Turkey Pulse

Looking at Egypt, Worrying About Turkey

Article Summary
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s views of democracy clash with true democracy, and it is impossible to not worry about Turkey while observing what is happening in Egypt, writes Semih Idiz.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, of Muslim Brotherhood origin, was highly praised for his courageous stand against the Egyptian army, which he wanted to distance from politics. His international prestige peaked with his recent role in securing an Israel-Hamas cease-fire. Morsi was even named as the most important personality of the Middle East by Time magazine.

When Morsi was elected president, Washington was naturally cautious about his Islamic credentials. President Barack Obama was quoted as saying that he didn’t know yet if Egypt was still an ally of the United States.

But Morsi’s role in the Israel-Hamas cease-fire quickly built up American sympathy for him and he was seen as a moderate personality that could help achieve regional stability and steer Egypt toward democracy.

However, Morsi himself delivered a blow to this positive image he had created. Immediately after the cease-fire, under the pretext of “defending the Egyptian revolution from its enemies,” he assumed extraordinary powers that were not allowed to be challenged. Then the troubles began.

Liberal Egyptians worried about the intentions of the Islamists again filled Tahrir Square and began chanting the same “Pharaoh” slogans they had used against former President Hosni Mubarak. This time, clashes were not between the security forces and protesters, but between liberals and religious forces supporting Morsi.

Actually, the first warning bells that things were not going all that well in Egypt rang when the Muslim Brotherhood and fanatical Salafists, who had won parliamentary seats, sidelined liberals and Christians while working on a new constitution.

Morsi, following his assumption of anti-democratic powers, mobilized the Islamists in the parliament to quickly draw up a new constitution and announced he will submit to a rushed referendum on Dec. 15. This move only increased the tension.

While he had the opportunity to improve Egypt’s situation and make it one of the most respected democratic countries of the world, why did Morsi opt for this course — one that rattled his and Egypt’s reputation and caused the collapse of the Cairo stock market?

The first answer that comes to mind is that Morsi and his Islamic followers do not have a democratic mindset. It is true that the Arab Spring, which allowed Islamists to take center stage, has not yet installed the essential requirements of democracy.

Islamists and their leaders, as in Egypt, seem to be content with dividing their societies to achieve their religious and ideological objectives instead of unifying their countries on the basis of principles of legal equality.

In short, the Islamists’ perception of democracy does not tally with true democracy. Islamists believe that winning an election gives the ruling party the authority to tamper with and change the system.

But true democracy doesn’t give this right to anyone and it certainly doesn’t mean the “hegemony of the majority.” The true measure of democracy is not only protecting  the rights of the opposition and minorities but also gracefully accepting an exit from the political scene when people say “we don’t want you anymore.’’

Now, we see a president who, although chosen in a democratic election, is now trying to arm himself with anti-democratic powers; a party that is trying to change the constitution and governance by overwhelming the opposition and a government that is trying impose its world view while splitting the country in two instead of unifying it.

All these should ring some bells for us as well. In short, it is impossible to not worry about Turkey while observing what is happening in Egypt. By the way, weren’t we supposed to be the model country?

Found in: cease-fire, turkish model, history, gaza, democracy

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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