror or Süleyman the Magnificent.

There was, therefore, in the movement for constitutional and representative government in nineteenth-century Turkey something more than a desire to import or imitate Western practices. There was also something that in the long run was probably far more important--a desire to restore a perceived loss of old established rights, and to restrain what was perceived as a newly imposed despotism. This aspect is often mentioned in the writings of the Young Ottomans and of the constitutionalists, but has been dismissed by many modern scholars as a romantic or apologetic effort to legitimize foreign ideas and practices and to make them more acceptable by ascribing them to authentic, indigenous origins.

Certainly, there was an apologetic element in this as in other similar arguments put forward by advocates of reform in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sometimes this reaches absurd proportions, as, for example, when a Janissary mutiny is compared to a chamber of deputies. But there is more than a romantic rewriting of history in the arguments of the Ottoman constitutionalists. There is a basis in Ottoman historical reality that may be an important element in the ultimate triumph of constitutional and representative government in the Turkish Republic.

"Ultimate triumph" may seem too strong a term to designate a still-fledgling democracy, which has endured three military interventions in half a century, and which still faces massive problems and powerful challenges. But despite these difficulties, the successes of Turkish democracy, as compared with other countries of comparable background, traditions, and experience, have been remarkable. They were made possible by profound and far-reaching changes in social, cultural, and intellectual life, which preceded, accompanied, and followed political and economic changes. To one who has followed the transformation of modern Turkey for more than half a century, it seems certain that while this process of change may still be delayed or even halted, it can no longer be reversed.

Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University, is the author of, most recently, Islam and the West and The Shaping of the Modern Middle East (both published by Oxford University Press).

[1] Zabit Ceridesi, II, p. 46 See Robert Devereux, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963), p. 236.
[2] Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), p. 266 ff.
[3] On this and on the earlier history of the term, see Guy Berger, "La Société civile et son discours," in Commentaire, 12/46 (1989), pp. 121-78, and later issues.
[4] Kanunname-I-Al-I Osman, TOEM supplement (Istanbul, 1330), p. 25.