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June 19, 2012, Tuesday

The Turkeyfication of Egypt

Since the start of the Arab Awakening in the spring of 2011 there has been a lot of talk about Turkey as a model, especially for the populations of Tunisia and Egypt looking for more democracy in a Muslim majority setting.

The discussion among analysts and observers focuses on the question of whether the term “model” is the most appropriate manner of expressing the influence of Turkey on the post-revolutionary Arab world. Most agree that the words “example” and “inspiration” probably better reflect the way Turkey is seen by many liberal democrats and reform-minded Islamists in Tunis and Cairo: a secular republic, run by post-Islamists; an economic success story with growing soft-power in the region.

Leaving aside Tunisia for the moment, we can indeed witness a series of events in Egypt over the last couple of days that resemble similar developments in Turkey during the last decades. The irony is that we are not talking about steps towards more democracy but about steps back, reinforcing an already strong regime of military and judiciary tutelage. The Turkish model being introduced these days in Egypt is the old version that Turkey itself has been trying to get rid of since 2002.

In what many in Egypt and abroad consider to be, in effect, a coup d’état by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), the following decisions were made just before and after the presidential elections of last weekend. They sound all too familiar to anyone who knows the basics of the 1980 coup in Turkey and its aftermath.

 Parliament, dominated by Islamist parties, was dissolved by the SCC.

 SCAF published an addendum to the temporary military-authored Constitutional Declaration of March 2011, granting itself more powers and whittling down those of the newly elected president. It is still not clear who that will be, but there is a good chance that the elections were won by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate Mohammed Morsi.

 SCAF is about to appoint a constituent assembly to draft a full-blown new constitution, taking away this prerogative from the disbanded parliament.

 A new National Defense Council has been formed, dominated by the military, which nullifies the influence of civilian politicians on all matters related to the armed forces.

 At the moment of writing this column, an administrative court in Cairo is looking into the possibility of dissolving the MB.

This is a toxic mix of elements of the Sept. 12, 1980 and Feb. 28, 1997 military coups in Turkey and efforts by the Turkish Constitutional Court to close down the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2008.

I am sure that we will see massive demonstrations in the next couple of days that will bring together the MB with the 2011 Tahrir revolutionaries, two groups that strongly dislike each other but are united in their resistance against the military power grab.

Last year, some skeptical analysts were already predicting that the Egyptian army would never voluntarily give up its huge powers and would do its utmost to stick to some sort of Mubarakism without Mubarak. The latest developments seem to prove that point.

It is extremely important how the outside world will react to the prospect of continued military authoritarianism. In the past both the US and the EU would in all likelihood protest against the overruling of democratic demands but, in the end, accept military rule in the interests of “stability.” Nick Witney of the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) has called on the EU to stand up against the military coup this time and stop its participation in the efforts to assemble the billions of dollars in assistance that Egypt needs to pay its bills. Witney: “There can be no macroeconomic aid package until a roadmap for a quick transition to democratic, civilian rule has been re-established -- and one that, this time, is not open to military subversion.” Similar calls have been made on the Obama administration, which is supporting the Egyptian military with billions of dollars.

It will be interesting to see how the Turkish government will react. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP colleagues know all too well how bad it feels when the military and the judiciary, representing the old regime, are trying to impose their will on democratically elected politicians. There should be no doubt in Ankara that democrats and reformers in Egypt, be they secular or religious, are looking at Turkey to see whether the ruling party will push for the same agenda abroad as it did in Turkey. No military tutelage at home. No military tutelage in the world.

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