By Sinem Tezyapar
Absence of democratic culture
When Morsi came to power, it was at a time when a long-term dictatorship had just ended; there existed in Egypt no democratic constitution, no democratic culture and no democratic experience whatsoever. Even for countries where democracy is well-rooted, when a new government is formed, it is quite difficult to expect them to make the necessary changes immediately and meet the expectations of one and all. This was the very first attempt for a transition to a democratic political order. Undoubtedly no transition to democracy comes without difficulty so it requires forbearance, resoluteness and collective will. So patience and solidarity was what Egyptians needed, and it still is.
We can talk about ideals like a capable government functioning with a democratic constitution, respectful and heedful of all opinions, and providing the people the ability to be critical without facing coercive pressure, reflecting the will of all Egyptians and providing full rights to minorities, maintaining power through consent and so on. But is it possible to realistically expect from anyone who comes to power in Egypt the ability to accomplish a perfect job? And who is to decide if an elected government is anti-democratic, half-democratic or not? And when? Does anyone have any right to act pre-emptively? Not addressing these questions may well lead to serious instability in Egypt, and could easily pave the way for an authoritarian strongman in the mould of Augusto Pinochet or Francisco Franco. Thus no matter how pressing the problems, a coup d’etat is simply not the answer in a democratic nation.
Turkey is still the model for Egypt
Just like Egypt, the military was a powerful political player in Turkey and had been the most trustworthy institution, and their engagement had always found support among many, so the 3 July coup in Egypt is a familiar scene for the Turks. Seeing how similar the rhetoric is, it felt as if Chief of Staff Kenan Evren’s speech was echoing in Egypt: ‘We want to prevent a civil war, and we are only interfering to stop clashes between the left and the right.’
Turkey suffered for a long time by having two heads, civilian and military, in the legal system but has opened the way in firmly establishing civilian jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel since 2009. And now Turkey is about to make another step towards democratisation: The Turkish government only a week ago proposed a set of changes to the constitution to eliminate the possibility of the military getting involved in domestic affairs; in other words the threat of a future junta. Since 1934 the Turkish military was responsible for “protecting” the Turkish Republic from threats within and abroad. If the change in Article 35 is approved, the military’s responsibility will be limited strictly to threats from abroad.
Considering four coups since 1950 and what the last bloody 1980 coup had brought (650,000 arrests, 50 executions, 171 deaths by torture, tens of thousands of citizens forced to flee abroad,) Turks have had enough. However, democratisation has neither been an easy nor a quick process but it definitely needed uncompromising resoluteness.
Since divisive language has become dominant, the demonising of the “other” side has become commonplace and since trust has been lost between the political camps in Egypt, a third party—like Turkey—can indeed play a role to facilitate reconciliation. It is not just about Turkey’s experience with coups and democratisation efforts but it is about how an Islamic-based party can have a place as a three-time elected government within the democratic arena. Yes, there are serious demands from the Turkish government for a more inclusive style where everyone feels free to express their demands, and they certainly have their critics and so on; and all of this will hopefully progress. Yet despite the recent protests against the AKP government, the model in Turkey can still be a stepping stone for Muslim majority countries like Egypt. However, since Egypt is going through a historic reform from a dictatorship to democracy, this should be done with a broad-based consultation system made up of all parties, including and reflecting all points of view. Obviously there has to be a compromise from all sides for the sake of harmony and unity of Egypt.
Burning the bridges with Muslims?
The Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest and most influential Islamic movement, had a historic moment in entering into the democratic process after a long history of repression. The ongoing crackdown against the Brotherhood, just like in the old days, obviously will have its repercussions both in the streets of Egypt as well as in other Islamic countries. I think people of reason acknowledge the fact that if the discrimination continues, it will only increase the anger of people in the streets, causing them to lose their hope of being represented in the democratic system and it will only arouse more anti-Western feelings, more hatred for Israel and more violence. The various politically motivated Islamic groups would take the message that there is no other way but radicalism; therefore, no one will benefit from sidelining the Brotherhood, and since the military junta will, in all likelihood, not be able to bring solutions to Egyptian’s real problems, the poverty and disorder will continue to increase. Although the criticism that a proper understanding of democratic norms is not dominant among the Brotherhood is true, there was still an attempt to make peace with democracy. Thus to avoid some of the undesirable profound consequences for the future, I urge the Freedom and Justice Party to stay involved in the political process and that the interim Egyptian government sees to it that all of their democratic rights, including winning, are ensured.
Lessons for the Brotherhood
The Brotherhood and its political branch, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), however, have many lessons to learn and they indeed have to change themselves a lot. The failure of President Mohamed Morsi was in neglecting very crucial values that have been ignored by almost the whole Muslim world as well. What we have seen in general was a dead, corrupt, bigoted system being espoused and imposed. However their new goal should be to emphasise the importance of modern, extroverted, loving people and embracing a style that advocates art and science. People are invariably happier with cleanliness, with art, with green spaces, and they seek out music, sculpture, painting, aesthetic architecture and beauty.
Now that this unwanted scenario has happened, the leaders of the Brotherhood should be pioneers for a reform towards a modern understanding of Islam and take a stance against bigotry. They should embrace Jews and Christians in front of cameras; in their speeches they should embrace all people from all walks of life including communists, atheists, etc. They should express the beauties of freedoms, and provide a comfortable atmosphere even for the most vocal critics.
Another crucial emphasis should be for the rights and freedoms of women. They should show their love and respect for women, and bring them to the front, regardless of their style of dress. They should embrace a secular model, as in Turkey, accepting all as equal and first class citizens, and providing religious freedom for all. The Brotherhood being in close coordination with Turkey would be an advantageous way for them to make fast progress.
Finally, the Brotherhood should embrace a policy that will comfort the Israelis and the ones who hold it dear to themselves and they should scrupulously avoid things that could raise tensions. They have to end the anti-Israel rhetoric and show their compassion for Jews and Christians, as a requirement of their belief as well. In point of simple fact, they should not be enemies with anyone, not even with their opponents: This is essential to silence the guns, and to end the division even if it is a one-sided effort. From now on they should focus on solutions.
I am aware that this is far from what the Brotherhood stands for at the moment, but there could be significant developments through intense educational programs via television and social programs designed to change the fanatical mindset in its administration and social structure, and replace it with a far more inclusive approach.
Sinem Tezyapar is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV network. Follow her on @SinemTezyapar.