Egypt’s today is the Turkey of yesterday… hopefully

Ceylan Ozbudak

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In Turkey, we have a recent history, which is full of military interventions. Still to this day, I remember waiting to hear how the generals and admirals would be analyzing a political speech. We had a recent history when we all knew the names of lower ranking generals better than the members of our cabinet. This has always been our shame, we don’t appreciate coups or interventions.

We did not like the coup in Egypt either. It was condemned by all political parties and thought leaders. Turkey used the word “coup” for this intervention starting from the first day. With the toppling of Morsi's government in Egypt by the military, everyone started looking for someone to blame. In traditional Muslim circles, US and European countries were blamed for disliking Islamists, planning this coup just to take the rule from a Muslim organization and being intolerant to Islamic regimes. The West may not be a fan of Islamic organizations or today’s’ Islamist regimes but who is? At this point, the finger of blame turned upon itself. As Muslims, are we learning from our mistakes?

I see many analysts trying to draw parallels between the Gezi protests in Istanbul recently and the military coup in Egypt and I have to admit, they are not entirely at fault. But if we are to draw any parallel between the recent history of Turkey and Egypt, 28th February coup in 1997 ranks first in resemblance.

Many of my Arab friends and those interested in Middle East politics will remember Necmettin Erbakan, the first Islamist prime minister in the secular Turkey. In 28th February 1997, a coalition government led by a conservative party leader, Erbakan, was overthrown by the military. Today, we can cite many reasons leading to this intervention, but the real reason was purely his IMAGE.

Holding on to the throne

Even though Erbakan only spent one year as the Prime Minister, he reformed Turkish economy immensely transforming GDP growth. Between 1996-1997, Erbakan created an economic growth of 7.5% and created a pool system between the governmental organizations. To be fair, as far as public service goes, he delivered.

Like Turkey, Egypt started its run to democracy with a tutorship regime where the politics were controlled by the military and judiciary justifying the intentions of military.

Ceylan Ozbudak

Difficult to believe but impossible to reject; despite his good record in service, Erbakan could not hold on to the throne of Turkish cabinet because of his image. His party reached its political peak before the elections by him appearing in public with dolled-up female models, non-Muslims, fundamentalist Muslims with turbans, people from all walks of life –reassuring Turks that he was inclusive- and then he hit rock bottom when he invited sheiks to the Prime Minister’s residence for an iftar dinner. Ask any Turk who remembers those days, none of us can forget the flashing lights of the cars carrying sheiks to the residence, governmental officials opening doors to religious leaders. The military ended up confronting then Prime Minister Erbakan, with many secular liberals standing aside because although they despised the secular authoritarians, they also felt nervous about the ambitions of Erbakan and his entourage to implement their lifestyle on the Turkish public.

Any sound politics that project to culture, giving satisfaction, and voice to the people in a fashionable manner gives power back to the politician. Today’s so called Islamists in Turkey did not repeat the mistakes of the Erbakan government. They were much more inclusive in their approach. Erdogan's government, although sincerely believing in traditional Islamic values, never undermined the minorities in Turkey. Erdogan has been the first Prime Minister of Turkey who gives a monthly salary to Alawite religious leaders, rebuild the ancient synagogues and churches, building new ones despite the stable number of minorities. After coming to power, the AK Party made some serious judiciary reforms, have been much more flexible, liberal and pragmatic than Erbakan government. Like one general at the time of 28th February intervention stated, Erbakan government put forward a beautiful show case before the elections but did not keep the show case in place after the elections. Erdogan did. He sang popular songs with singers wearing revealing clothes and only in his time the modern Turkey saw a non-Muslim governor, while the President Morsi was busy appointing a member of Gamaa Islamiya as the Governor of Luxor. Egypt’s Islamists need to learn from Turkey.

A question of legitimacy

Erdogan has been inclusive and kept the highest interests of the state a priority to the point where he partnered with secularists on the Kurdish, Armenian and Cypriot issues. Erdogan gave importance to economic and military ties with Israel, the United States, Russia, China and the European Union. With 3% growth in the first quarter of 2013 Turkish economy outpaced all Eurozone countries but this could not save Erdogan from protests and he faced stern criticism about his IMAGE on the Gezi protests. Neither Erdogan, nor Erbakan were looked down upon because they failed at economy or public service. They created unease amid the public when the skepticism arose whether or not they would try to impose their image on the masses. And let’s let the elephant in the room free, even though they both were hard workers, their image is not awe-inspiring.

Did Erdogan lose legitimacy in the Muslim circles because his image is more liberal compared to Erbakan? Of course not. He is still regarded as ‘Islamist’ as much as Erbakan. He learned the results of not being inclusive, the hard way. The unmoulded masses of Egypt will decide not only what they do not want but also what they do. And the masses in Turkey will use the Egypt experience to learn what they should not do. We heard the saying “democracy is not only elections” many times lately but free elections are the main tools of democracy. Democracy does not mean using the army to correct our mistakes at the ballot box. If there is a group, which is favored by a great majority, it will prevail even after an intervention. The thinking that the Muslim Brotherhood will stay in the dusty pages of history boks after this is wrong. The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization, which flourished under oppression, they defied Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and they will defy Sisi too. But there is only one way they can be in power in a future Egyptian scenario, and that goes through implementing a secular constitution where they sincerely embrace all the diversities of Egypt. Of course the first step to democracy in Egpyt, wouldn’t be the last one. Like Turkey, Egypt started its run to democracy with a tutorship regime where the politics were controlled by the military and judiciary justifying the intentions of military. The Turkish experience offers the example of the only way to have a free and democratic society. At some point, the threat of the military coup must be removed, and replaced by the will of the people. Leaders must be removed by ballot boxes, not bullets.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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