Egypt’s generals eye Turkish model

Jun 27, 2012, 8:33 PM

Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) – Now that Egypt has its first freely elected president, Egypt’s powerful generals appear headed toward copying the Turkish model from decades past _ retaining overwhelming powers while allowing a civilian regime complete with the trappings of democracy to emerge.

It is not the model that many in today’s Turkey boast about, but rather one dating back to the 1980s and 1990s when civilians ran Turkey’s day-to-day affairs under the watchful eyes of the military.

Egypt’s ruling generals went for a power grab even before the winner of a June 16-17 presidential runoff _ Mohammed Morsi of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood _ was announced on Sunday.

The two sides are now thought to be negotiating a power-sharing deal behind closed doors. The military currently retains full legislative powers, controls the process of drafting a new and permanent constitution and has the final say on foreign policy and security.

The seeds for such an arrangement were planted soon after longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011, when Egypt’s generals ordered an Arabic translation of Turkey’s 1982 constitution, according to Middle East expert Steven Cook of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. The document empowered Turkey’s military to police the political arena.

Wahid Abdel-Maguid, a political insider who has been a key player during Egypt’s transition, agrees that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and other generals on the ruling military council are seeking to replicate the Turkish model.

“The generals mainly want a unique status in the constitution, to be independent from the executive authority and even stronger than it,” Abdel-Maguid said. The military “will be the one steering the country’s policy in the future directly or indirectly.”

The Turkish military of the 1980s and 1990s sought domination to protect the secular nature of the state. Although Egypt was never as secular as Turkey, the Egyptian generals similarly seem largely motivated by their desire to prevent the Islamic Brotherhood from gaining a monopoly on power.

But Turkey has changed over the past decade. The military’s political clout has largely been broken by a government led by moderate Islamists with a strong electoral mandate and a public commitment to secular politics.

“Model might not be a suitable word. But Turkey can be an aspiration point for Arab countries,” said Kamer Kasim, vice president of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization. “Turkey has a large Muslim population. It is secular and it has been experiencing democracy for a long time. I think Arab countries can take great lessons from Turkey’s bad experiences” _ such as a string of military coups over the decades.

The Egyptian military’s quest for ultimate power is understandable given its role as the de facto ruler of the country since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago. All four presidents since then had military backgrounds. More recently, the military has built a vast economic empire that accounts for more than a quarter of Egypt’s gross domestic product, according to some estimates.

Besides the powers it grabbed just as the polls closed on the second day of presidential runoff voting, the military has created a council that will serve as the nation’s top executive body on defense and foreign policies.

The president and prime minister will serve on the council but will be outnumbered by army generals, with decisions adopted by majority vote.

Armed with a court ruling, the military this month dissolved a freely elected legislature dominated by the Brotherhood.

Details of what is being discussed behind closed doors between the Brotherhood and the military are sketchy, but analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies believes the conflict between the two sides will continue.

“They will reach an understanding that will be shaky, and the struggle will linger since their interests clash and there is little common ground between them,” he said.

Signs of that accommodation, even if temporary, were evident in an address by Morsi after his win was announced, lavishly praising the armed forces for its role since the ouster of Mubarak 16 months ago.

Of course, an evolution for Egypt into something more along the lines of today’s Turkey is hardly guaranteed.

Oytun Orhan, an expert at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara, said Christians and other minorities in Egypt are concerned about the rise of Islamists and might be more open to a military role in politics as an undesirable but necessary counterpoint.

“Islamists shouldn’t use democracy as a tool,” he said. “Islamists must inspire confidence in all parts of society. Otherwise, there won’t be any stability in Arab Spring countries.”

By most accounts, Turkey is a success story, at least in terms relative to the Middle East region. As a NATO ally, it has leverage in the West. It resembles a beacon of prosperity and democratic politics to Muslims in countries emerging from authoritarian rule like Egypt, or still in its bloody grip like Syria.

This idea has both potential and limitations, just as Turkish leaders have calibrated the idea that they have a central role in the history unfolding on their doorstep.

Their ambivalence reflects Turkey’s close historical and cultural links to the Middle East and North Africa, much of which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire in past centuries, and an awareness of the sensitivities of populations that want to carve their own destinies without a foreign patron whose prescriptions won’t work in every case.

Turkey hosts Syrian opposition groups, and therefore has some measure of direct influence over figures who might eventually assume the Syrian leadership if President Bashar Assad cedes power or is ousted. Those groups have struggled to coalesce, despite encouragement from Turkey and its Western and Arab allies to form a viable alternative to Assad, raising fears of a protracted period of instability in Syria.

In a recent interview with the Cairo Review, a policy journal of the American University in Cairo, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said every country has its own “unique characteristics,” but noted that Turkey had proven the compatibility between democracy and secularism in a predominantly Muslim society and could therefore inspire countries in transition, including Egypt.

“We do not want to present ourselves, nor to be seen, as a role model,” he said in the interview. “It took years of democratic experimentation for Turkey to arrive at the current stage. … If needed, Turkey remains ready to share her own democratic experience with all interested countries.”

But for Egypt to aspire to a political system similar to that of today’s Turkey _ a military restricted to the defense of the nation and a government enjoying a strong popular base _ Morsi’s Brotherhood must give up its longtime dream of imposing Islamic Shariah laws on the country and instead strike a moderate course.

“Morsi has to assuage the anxieties of large sectors of Egyptians who fear the Islamists,” said Abdel-Maguid. “Only then can they confront the military.”

___

Torchia reported from Istanabul. Associated Press writer Emrah Betos contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

(Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES)...
Associated Press

Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81.
1 month ago
FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first Cabinet meeting flanked by his ...
Associated Press

Rishi Sunak: UK’s ex-Treasury chief gets his shot at PM job

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Then he got another shot — and the chance to say “I told you so.” The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss […]
3 months ago
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss addresses the media in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Oct. ...
Associated Press

Truss quits, but UK’s political and economic turmoil persist

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss quit Thursday after a tumultuous and historically brief term marred by economic policies that roiled financial markets and a rebellion in her political party that obliterated her authority. After just 45 days in office, Truss became the third Conservative prime minister to be toppled in as many […]
3 months ago
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 1...
Associated Press

Russia unleashes biggest attacks in Ukraine in months

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia retaliated Monday for an attack on a critical bridge by unleashing its most widespread strikes against Ukraine in months, a lethal barrage that smashed civilian targets, knocked out power and water, shattered buildings and killed at least 14 people. Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the […]
4 months ago
This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, upper rig...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid for defense test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.
4 months ago
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Egypt’s generals eye Turkish model