Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Defending Turkey not Erdogan

Erdogan’s fury at the ouster of Morsi appears based on a refusal of the very notion of a rotation of power when Islamists take command, writes
Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

What is behind the fury that has gripped the Turkish government, at all levels, in response to the “revolution” or political change — call it what you will — in Egypt that brought the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood from power? Surely no one can take their “military coup” pretext seriously. It has not been that long since Egypt’s Armed Forces took part in the removal from power of former president Hosni Mubarak who has been in prison ever since, as opposed to under house arrest in one of the presidential palaces, as is the case with Mohamed Morsi. To Ankara at the time, Mubarak’s overthrow was not a “military coup”. It was an expression of the will of the Egyptian people, millions of who expressed that will in the squares and streets of Egypt’s major cities, most famously Cairo’s central Tahrir Square. In those days, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his companions championed the right of the people, the army and the Muslim Brothers when they had all become “one hand”. The situation in Egypt two and a half years later was not much different, apart from the fact that, this time, the number of Egyptians who participated in the anti-regime demonstrations exceeded 20 million at the most conservative estimate (and 33 million at the least conservative) and that the demonstrations extended beyond the major urban centres to include cities, towns and even villages across the country. The expression of popular will was the same in both cases. What was not the same was the reaction of Erdogan and his ruling clique.

This is curious, because Turkish authorities had plenty of reasons to be concerned by the type of government that was being engineered by an Islamist-oriented group in Egypt for what was presumably a secular democratic state. Indeed, Erdogan himself had an immediate, first-hand experience in the futility of this Egyptian experiment to which he was so closely attached. Initially, when he visited Cairo last year, he basked in a warm and jubilant welcome by the successors of the Caliph Othman. But no sooner had he delivered his address from the podium of Cairo University, where he presented himself as a Muslim leader in a secular state that he was proud of, he was metaphorically shown the door amidst a torrent of curses.

Surely Erdogan, a man of no mean intelligence, must have detected an odour that did not emanate from the original spirit and calling of the mother Muslim Brotherhood organisation, but rather from the radical “Qutbist” school of thought which was then infused with the thinking of moderate to staunch Salafist groups, as well as jihadist groups in their militant to terrorist shades. This particular odour assumed tangible form in a constitution, crafted to ensure that no law would pass without the approval of a group of Islamic scholars in accordance with the opinion of the “Sunni community” (thereby laying the groundwork for a system of “guardian Sunni jurists” to mirror the Iranian vilayet-e faqih). As for Muslims who do not subscribe to their schools of thought, or Christians, they implicitly fell outside the national polity as conceived by that constitution.

Nor would it have escaped Erdogan that there was nothing democratic in a fascist constitutional declaration issued last November or in a sustained siege against the Supreme Constitutional Court. This combined with the abovementioned constitution and with the Muslim Brotherhood’s flagrant incompetence in managing a country the size of Egypt clearly show that what was unfolding in Egypt under the Muslim Brothers had nothing remotely do with the “Turkish model” that Erdogan was promoting as a beacon of inspiration to the countries of the “Arab Spring”. This is not to deny that it was an attractive model, featuring a nice blend between religious moderation and the democratic practices approved by the EU. It was just not attractive to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

When one considers Erdogan’s attitude towards Egypt one realises something very important. The Turkish prime minister was not so much upset about the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood or angry at a “military coup” as he was furious at the very idea that the Muslim Brotherhood might have had to leave power at all one day, regardless of the principle of the peaceful rotation of authority between rival political forces. Erdogan’s rage over this has less to do with Tahrir Square in Cairo than it does with what was happening shortly before this in Taksim Square at the heart of Istanbul. He was staring at the beginning of the second wave of revolution in the region, which signalled the possibility of a revolt against Muslim Brotherhood rule in the manner of the revolt against the dictatorship of the secularist military clique as epitomised in the regimes of Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali, Mubarak and Ali Abdallah Saleh. What is crucial about this second revolutionary wave is that, in both Istanbul and Cairo, it has proclaimed that democracy means far more than the ballot box and, also, more than economic competence.

This is what has given Erdogan the fits, because to his way of thinking when the Muslim Brothers get to power, they should never have to leave. One might be able to justify such an attitude in a theocratic state, but in a democratic and secular one it is a blatant heresy. This was the attitude that prevailed in certain quarters in Cairo, in spite of the fact that the Egyptian elites who had founded modern Egypt had always insisted on the civilian (as opposed to secularist) nature of the state. It was this attitude and the threat it posed to the Egyptian state that motivated the 30 June revolution, which aroused such alarm among the ruling elites in Ankara, as fully aware as they were of the many sins committed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

Still, Egypt and Arabs sympathetic with the new Egyptian revolution should not let the attitude of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) determine their position towards the Turkish state. First, historically and geographically Turkey is an important country in the Middle East. Second, it is part of current regional political questions, whether in respect to Iraq, Syria or even the Arab-Israeli conflict, and relations with the West and the US in particular. Third, the Turkish experience is filled with numerous important changes, beginning with the arrival to power of a group that is ideologically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood well after Turkey had been established on a democratic secular foundation. However, that experience will not prove itself fully mature until the Turkish version of the Muslim Brothers can prove that they are willing to leave power as democratically as they came to power. We should note, in this regard, that many political scientists did not regard India as democratic until the Indian Congress Party left power, even if it would return to power several times afterwards. The same applied to Israel, which only proved its credentials with respect to the rotation of authority when the Labour Party, which had founded the state, left power as democratically as the Indian Congress Party had.

From this standpoint, the question in Turkey is not about Erdogan or the Muslim Brothers in Turkey, but about the experience of the Turkish state itself. It has made the transition from military despotism to a phase characterised by an attempt on the part of the Brothers there to assert their hegemony, not over political authority or the institutions of the state, but over its culture and identity. Hopefully it will be able, from here, to go on to become a fully democratic state in which the people have the right to peaceful protest and the right to elect an alternative party to power. However, given the attitude he has displayed towards Egypt and his recent handling of events back home, it is clear that Erdogan has another vision, one that sees himself in power for a long time and that sees the “family, group and tribe” from which he hailed in power forever. The Turkish people, like the Egyptians with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, will never accept that.

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