CUMALİ ÖNAL

Erdoğan 2002, Mursi 2012

The presidential elections in Egypt are progressing as brutally as expected. Leaders »»

The presidential elections in Egypt are progressing as brutally as expected. Leaders are harshly lambasting each other while media networks are stirring up fears, all of which closely resemble the climate in Turkey just before the 2002 parliamentary elections.

When I stress the similarities between the two countries, some groups are offended, though the parallels between the current events in Egypt and what Turkey went through proves my case.

In the run-up to the 2002 Turkish parliamentary elections, media outlets ran horrific headlines. Turkey would turn into Iran or Saudi Arabia if the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power, they predicted ominously. Other similar warnings were bandied about: Reactionaryism would revisit Turkey, and the country would go back in time to the dark ages. Everyone would be required to wear a çarşaf (chador) in the streets, or alcoholic drinks would be banned and tourists would not be allowed to enter the country. A caliphate would be reintroduced, foreign investors would be banished. Turkey would sever its ties with the West…

Such headlines were published for months. News stories describing how children were forced to perform ritual prayers, how alcoholic drinks had been confiscated or how those who did not fast had been beaten popped up in newspapers and TV news bulletins every day.

As a matter of fact, such news stories and publications are common in every run-up to an election, and the primary purpose was to prevent the AK Party from winning. The AK Party did in fact come to power, but which of the fears propagated by the media proved to be true in Turkey?

Turkey swiftly became more democratic, transparent and liberal and rapid improvements in human rights were seen. In terms of economic development, Turkey became one of the best performing countries. With the AK Party at the helm, the country made great efforts to become a full member of the EU. Ties with the West were elevated from those between superiors and inferiors to those between equals. Comprehensive reforms were implemented in politics.

The government’s biggest shortcoming was undoubtedly its failure to draft a constitution. Constitutional reforms could not be implemented at the desired level. Turkey could limit, if not eliminate, the military’s clout over politics for the first time during this period. The country made colossal achievements in virtually all areas, including social life, education, health and transportation.

If Turkish voters had listened to the media and leaders’ fears and concerns and had not elected this party to office, would Turkey have accomplished all this? Most likely not, as we all know how other parties performed in the last 80 years.

What about the concerns voiced about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi? To what extent are they true? In my opinion, most of them are unfounded.

Contrary to what is claimed, Egypt will not proceed headlong into the dark ages and become like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Efforts to improve the rights of Christians, instead of subjugating them, will increase. The country’s economy will not stagnate as it is already rock bottom and cannot regress any more.

The same applies to Ahmed Shafik, the other candidate. If Shafik is elected, the old regime will not be revived. Rather, Shafik will be more careful in taking steps towards democratization. This is because democracies are not like dictatorships. Every leader has to think about the next election. He cannot arrange for his son or relative to succeed him, though he can make these plans within his own party.

Therefore, there should be no external intervention for democracies to function smoothly and soundly. The forces that meddle with the democratic process claiming that it’s in the country’s best interests are actually helping the country become more backward. Indeed, these forces are more concerned with their own interests.

We have seen the clearest examples of this in Turkey. Those who claimed to “love this country more than anything else” inflicted the greatest damage by triggering an economic decline and a regression of human rights and democracy. When the influence of these groups over politics was cut off, Turkey was able to grow rapidly.

For Egypt to go through this transition period, no forces -- particularly the army and the judiciary -- should meddle with these processes. Otherwise, it would take a long time to develop a properly functioning system, as was the case in Turkey.

Everyone should accept the results of the Egyptian elections and support the new administration. If everyone treats each other with suspicion, an already fragile social balance will be completely disrupted. Everyone should stop searching for a scapegoat for every problem in Egypt -- you cannot find a solution to these problems by accusing the US or Israel of causing them.

2012-06-17

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Columnist:: CUMALİ ÖNAL