Mursi and Erdogan – a thorn in each other’s side

Abdullah Kamal

Published: Updated:

What Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan was able to keep under wraps for more than 10 years has eluded Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi to cover up for less than a year. Hence, the link between growing tensions in Cairo and the unprecedented anti-government protests in Istanbul. Oddly enough, Egyptians may be the closest observers-- outside Turkey—in following up the Turkish turmoil.

Few weeks after Mursi took office last summer, many people in the traditionally diverse Egyptian society saw through the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood from which the president hails.

It became increasingly clear that Mursi, who had portrayed himself during the election campaign as a “president for all Egyptians”, is only the president of his clan. His successive decisions and biased political discourse have exposed him as being manipulated by his group to impose a prejudicial cultural agenda.

In contrast, Erdogan was smart and shrewd enough to spend long years to carry out his ideological project during which he surmounted numerous obstacles, including a military coup bid in 2007. Thus, he was able to lead Turks into believing that he followed a secular ruling system and that his key objective was to achieve economic development, which has shown steady success in recent years.

Erodgan also demonstrated commitment to the Western-style democracy. On his re-election in 2007, he pledged to advocate freedom, justice, welfare and democracy for all Turks, confirming respect for those who did not vote for him.

In July last year when the Brotherhood followers were celebrating Mursi's win of the presidential post, Mohamed Al Beltagui, a leading official in the group’s Freedom and Justice Party, went on the record as saying that the 48.5 per cent of the Egyptians who had not voted for Mursi are “mere ghosts.”

Dealing with opposition

Pathetically, around five months into office, Mursi’s decisions and addresses as well as his group’s actions sharply divided Egyptians into backers and opponents. Each side espouses an identity and an agenda alien to the country’s age-old features. This division has been repeatedly reflected in massive rallies staged by the Brotherhood and its allies aimed at flexing muscles against opponents.

Last week, Erdogan said he could mobilize millions of his supporters in response to the massive anti-government protests held in several Turkish cities.

Years into a rule often termed as wise, Turkey now figures prominently among countries infringing freedom of the press. Weeks after Mursi took office, his backers encircled the state-run Media Production City and filed a flurry of lawsuits and even made threats against media figures.

Freedom restrictions

Contrary to his calls on the Egyptian regime to observe secular rules, Erdogan has recently enforced anti-freedom codes including monitoring the people’s public conduct.
Such laws are not yet in place in Egypt. Yet, artists in Egypt have recently become the target of Islamist radicals on religious TV stations. The militant TV clerics have also accused their critics of defaming religion, a charge on which several Egyptian politicians and media personalities have recently been quizzed.

Both Egypt and Turkey are facing an identity crisis. The rulers in the two countries seek to impose contentious cultural projects.

Differences and similarities

However, the ruling systems in the two countries are different on one score. It took Erdogan many years before trying to do this. For its part, the Mursi regime has been unwise enough to rush into carrying out its project at cultural, political, social and legal levels.

Egyptians and Turks share the possibility of confronting their own rulers to block the controversial ideological project, regardless of whether it has already fulfilled achievement as in Turkey, or proved a fiasco as in Egypt.

Coincidently, the Egyptian and Turkish rulers have come to be a burden for each other. The matter is not limited to the similarity in the names of the ruling parties in both countries. It’s the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt; Erdogan’s party is called Justice and Development.

Egypt’s Islamist rulers have often portrayed Erdogan’s ruling system as their ideal example. Erdogan, meanwhile, has presented himself in the past two years as the regional sponsor of the new rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. Erdogan’s Turkey has also been involved in triggering changes in Libya and the war in Syria.

With Egypt’s economy in the doldrums, Turkey has repeatedly unveiled economic support for Cairo, showing Ankara as a staunch backer of Egypt’s Brotherhood rule. The Brotherhood's opponents have come to view Ankara as throwing its weight behind bids to change Egypt’s cultural identity.

In a Facebook comment, Erdogan described Mursi as “an example that should be followed by youths". During a visit to Cairo last September, Erdogan called the situation in Egypt “an awakening that spreads like waves in the world".

In the meantime, Brotherhood officials, mainly the deputy supreme guide Khayrat Al Shater, have made a series of trips to Turkey in recent months. Mursi himself attended a recent congress of Erodgan’s Justice and Development Party.

This interrelationship between two types of Brotherhood emphasizes the similar suffering facing society in Egypt and Turkey. Each is in the grip of a renewed identity crisis, which dates back to long decades.

Irrespective of intrinsic differences including those between Ataturk’s project in Turkey and Nasser’s in Egypt, both leaders have instilled in their own people deep-seated values, which cannot be changed overnight.

In the past two weeks, Egyptians have shown sympathy for Turkish protesters probably more than some Turks have done. The reason is that the Egyptian sympathizers hope to see the model widely publicized by Egypt’s Brotherhood as their ideal will be politically routed.

Most Egyptians have no idea about the demands made by the Alawite minority in Turkey or reasons for the heated conflict between Ataturkists and Erdoganists. Still, these Egyptians eagerly want to frustrate the Brotherhood backers, who vehemently advocate Erdogan’s ideology in Egypt.

At the same time, the Brotherhood’s ruling in Egypt and the resultant problems have made the Turkish public aware of the outcome of Ankara’s support for governing Islamists in the Arab world and the shift Erdogan’s ruling system has taken.

With demonstrations mounting in Turkey amid political uncertainty, Egyptian protest groups brace for mass nationwide rallies on June 30, which marks the first anniversary of Mursi’s presidency. The protesters will call for withdrawing confidence from Mursi.

While protests in Turkey are like a yellow card for Erdogan, those planned in Egypt may come as a red card for President Mursi.

Abdullah Kamal is an Egyptian journalist and political analyst, an adviser to Al Rai Kuwaiti newspaper in Cairo. He is working now on writing a book about the end of Mubarak era under the title of The Penultimate Pharaoh. The writer had been editor- in- chief of both Rose El-Youssef magazine and newspaper (2005 – 2011) and a member of Shoura Council (2007 – 2011)

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