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June 26, 2012, Tuesday

Two sides of the same coin

If we speak of the building of democracy, then of course what happened in Egypt, with the winner of the presidential election, Mohamed Mursi, being declared legitimate, is good news. There is much to say about this, but, before that, let us revisit the escalation of the crisis between Turkey and Syria.

In his much anticipated address to Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not surprise those who guessed he would overreact to the incident of Syria having shot down a Turkish military jet despite its significance. Following up on what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Monday, Erdoğan underlined three crucial points: a) The Syrian regime has irrevocably lost all legitimacy and is doomed to collapse; b) It poses a clear and present danger to its neighbors, and Turkey in particular; c) As a countermeasure, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) will now change their rules of engagement, raising the alert levels, and will respond resolutely to all border violations.

This positioning, synched with its ally, the US, and coupled with the NATO line, is as far as things go -- for the moment. Despite increased anger domestically -- especially within the predominantly Sunni, conservative and nationalist block of opinion -- and the expectations of some outside powers, this shows that Ankara is keeping calm, continuing to act rationally and with a greater determination to drive the issue within the international community, nothing more.

Some points must be added to this: First, up to two-thirds of Turks are against a state of war with Syria. Second, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his rogue state may have lost control over 60 percent its territory, but it has in its arsenal an unknown quantity of chemical weapons, which it would use without any hesitation. Third, at present, it must be left to its fate because, given the defections from its army, and due to its local security networks, the opposition is slowly chewing away at its power, day by day. In the final run, neither Russia nor Iran will be able to help maintain the status quo in the country. These points all call for a calculated staying-out of intervention.

Let us turn to the good news. Two parallel stories developing out of the Arab Unrest/Spring, Syria has come to stand for the nasty side of the coin, while Egypt -- a key element and guide to the Arab Awakening as a whole -- has now taken a crucial leap into normalization. The process will not be an easy one; on the contrary, it may take many years for Egyptians to understand the value of democracy, freedom and consensus, but the very choice of the leftovers of Hosni Mubarak’s regime not to resort to violence or ruthless intimidation against the popular Muslim Brotherhood, or Islamists in general, conveys hope for the future.

Mursi is from now on the person who holds the key to the transition. His task is enormous, and he will have to move ahead with clipped wings and legs. I voiced my concern in a previous column when the victory of protestors in Tahrir Square was clear that the tutelary habits of the old regime would lead the people to strike back.

It did, with much heavier backlash than I had anticipated. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) stripped the president’s office of most of its major powers. The old elite, headed by the generals, made itself the final arbiter over the most critical issues still complicating the transition, including the writing of a constitution, legislating and passing the state budget. They also granted military police broad powers to detain civilians. A new parliament will also have to be formed. Mursi will not be able to appoint a defense minister, exert control over foreign and financial policy issues or hold the title of commander-in-chief. Tutelage is maintained, until who knows when.

In many ways, you can see Turkey of the ‘80s and ‘90s as reflected in Egyptian. I made the point in a previous column that Turkey as a whole, and not only its ruling AKP, was a source of inspiration or an example. Here we are: The Egyptian military, in its near-sightedness, is copying and pasting Turkey’s Kemalist traditions of turning elected civilian politicians into powerless puppets, and its Islamists, applying the instruments of Western democracy as they also -- hopefully -- evolve.

It all depends on Mursi. He should pay well attention to Turkey’s story and act accordingly. Suppressors are doomed, and they shall collapse. But, for the sake of a firm transition, Mursi should broaden the Muslim Brotherhood’s base, extinguish the fears of secular and liberal reformists and build an alliance of freedom. If he manages, nothing will stand, in the end, before the will of the people. That is why close communication and consultation with Turkey’s political parties is very important. Patience is the lifeblood of democracy, as the collective memory of those nations would tell us.

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