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May 06, 2012, Sunday

Is Egypt aware of the danger?

What happened in Cairo’s Abbassiyah neighborhood on Wednesday is a clear indication of the hardships involved in the current process that Egypt has been going through.

It is very likely that clashes -- in which the Salafis as well as random gangs played the key role in Abbassiyah -- will take place in other parts of the country. I have consistently emphasized that the problems that Egypt has been dealing with for a while are similar to those Turkey experienced during its process of democratization.

Turkey, which tried to transition to democracy for 90 years, has suffered from three direct military coups and many other civilian interventions where the military played the lead role over the last five decades.

What happened during the coup on Feb. 28, 1997, is pretty similar to what Egypt has been struggling with right now. Back then, provocative protests were staged; furthermore, political tension in which the military played a key role blocked the system. To better understand what could happen in Egypt next and how far the tension might rise, it is necessary to take a look at what happened before and after Feb. 28, 1997.

In the 1995 parliamentary elections, the Welfare Party (RP) led by Necmettin Erbakan received 21 percent of the vote, coming in first. However, the RP failed to form a government because it did not win a majority of the votes; thus, it formed a coalition with the True Path Party (DYP) after lengthy talks.

After this government was formed, the military, political parties, civil society organizations, the judiciary, universities and unions made an alliance to undermine its legitimacy and power. The argument they relied on to do this was that fundamentalism was an emerging danger. The whole country was dragged into a climate of chaos, also partly because of the provocative statements and actions of Erbakan. The newspapers threatened the coalition government with news reports and statements by generals whose names were kept secret, while the judiciary collected evidence to dissolve the RP. Most of the evidence consisted of media reports or statements by party members.

Green flags raised in demonstrations to protest the headscarf ban, religious leaders invited to a fast-breaking dinner by the prime minister, and so-called extramarital affairs involving religious figures were all part of the setup to frame the government. The military further briefed rectors, journalists, members of the judiciary and even civil society organizations. While the country struggled with political chaos, the overall economic situation got worse. Inflation skyrocketed to over 100 percent, while overnight interest rates reached 1,000 percent. The economic well-being of the people was seriously disrupted.

Within a year, the coalition government collapsed, being replaced by a three-party government. During this whole process, it was the interests of the people that were undermined. Getting back to Egypt, it is likely that such scenarios could be staged in this country as well. The military does not want to lose its privileges. Instead of paying attention to the problems of the people, the Islamic parties have raised the tension through provocative political statements. Not only liberals, but also the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups do not have a strong economic program. None of the political parties have formulated a detailed economic program on how to deal with the collapsed economy and to fulfill the demands of the people.

The continuation of the current chaos will bring additional provocations. What sort of provocations could they be? With reference to what happened in Turkey’s recent past, we can list them as follows:

There might be additional attacks against protesters who have visible signs that mark them as belonging to one religion or another. This may further trigger clashes and disagreements between religious and liberal groups, and even between Muslims and Christians.

Assassinations may be carried out against leading figures in the country. Bombings may take place in various parts of the country in the name of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda. In the event of further chaos, the poor people, whose economic situation would become even worse, may start looting and causing disruptions.

As was the case in Turkey, the media may publish and air provocative reports to ensure that the military and the established authority take action to preserve the current order.

In light of all these developments, I ask these questions: Is Egypt aware of the coming danger? Are the political parties, civil society organizations, religious leaders, the military, the judiciary and the media able to see what sort of chaos and tension they will be part of?

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