Jadaliyyah, February 21, 2011
It is striking that as Egypt turns a new page in history, voices as diverse as Financial Times, Le Monde and the New York Times want it to follow the Turkish model. But is the process in Turkey really repeatable? And who would stand to gain if it were taken as a model?
It seems that liberals in the West and elsewhere want to use the Turkish model as an example because it shows the possibility of Islamist empowerment without Islamist dictatorship. The "Turkish model" emerged from a split within the (Islamist) Virtue Party in 2001, after which the pro-business and pro-EU wing of the Islamists were joined by politicians escaping the debris of failed center-right conservative parties. The result was the Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002. The party was then joined by a massive flow of leaders and followers of the nationalist right too. The new government did not change Turkey’s neoliberal economic and semi-secular path radically, but made these two cornerstones of the Turkish regime more popular among the people. The real change occurred within the ruling strata, with the secular elite gradually pushed out of key institutions and the secularist military’s power somewhat restricted. This smooth transition of power is the first stark contrast with the Egyptian experience. Can the Egyptian people, who have just carried out a revolution, really go back to their homes and passively watch a circulation of elites and a modicum of policy change?
Perhaps they can! Let us, nevertheless, look at the actors who initiated and sustained the protests to assess what such a restoration would take. The roots of the protests were in two youth groups. "April 6 Youth Movement", which called for solidarity with striking workers in the preceding years, was one of the initiators of the massive protest on January 25, 2011. The group "We are all Khaled Said", on the other hand, is a mobilization against torture and police brutality. Membership of the two movements overlaps to a degree. These two forces were later joined by many Muslim Brotherhood activists, who played a key role in defending Tahrir Square and other key sites throughout Egypt. Finally, labor joined in with a fatal blow: the general strike, which was immediately followed by the president’s resignation.
In the previous decades, the dignity of Middle Eastern peoples has been under attack not only by unresponsive governments, military control, torture, and foreign dependence, but also by free-market oriented "structural adjustment" programs that brought down wages, left people unemployed, and increased poverty. Usually these went hand-in-hand, as the military benefited immensely from the economic reforms and foreign governments turned a blind eye on problems created by cronyism. The uprising in Egypt targets all of this structure.
Even though there is frequent talk of a Turkish model for these countries, the new regime in that country is a mixed blessing. It appears that Turkey, under its conservative Justice and Development Party government, has been able to bring Islam and democracy together. It is also true that military control has diminished in Turkey over the last eight years, but this has been coupled by intensified police control and concentration of power in the executive. The separation of powers has been crippled as well. Moreover, structural adjustment has become even more aggressive, dramatically bringing down wages and boosting unemployment and poverty. While the Turkish security forces have been more restrained in comparison to those of other regimes in the region, there is no question that anti-"structural adjustment" protests will not be tolerated. A recent referendum (in September 2010) was celebrated worldwide because it further weakened the Turkish military. Yet, after September, the Turkish police have become more violent against protests that call pro-free-market reforms into question.
The likeliness of the Turkish scenario in Egypt is quite questionable. The actors of the Turkish process were pro-business Islamists, conservatives, (neo)liberals and right-wing nationalists. The major players in the Egyptian protests, by contrast, are leftists, (pro-labor) Islamists, and along with them liberals and left-wing nationalists. These groups are still gathering together, despite the dictator’s downfall, and working on their demands. While the higher Brotherhood leadership called for an end to the recent strikes, the mentioned coalition has not only supported the strikes, but also demanded higher wages and a wider social safety net for all Egyptians! I dread to think what techniques bequeathed from the old regime would have to be put in use to make all these strikers and young people remain silent when faced with a Turkish-style neoliberal semi-democratic rule.
In the case of the Iranian revolution, a similar coalition of leftists, nationalists and Islamists had led to an authoritarian regime. Now, do we have to believe that the only antidote to such a dark future is the break-up of the revolutionary coalition, and an ultimate pact between the forces of the old regime and some of the more flexible Islamists and liberals? It is apparently beyond most of the media’s imagination that the leftists, liberals and Islamists could build a labor-friendly and independent democracy in Egypt.
I sometimes wonder: is it really the relatively innocent fear that Egypt will become an Islamic dictatorship (or slip back to semi-secular authoritarianism) that pushes some to point to Turkey as a model? Or is it the sinister worry that a distinctly Egyptian democracy could rock the boat in the region and possibly beyond?
Monday, 21 February 2011
Egypt's Path Could be Distinct from Turkey's and Iran's :: www.uruknet.info :: informazione dal medio oriente :: information from middle east :: [vs-1]