SEMİH İDİZ > Egypt as a model for Turkey?


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Turkey was supposed to be a model for Egypt, but the picture is being reversed. Egypt, currently in the grips of an Islamist government, is turning out to be the model for Turkey. How so, one may ask? It has to do with the new Constitution that is being drafted for Turkey by the government, as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dreams of becoming Turkey’s first executive president endowed with extraordinary powers.

In other words, we have a prime minister who wants to go the way of President Mohammed Morsi. The similarities are uncanny too. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, in cooperation with the Egyptian Salafis, hurriedly penned a new Constitution for the country and submitted it to a lightning-quick referendum, and a crude majority accepted it.

But democracy is not about crude majorities when the matter in hand is a Constitution, which by definition, has to reach out to every segment of society to be considered genuinely democratic. The current turmoil in Egypt – where the object of vilification for many is no longer deposed president Hosni Mubarak, but “elected” President Mohammed Morsi – speaks for itself in this regard.

Erdoğan has spelled it out plainly. What he is basically saying is, “Listen folks, whether you like it or not, this draft Constitution will be accepted, and I will be president accordingly.” Meanwhile, the deputy head of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), Bekir Bozdağ, is on record saying they are “adamant about a presidential system for Turkey.”

The system that Erdoğan and Bozdağ are talking about is one where the president is free of any parliamentary or judicial system of checks and balances. Their argument in defense of this, on the other hand, is a highly simplistic one.

“To serve the people, we need to overcome debilitating parliamentary bickering.” This is what they are getting at. That “bickering,” however, is part of the democratic process in any true democracy. To hide behind the argument of wanting to serve the people in an unencumbered fashion is something that less then democratic leaders have traditionally done.

Put another way, what Erdoğan wants points to a dictatorship, albeit under another guise. He will no doubt deny this, and his supporters will undoubtedly argue that Erdoğan is a benign politician who is above dictatorial tendencies. But who is to guarantee this?

Especially when we already see ideologically driven interference by the AKP government in lifestyle issues, cultural events, and education that are hard to swallow for modern and secular elements of Turkish society.
Even if Erdoğan is a “benign” figure, despite his abrasive and vitriolic approach toward his political critics and rivals – which in fact reveals an innate tendency for authoritarianism – what guarantee is there that he will remain that way, or that his successor will be so, too?

There are indications now of growing cooperation between the AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) whose support Erdoğan may get in Parliament for his draft Constitution and the necessary referendum. The notion is that if the BDP gets what it wants in terms of Kurdish rights from the current negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), then it will support the AKP.

If that is indeed the case, it will not only be ironic but will also force one to question the democratic credentials of the BDP. Especially if it endorses a draft Constitution which aims to introduce a system of government that is less than democratic, in return for what it believes will be political gains for the Kurds.

In that event, the Kurds may believe they have gained something in terms of their ethnic demands. But as citizens of a unified Turkey – regardless of how that “unity” is defined in the Constitution – which aspires to be genuinely democratic, they stand to lose like everyone else if we end up with a “constitutional dictatorship,” similar to the one developing in Egypt.


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Faruk Timuroglu

2/19/2013 11:13:28 PM

Perfect analysis Mr. Idiz. RTE more and more resembles the last Sultan who gave up the interests of his subject to keep his throne in Istanbul. RTE feels being descended from the dynasty.

Zlatan Zinho

2/19/2013 6:24:15 PM

This article ignores one several key facts. First, Erdogan has not even managed to convince his own AKP of the merits of a presidential system: Abdullah Gul for one is against the switch. Second, Bekir Bozdag said that the AKP are willing to jettison the idea of a presidential system if there is no parliamentary consensus. And third, Erdogan is a populist who hates to lose at the ballot box.

andrea dealmagro

2/19/2013 4:59:11 PM

I wish Turkey the best.

mara mcglothin

2/19/2013 3:40:47 PM

Spot on RIMON

David Cuthell

2/19/2013 2:46:56 PM

This article finally hits the bullseye dead center! I sincerely hope Turkish citizens read this and wake up. At the same time, it is probably too late. It should also be noted that Erdogan has been calling the shots for over a decade and that Lord Acton's law about power still applies. I would also add that Putin serves as a model.

Rimon Tree

2/19/2013 10:23:52 AM

Very good comment and very much to the facts! Indeed Erdogan is eyeing Egypt's model and the majority of the Turkish people is still not educated enough to be able to free themselves from the yoke of religion and dictatorship which goes with it in States where there is no strict separation between faith and public affairs including Law and still fall to PM's popularism. I have little hope for Turkey and I pity the few Liberals which will have to pay dearly for their freedom aspirations.

Vargen Vargen

2/19/2013 10:12:39 AM

More and uncontrolled power to Erdogan (who is becoming more totalitarian) at the same time as we are drifiting away from EU (which as served as an outside control mechanism) does not feel good at all. I get the feeling we are heading towards something which will be more totalitarian (as oposed to democratic), less basic rights, more conservative and more influence from Islam.

frank reynolds

2/19/2013 6:26:43 AM

Why is it necessary to write articles like this? Nothing that the AKP have done since assuming power suggests that they want to broaden notions of democracy -Turish, Islamic or any colour you choose. Erdoğan will sit himself in Çankaya but the jabbering journalistic classes shoud have seen this coming years ago. You've nobody to blame but yourselves.

Coskan U

2/19/2013 5:46:16 AM

Excellent points. However, I remember reading a couple of months ago that Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered an investigation into opposition leaders alleging that they planned to overthrow the Islamist regime of Morsi. So the AKP government has in fact been a great model for the Islamist Morsi.

Hasan Kutlay

2/19/2013 2:33:50 AM

I can see what the future will be when Erdogan becomes a powerful president under a more liberal-democratic consttution: the people opposing Erdogan will use their new freedom (of speech, assembly, demonstrations, etc...), Erdogan (and his party) will turn back that freedom becoz they don't ike opposition. Result: ppl thought they would have a powerful president with liberal-democracy, but they will end up with only a powerful president with no liberal-democracy. Ppl will be cheated.
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