Friday, July 20, 2012

Can Egypt become Turkey?

Al-Tahreer Square. Source:

The Egyptian fight for freedom, democracy, and equality has crystallised in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak from power. The future of the country is in the hand of those teenagers who spoke for change. Al-Tahreer square will be remembered in history as the Arabian Acropolis for democracy. 

Egypt is one of most populous country in the Arab world; any democratic development there will reverberate across the whole Middle East and will be closely monitored by fundamentalists and rightists in Pakistan. The basic question now being asked is: "Can Egypt become modern Turkey?"

The winning of Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood is a major development for the country. Egyptians have courageously passed the initial test of holding a fair and free election, but the road towards democracy and progress still has a long way to go. The major digression in the path of democracy – similar to the Turkish experiment – will be the battle between the military and civil centres of power.

In the last few decades, the Turkish army has unconstitutionally partaken in the national democratic setup of the country. Sometime, like in 1971 and 1997, Turkish generals sabotaged the national government on the pretext of 'visible threats' to the country. While at other points in history, like in 1960 and 1980, they brought coups against democratically elected governments. Nevertheless, in today's democratic Turkey, the role of the armed forces in state institutions has drastically reduced due to strong constitutional vigilance.

On the other hand, modern day Egypt isn't like modern day Turkey. The later does has a vast Muslim majority, but a moderate Islamists party governing the country. In terms of progress and economy, Turkey believes in free market capitalism. Unfortunately, the long decades of Mubarak rule couldn’t allow Egypt to maintain the same standard of living and free market expansion as that of democratic Turkey. It was democracy that allowed Turkey to achieve such progress.

Meanwhile, Egyptian and Turkish armies have many commonalities. Both of them consider themselves as the only force to stop Islamists from coming into power. Both of them manage big economic corporations that play an integral role in national economy. The 'Oyak Group' is the biggest investment group in Turkey which have shares in companies ranging from French motorcar manufacturers Renault to cement and steel. They work on the pretext of financing the army pension fund. Lastly, both of them also believe themselves to be the most effective institution to rule the country.

Similar to the Turkish army, the Egyptian army has ruled the country for years. It is considered a major force by parts of the society who are reasonably afraid from the Islamist coming into power. This shows that the power struggle between the society and politics won't end shortly. It will take a long time for the power centres to live with mutual harmony, and much longer to define the basic character of the state.

Lastly, Egyptian army should also learn lessons from their counter parts in Turkey. The events in 2007 allowed Turkey to emerge as the most vibrant democratic Muslim country. It can serve as an example for the Egypt’s politician in getting a hold on the army. Back in 2007, the Turkish army felt threatened that president Abdullah Gul might agree to alter the "unchangeable democratic nature of Turkey" into an "Islamic state". The army issued a warning in this regards. However, the army couldn't get Mr. Abdullah Gul out of his presidency. Mr. Tayeb Erdogan took a notice of this intervention, and sent many generals behind bars. Today, Turkish politician are fighting their cases against these generals in the same courts that for many years allowed the army to suppress and abuse the Islamist reforms.

It should be noted that Egypt and Turkey are two different countries with different national interests. Unlike Turkey, Egypt is not seeking membership into the European Union. The EU compels The Justice Party to fight against the army’s hegemony over state institutions. Moreover, Muslim Brotherhood has a more Islamist character compared with Justice and Development Party (JDP). Hence we are going to see more Shariah based laws being formed in the Egyptian parliament compared to Turkey. Lastly, Turkey's per capita income is twice that of Egypt.

Likewise, Egyptian generals must remember that by the end of the cold war era, Turkish army has lost national and foreign support to rule the country. The Arab Spring can also have a similar geo-strategic affect on the Middle East, resulting in ending military domination once and for all.

All in all, if the Egyptian army tries to disrupt democracy or hampers in the development of state institutions, they'll only buy public hatred in return for such activities. The results of which being similar to that of Turkey: humiliation and jail.

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