An Orwellian nightmare
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has little love lost for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who he sees as a dictator that ousted the country’s democratically elected president in a military coup, and went on to stage-manage an election to give himself the appearance of being a democratic leader. Erdoğan is right, of course, because that is exactly what el-Sisi did.
El-Sisi can also be expected to stage-manage the two-tier parliamentary elections to be held in October and November. It is unlikely that anyone who is remotely suspected of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, will be allowed to contest these elections. It is equally unlikely that liberals who are scathing about el-Sisi’s rule will be allowed to do so also.
But Erdoğan has more in common with el-Sisi than he would like to accept. For one thing, like el-Sisi, he is no great lover and respecter of democracy, and all of its essential trappings, starting with a free press and freedom of expression. It is very unlikely that Erdoğan would have been so concerned about the fate of democracy in Egypt had it not been his close friend, Islamist former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by el-Sisi.
What Erdoğan is defending in Egypt is not democracy but political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, which he wants to see come to power across the Middle East. He did not have much criticism, for example, when Morsi was undermining democracy before he was ousted, granting himself extraordinary powers that even Hosni Mubarak did not have, and fashioning an Islamist constitution at the expense of secular liberals and Coptic Christians.
The similarity between Erdoğan’s Turkey and el-Sisi’s Egypt is all the more glaring these days as the two countries use similar methods and arguments to hound reporters they consider to be unfriendly toward the government or who threaten to reveal truths that are uncomfortable for the government.
An Egyptian court, clearly acting according to el-Sisi’s desires, sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists recently – Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian, and Peter Greste, an Australian – to three years in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization.” The charges were universally criticized for being “trumped up.”
If Erdoğan was the true democrat he claims to be, he would also have joined in the chorus of international condemnation over the trial. Even as a non-democrat, he would not have wasted an opportunity under normal circumstances to hit at el-Sisi, who he has made one of his regional arch enemies. But he can’t do this because he is doing much the same as el-Sisi.
The arrest of two reporters from VICE News and the raid on the media outlets of the Koza İpek Holding company on what many consider to be flimsy “terrorism” charges are a case in point. The Koza Group is being accused of supporting the Islamist Gülen movement, which Erdoğan was so close to in the past even though he calls it a terrorist organization today, for allegedly trying to topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
VICE News correspondent Jake Harahan, his cameraman, Philip Pendlebury – both of whom are British – and their fixer are also being charged with aiding a terrorist organization, although in a farcical way, the authorities could not decide initially whether to charge them for aiding the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). They settled for the latter in the end.
All of this has the makings of an Orwellian nightmare which is encouraged by Erdoğan in the name of protecting and preserving democracy, which, in fact, means no more than protecting and preserving his own political position. What is not clear, however, is how Erdoğan can continue to blast at Egypt when he is doing much the same as el-Sisi. Clearly he takes a significant portion of the population to be made up of fools.
We will see in November if this is indeed the case.