Egypt and Turkey

Egypt and Turkey

There is a difference between Turkey and Egypt. To start off with no one can imagine the kind of gay pride parade that we had in Istanbul over the weekend taking place in Cairo, or anywhere else in the Islamic world, for that matter. This is clearly what makes Turkey unique.

On the other hand there are similarities between Egypt and Turkey that cannot be overlooked. Both countries have elected Islamist governments. In both cases the governments in power are trying to impose their Islamic world views on secular sections of society. Of course the immediate argument that Islamists resort to in this case is that both governments are democratically elected, which is true.

But as President Abdullah Gül said during the height of the Gezi Park demonstrations, democracy is not just about elections. Neither is it true, as some in the Islamist camp argue, that democracy cannot spawn dictatorship. Those who maintain this should read some European history.

Both Turkey and Egypt are proving the vital importance of another thing President Gül stressed to the Egyptians some time ago; namely secularism. Of course Prime Minister Erdoğan also stressed this to the Egyptians but he did not stand behind his words after Salafists in that country were angered by his remarks.

But there is no other way to secure stability in countries such as Turkey and Egypt that are marked by religious and social diversity. The state has to remain above religion and equidistant to all faiths. The mass demonstrations in both countries that we see today show that if there is religious imposition the street will get animated, especially in countries where there is an educated and increasingly aware youth.

At the end of the day it is all about proper democratic governance. The growing crisis in Egypt and the continuing expressions of dissatisfaction by different social strata in Turkey clearly indicate that we lack such governance. Both Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Morsi believe that having numbers on their side is sufficient for them to do as they please. This is obviously a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately for Turkey it has a certain democratic experience, resulting from “the school of hard knocks,” and a vibrant and growing economy, as well as a young and dynamic population. Egypt, however, is not there yet. Yet the government appears bent on killing the few geese that lay golden eggs for that country in order to pursue its Islamist ideals.

There is no such tradeoff in the modern world, however, unless societies are prepared to move backwards under reactionary governments and ultimately pay the cost for this. The masses that have taken to the streets in that country show that a large segment of society is not prepared to just stand by idly.

Neither will it help the situation for Morsi to follow in Erdoğan’s footsteps and accuse outside forces or sympathizers of the ancient regime for the trouble in the country. It appears that for Morsi democracy is a “train,” as Erdoğan once put it, which he intends to get off once he reaches his destination. Sad to say for him, though, the destination that exists in his imagination does not exist in reality.

What does exist potentially is serious and violent domestic turmoil if he insists on continuing down the course that he has embarked on. Developments in Egypt also sound a warning for Turkey pointing to what we can expect if the government insists on disregarding 50 percent of the population that did not vote for it.

Meanwhile it is also questionable the extent to which Erdoğan can rely on the 50 percent that did vote for him at this stage. He must realize that not everyone voted for him on the basis of his Islamist credentials. Many people voted for him for the sake of the economic and political stability he promised. The picture for him will obviously change if he becomes the source of economic and political instability. That is the nature of true democracy.