IF WE FAIL TO UNDERSTAND EGYPT, WE'LL LOSE IT

Today's Zaman, Turkey
July 30 2013

by İdris Bal*

Anti-Morsi protesters chant slogans during a mass protest to support
the army in Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 26.Anti-Morsi protesters
chant slogans during a mass protest to support the army in Tahrir
Square in Cairo on July 26. (Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

30 July 2013 /

In the aftermath of the event that started the Arab Spring -- a street
vendor in Tunisia setting himself on fire in protest -- people spoke
up and raised their voices for democracy and freedom in North Africa,
the Middle East, Libya, Egypt and Syria.

It could be said, however, that the reflection of the Arab Spring in
Syria has taken on a different dimension.

During the Arab Spring, many sought to identify the reasons for its
revolutions; while some argued that the uprisings were part of an
American plot, some others drew attention to domestic dynamics. On the
other hand, another matter of discussion concerned whether democratic
regimes would be established in the region and whether the revolutions
would lead to stability and development.

Egypt was one of the Arab Spring countries. The administration changed
in Egypt; Mubarak had to resign after the revolution; he is now in jail
and on trial. Democratic elections were held in Egypt, and Mohammed
Morsi was elected president. Important new developments took place
in Egypt, where the Arab Spring succeeded and regime change was smooth.

Then the people took to the streets to call for Morsi's resignation.

In consideration of the protests, the Egyptian army gave some time
to Morsi and his opponents. At the end of this time, the military
staged a coup against Morsi. This coup is considered a step backward
in the Arab Spring process, though some view it as a step forward for
the Arab Spring. Why did this happen in Egypt -- why was an elected
president ousted?

It should be noted that some preconditions must be fulfilled for
democracy to take root in any given country. For democracy to operate
smoothly, there should be no trace of sectarianism, ethnic nationalism
or tribalism. Ethnic, sectarian and tribal tendencies and priorities
play a role in voting behaviors, and people pay more attention to
their micro-identities than concrete proposals.

For a proper democracy, the educational system is also important.

Democracy is composed of a series of elections that starts in primary
school student councils* and goes all the way up to presidential
elections. For sound elections to have sound outcomes, voters must be
able to make their choices freely and remain independent of external
interference. This is only possible with a successful education system
and an educated populace.

Doing away with economic injustices

In a proper democracy, there shouldn't be dramatic income disparities;
nor should there be any economic injustices, because people who are
unable to meet their basic needs can't be expected to act reasonably
and consistently -- even if they are well educated. Such people can
be manipulated by marginal or illegal groups; as a result, they may
join extremist groups and marginal organizations.

Further preconditions for democracy are freedom of expression,
freedom of assembly, plurality and a pluralist society. In other
words, there should be a free press, diverse media outlets, civil
society organizations, think tanks, free universities, criticism and
democratic culture.

First, it is known that there are some problems regarding pluralist
society, education levels, democratic culture and income distribution
in Egypt. This creates serious problems in terms of democratization,
the establishment of a democratic regime and the operation of
democratic institutions.

Second, the people have broken down the wall of fear in Arab Spring
countries, including Egypt; they are now able to take to the streets
to protest and resist the police and military. In countries lacking
democratic culture and traditions, this psychological state of mind is
a huge danger. In this environment, groups that fail to achieve their
goals in elections seek to accomplish them on the streets by violent
methods instead of striving to get desirable results at the polls.

This is what happened in Egypt. They used the method that proved
effective in toppling Hosni Mubarak to oust the elected government.

Third, the people are the source of legitimacy in democracies.

Legitimacy is secured by democratic elections. Domestic groups called
for elections and democratization in Egypt through demonstrations
that were also supported by external dynamics. However, the West
wasn't pleased with the election of Morsi, a candidate of the Muslim
Brotherhood. In fact, a similar situation took place in Palestine,
where the West supported the inclusion of Hamas in the election,
believing that this would normalize the organization and remove its
radical elements. However, when Hamas won the election and came to
power, the West turned its back on the group and imposed an embargo.

Similarly, Morsi's success didn't please the West; as a result of this,
they didn't oppose the coup in Egypt. This encouraged the coup makers.

The privileged position of the army

Fourth, even though the administration changed in Egypt, the army still
holds a special and privileged position in the country. The military
controls one-third of the economy through its ownership of large
companies. The military controls many enterprises and corporations in
different sectors. Considering the direct impact of the military on
politics and the economy, it could be said that the Egyptian army is
extremely influential in domestic politics. The Egyptian army toppled
Morsi by leveraging this privileged position. In consultation with
the Egyptian army, the West tacitly endorsed the coup.

Fifth, because there are no democratic traditions in Egypt and
the country had been governed by one man for decades, the people
suffer from a lack of democratic experience and maturity. From this
perspective, Morsi and his supporters made some major mistakes. Of
course, it is a fact that no mistake by an elected leader justifies
nondemocratic measures like military coups. Morsi should have acted
more carefully and prudently in his relations with the opposition and
other political actors in the aftermath of his election victory. He
should have adopted a more conciliatory approach and style.

However, this didn't happen. For instance, in the constitutional
commission meeting on Nov. 29, 2012, in which opposition members
did not participate, commission members adopted a 236-article draft
constitution without any public or parliamentary consultations or
thorough deliberations. And within two weeks, a referendum was held on
the draft constitution; despite a boycott by the opposition, Morsi did
not retreat. Only 32 percent of the people voted in the referendum;
64 percent of those voters approved the draft constitution. Morsi
could have taken a more constructive approach in his relations with
the opposition. In another move, Morsi announced that presidential
decisions would not be subject to any judicial review; in consideration
of growing reactions, he had to retreat from this.

The Egyptian economy got worse during the Morsi administration.

Declining currency revenues, worsening unemployment, devaluation of
the Egyptian currency, power outages and other similar developments
were clear signs of debilitation in the domestic economy. However,
as the winner of democratic elections, Morsi held that he had full
authority over both domestic and foreign policy. The opposition and
new political balances were not taken into consideration. Democratic
values were violated in domestic politics due to Morsi's excessive
self-confidence, which led the government to take the wrong steps in
foreign policy as well. For instance, one month before he was ousted,
Morsi called for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's resignation.

Is it possible to reverse what has happened?

As a result of many domestic and external factors, the elected
government in Egypt was toppled. Is it possible to reverse the
process? Could the protests and demonstrations calling for the reversal
of the coup succeed? Morsi supporters took to the streets to express
their support for elections and the democratic process. They are still
on the streets in support of Morsi. Some Muslim Brotherhood members
had hoped that the process could be reversed, and that Morsi would
be returned to the presidency as a result of their fierce dedication
to public protest. Some countries, including Turkey, also hoped this
would happen. Some still hold onto this hope.

This occurred when the Soviets had to withdraw their troops after
coups in different countries in the past. However, the conditions
of the Soviet cases are not present in the Egyptian case. Not all
on the Egyptian streets strongly oppose the coup; on the contrary,
supporters of the coup flowed into Tahrir Square to celebrate the
military intervention. On the other hand, others filled squares to
oppose the coup. In other words, people are not united in opposing the
coup; some support it, while others are calling for the resumption
of the democratic process. Thus, the coup makers feel what they did
was right. This enables them to present the coup and themselves as
protectors of the people.

The global community viewed the coup as a fully understandable
development rather than something that should be responded to
with an economic embargo and diplomatic isolation. They even made
statements that pleased and relieved the coup makers. Likewise,
regional actors like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates
extended diplomatic and material support to Egypt and the military
administration. This encourages and strengthens the coup makers.

Considering the economic and political power of the Egyptian army,
it does not seem realistic to expect it to withdraw. The only
possibility is a reaction against the coup from military personnel
who are close to the Muslim Brotherhood. But we don't have indicators
suggesting this will happen. In consideration of these factors, it is
not realistic to expect that the military will retreat and reinstate
the Morsi administration.

The greatest risk right now in Egypt is that the parties will resort
to violence, and that Egypt, under the influence of the Brotherhood,
will follow the path of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria
in the 1990s, falling into civil war. Polarization could also result
in a scenario similar to that in Syria. The materialization of this
possibility would be a dire scenario for Egypt; in this case, the
Egyptian people would pay a huge cost and regional and global peace
and stability would be affected. Hence the Muslim Brotherhood and all
other groups should stay away from provocations and violence, and those
who have influence over the Muslim Brotherhood should urge nonviolence.

Quite naturally, Turkey stands in support of the elected president
and strongly criticizes the coup makers. However, if we are unable to
understand Egypt, to appreciate its domestic and external dynamics;
if we fail to read the regional situation and keep on criticizing,
Turkey may lose Egypt -- and pay the economic and political price.

Considering the overall situation of relations with Iran, Syria,
Israel, Armenia and Greece, we shouldn't add Egypt to the list of
countries with which Turkey is having problems. We need to remain
careful.

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*Professor İdris Bal is an AK Party deputy.

http://www.todayszaman.com/news-322288-if-we-fail-to-understand-egypt-well-lose-it-by-idris-bal-.html