On Monday, June 3, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan kicked off a foreign tour of North Africa with an official state visit to Morocco. While in Morocco, Erdogan met with Prime Minister Abdellilah Benkirane, head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamist-leaning party that bears striking resemblance to his own AKP party, and even shares the same name.
Erdogan’s trip was undertaken to strengthen strategic economic cooperation and to sign a series of bilateral agreements between the two countries. Commenting on the visit, Moroccan PJD member Idris Boano stated that his party hoped Morocco’s path to reform would follow the model of development pursued by the AKP.
Boano noted, “When the Justice and Development Party came to power in Turkey, the country had been going through a stifling economic crisis with unprecedented levels of inflation and unemployment, but the party managed to lead Turkey out of the crisis and turned it into an economic power… We look forward to benefiting from this experience.”
Indeed, Turkey’s recent development leaps have been held up as an ideal example to follow for popular and democratically inclined Islamist parties in the region. Throughout its tenure, the AKP government has managed to achieve exemplary levels of economic growth, even as many of its European neighbors sank slowly into crisis.
Yet the ongoing turmoil in Turkey and the persistence of demonstrations calling for the removal of Erdogan raise serious questions about the success of the Turkish model. Even as people continue to flock to Istanbul’s now infamous Taksim Square, Erdogan has persistently failed to recognize the legitimate demands of the protestors, who are dissatisfied with the government’s unwillingness to give voice to dissent and support the people’s democratic aspirations.
In a pre-departure press conference, Erdogan accused outsiders and the parliamentary opposition of needlessly fueling the flames of protests, and predicted that by the time of his return the chaos will have ended. Erdogan told journalists that “there are those attending these events organised by extremists… These are organised events with affiliations both within Turkey and abroad,” and “The main opposition Republic People’s Party (CHP) has provoked my innocent citizens.”
Morocco continues to face its own systemic problems of endemic corruption, economic stagnation, high unemployment, and a democratic deficit. The Benkirane government must continue to pursue consistent and reliable economic growth, as the demands of Moroccan protestors remain predominantly economically focused. It should not, however, take place at the expense of ensuring freedom of expression or human rights—priorities Erdogan has apparently neglected.