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December 12, 2012, Wednesday

Turkish readings of Egyptian politics

I have now spent a few days in Egypt, mainly in Cairo, just before the scheduled constitutional referendum.

It is inevitable that there could be some differences between our foreign reading of Egyptian politics and their actual state. Sometimes domestic sources can also be unreliable as they may be suffering from bias, being part of the domestic political conflicts and battles. Yet, when looking at the Turkish media’s coverage of the Egyptian politics in Cairo, what I have noticed is that every single one of us is actually projecting our reading of Turkish politics onto the Egyptian case to a certain extent.

Take me, for example. I remember writing here about a year ago, when I visited Cairo for the second time after the revolution, that the Egyptian revolutionaries must be cautious of the deep state, or the “Egyptian Ergenekon.” I am not well versed in Egyptian politics and my caution was based on my expertise in Turkish politics. That does not mean that my projection was wrong and both my observations and interviews and conversations with Egyptians from all walks of life suggest that the old elite -- or to adopt a Turkish phrase, “White Egyptians” -- die (politically) hard. They would resist and do whatever they could do to cling to power. Nevertheless, we must be cognizant of the fact that Egypt is not Turkey. Despite similarities, there are many differences, both positively and negatively.

Some of our good old White Turks do not seem to be happy with the results of the revolution, for understandable reasons. After all, the laicists have now gone to be replaced by bearded guys. This reminds our Kemalists of their own domestic agony. What is worse, the US, the EU, others in the West and almost all of the rest have already started working with the new Egyptian leaders. Gone are the days when the US would declare regimes ruled by the bearded guys an axis of evil. Yet, nowadays, the Kemalists seem to find some sort of ammunition against the new Egyptian political elite. With the President Mohamed Morsi’s recent controversial decrees, our Kemalists have been enthusiastically commenting that when these Islamists come to power, they do not want to leave. It is very obvious that if this allegation sticks, then they will try to reap some domestic fruits by copying and pasting this allegation onto the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s “former” Islamists.

Our liberals, similar to their worldwide brethren, keep writing about the constitution and how it must be pro-gender equality and must not talk about protecting the family and so on. Generally speaking, I agree with them. Yet, we must know that we are not talking about a Scandinavian country here and must also see that delaying the preparation of the constitution will only be to the benefit of the old guard. We need to see this as a process rather than a revolutionary point in time. The new draft constitution is not perfect but it is much better. After its acceptance by the public, it must be made sure that the new Egyptian democracy moves forward, not back. We should criticize every undemocratic move regardless of whoever does it. Yet, we must also be careful not to side with the old elite. I would be very cautious in supporting the same argument that the elite of the Mubarak regime is now advocating.

Some who have been increasingly becoming skeptical about the AKP’s democratic credentials, noting its authoritarian tendencies, its increasing nationalist rhetoric, its reform-fatigue, its exhausted democratization efforts and its recent tone of being the advocate of the state and not the individuals -- Uludere being the prime example -- prefer to see the recent Egyptian events from this angle. For them, the Islamists who have come to power in Egypt may now possibly be siding with the military and betraying the revolution. I doubt that. The Muslim Brotherhood can never forget what Nasser did to them. They have learned the virtues of democracy, a transparent state, free and fair elections and a free press the hard way. They will of course make mistakes. This is only normal as they are in the early stages of democracy. We must, of course, watch their every move very carefully but should not be too quick to discredit them to the benefit of the old elite.

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