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December 10, 2012, Monday

Turkey-Egypt: Islamism to what extent?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan phoned Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi when the liberals blockaded the presidential palace in response to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB or Ikhwan) supporters who besieged the Constitutional Court. The press didn’t report much about the details of this phone call. But we are free to make two predictions: one strong and one weak.

First, Erdoğan recommended that Morsi should seek compromise and remove the Ikhwan supporters from the streets. Second, upon this recommendation, Morsi backpedaled and stopped insisting on of the conditions for the referendum on the newly drafted constitution, which had caused the opposition to revolt. Erdoğan’s warnings are sincere in that they were gleaned from his similar experiences in Turkey. After a long hiatus, Turkey and Egypt see their fates intersect once again. This convergence stems from the ideological proximity between the ruling parties in both countries. If Erdoğan fails, his legacy will survive for a long time to come. But if Morsi fails, the military dictatorship will take the whole country under its control in a week or so, and in the end, Turkey will lose Egypt.

The losing camp will also include the Arab peoples and the Western world. The ghastly opportunities Israel will derive from this process will make the West pay a heavy price in the end.

The confrontation between Morsi’s supporters and the liberal/secular groups that had lent support to Morsi in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak and the military regime presents an image that this is a competition between two poles. This image betrays the realities. It leads to misunderstandings about what is happening in Egypt and across the Muslim world.

To rule the country is like a tightrope walker maintaining his balance using a long stick. The supporters of the ruling party stick to one end of this stick and the opposition to the other end. Islamism is an opposition ideology. After coming to power, it is impossible to go on with this oppositional program. The responsibility for governing the country and the realities of the world transform this utopian/dissident ideology, thereby allowing the tightrope walker to make progress. Egypt’s Islamists are trying to speed up this transformation, which took many years in Turkey. Their hurry is due to their delay. But they need time. For this reason, Erdoğan’s wisdom-filled advice to Morsi is very precious.

In reality, polarization is not one sided. Both sides contain more aggressive, unrelenting groups inside. The pro-Ikhwan camp sees a competition between hardcore, non-compromising Islamists and the broad masses who are content with the democracy that accompanied their coming to power. The broad masses learn how to exist within democracy and pay respect to those who are not like themselves. But Islamists who refuse to come to terms with the realities of the world are growing more and more marginal and resist this change. But the case of Turkey proves that realities, not fancies, will win.

The secular camp consists of the supporters of the old regime and the people who promote their freedoms under democracy. The old status quo uses the tools available to it and sends liberals to the streets.

Egypt’s Brotherhoods sees and learns that Tahrir Square belongs to the opposition. But the country is governed not from the streets, but from inside state institutions. Islamism leaves the streets and settles in the solemn institutions of the state and is transformed in the process. And Turkey asserts why this change is needed and where it will lead.

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