January 4, 2008 -- FOR centuries, Iran and the Ottoman Empire, of which modern Turkey and Egypt were parts, fought for influence in the Muslim world. That changed when Turkish westernizers under Kemal Ataturk and their Iranian counterparts under Reza Shah Pahlavi decided that religion was the cause of their nations' decline.
Ataturk adopted the legend that the Turks descended from the Celts while Reza Shah promoted the idea of Iran as an "Aryan nation."
For a while, Egypt (thanks to its Al Azhar theological center) remained influential. But that, too, changed in 1952 when the so-called Free Officers staged a coup under Col. Gamal Abdul-Nasser and declared that socialism, not Islam, was the future.
With the three nations that had shaped Muslim opinion for centuries thus knocked out of the picture, attention focused on new centers of Islamic inspiration in the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. But these versions of Islam weren't developed enough to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of Turkey, Iran and Egypt to the sidelines of the Muslim world. Arabia and India offered militant energy but little philosophical and theological guidance, let alone a political model.
The picture may be changing: Turkey and Iran have reverted to their traditional roles by offering rival models of political Islam. (Egypt is still out under what is left of the Nasserist regime.)
The Iranian model began to emerge after the mullahs seized power in 1979 and proceeded to invent a narrative influenced by European ideologies such as fascism and communism.
The Turkish model grabbed the limelight when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide election victory almost five years ago. Represented by the AKP, the Turkish model is inspired by European right-of-center political parties with an added liberal varnish.
At least four fundamental differences distinguish the two models:
Provenance: The Iranian model was shaped in Shiite theological schools of Qom and Najaf (in Iraq) by mullahs mainly of peasant backgrounds with little or no experience of the modern world. The Turkish model was the handiwork of engineers, medical doctors, businessmen and economists with urban, middle-class backgrounds.
The Iranian Islamist movement entered into a strategic alliance with Marxist-Leninist and Maoist elements as early as the '60s and was heavily influenced by their worldview, culture and methods. The Turkish model shunned the left from the start and even joined the army against the leftists from the '50s onward.
Method of gaining power: The Iranian model won power through insurrections, assassinations, guerrilla attacks, strikes and massacres (such as the burning of the Rex Cinema in Abadan in 1978) - not in free and fair elections.
The Turkish model, by contrast, won power via free and fair elections conducted by its ideological rivals. It never had recourse to violence, never murdered opponents, never robbed banks to finance itself and never burned hundreds of people alive to terrorize public opinion.
Record in power: The Iranian model forced almost 4 million Iranians into exile, caused the deaths of a million more in civil and foreign wars and mass executions, filled the prisons with dissidents, disbanded the national army and cancelled a constitution for which generations of Iranians had fought and, at times, died.
The Turkish model forced no one into exile, didn't fill the prisons with opponents, provoked no wars and did not tear up the constitution. Nor did it destroy the Turkish state's institutions, notably the armed forces.
Road map for the future: The Iranian model claims to be seeking to revive the rule of Ali Ibn Abi-Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam and the first Imam of Shiism, whose rule ended with civil war and his own assassination. (No one quite knows what that rule looked and felt like, for there are no reliable historical records.) The Iranian model could be summed up in the concept of the walayt faqih, or the guardianship of the theologian. This means that a single theocrat has the power to decide what is and isn't Islam.
The Iranian model rejects modernity as a creature of the western "Infidel" powers. It sees globalization as a cover for American hegemony and dreams of uniting under its leadership all anti-western elements. The Turkish model has no such hang-ups. It has embraced globalization, wants to lead Turkey into the European Union as fast as the EU allows and maintains privileged relations with the United States.
Under the Iranian model, the average Iranian is at least 40 percent poorer than in 1977. The Turkish model has presided over the fastest economic growth rates the nation has known in modern times.
By World Bank estimates, Turkish gross domestic product has risen by almost 50 percent under the AKP. Turkey no longer exports masses of hungry hands seeking low-paid jobs in the west. Iran, meanwhile, loses hundreds of educated people each day.
In Turkey, political parties operate freely; in Iran only parties loyal to walayt faqih are allowed.
The Iranian model is represented in 17 Muslim countries through branches of the Hezbollah (Party of God), founded by the mullahs in Tehran in 1975. The movement, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, acts as a mini-version of the old Soviet Comintern.
The Turkish model is only now finding imitators in other Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco. In some cases, such as Jordan and Morocco, these parties use the very name of their Turkish model. In others, the names that echo that of the AKP.
Last month, the AKP also found an Iranian imitator - the newly formed Justice and Development Party of Iran (Etedal va To'seeh), which unites elements disillusioned with Khomeinism. The new party has yet to make its position clear on the key issue of walayat faqih, but the outline of its program for next March's general election is an almost verbatim translation of the election manifesto of Turkey's AKP.
Recently, the new party received a wink and a nod from Hashemi Rafsanjani, the businessman-cum-mullah who's emerging as a challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's radical faction. This has led some commentators to assert that the mullahs are trying to set up their version of the AKP to prevent a genuine one from emerging.
Whether or not that is the case, what matters is that no one in Turkey is trying to imitate the Iranian model.