Don’t let Egypt become Syria
It was reported last week that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused the meeting request of Mohamed El Baradei, Egypt’s prominent opposition leader who defended the military takeover in Egypt and was named vice president in the interim government. Erdoğan had recently also stated that he considers Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by the military, still as “his president in Egypt”. What happened in Egypt was a coup. Full stop. Morsi’s overthrow is anti-democratic. Full stop. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) should be reintegrated. Full stop. And democracy proved El Baradei irrelevant. Full stop. Yet, none of these change the grim facts on the ground.
First of all, Morsi’s reinstatement is highly impossible and also not desirable even for many circles in the MB itself. It is not only that the international community seems to have accepted the new reality in Egypt. There would also be huge resistance from the military, the police, much of the judiciary and the state bureaucracy if Morsi tried to strike back. No need to mention the public uprisings it would trigger. Moreover, Turkey should avoid over-engagement not only with Morsi, but with any side in the country. By cutting all bilateral ties with the actors other than the MB, Turkey does waste the opportunity to use its leverage in Egypt, just like it did in Syria. Turkey needs to adjust itself to the new Egyptian dynamics and maintain dialogue with all sides. This would not only remove the misperception about Turkey’s sectarian-based approach, but also the possibility of turning the turmoil into a bilateral conflict. Hence it is vital that President Abdullah Gül told the Egyptian ambassador that “all of Egypt” is important for Turkey, apparently referring to the widespread belief that Turkey is only backing the MB.
This would not be a devastating blow to Turkey’s democratic stance at all. Actually quite the opposite. Having dialogue with all sides would provide Ankara with the ability to use its soft power capacity as to promote democratic values and play a “constructive leadership” role. Ankara’s choice is not between supporting the military or the MB, between taking a pro-regime stance or a confrontational attitude. Rather, there is a gray role out there waiting to be picked up by Turkey. It should take the mediator role by initiating, endorsing and leading dialogue between the conflicting sides. That President Gül offered the Egyptian ambassador a plan envisioning political transition to elected civilian rule in eight months, is an excellent example of this unique role.
The four main forces in Egypt other than the MB are the military, the state apparatus, including the former regime’s supporters, the Salafists and the revolutionary and democratic forces. And it is true that none of these forces have either the will or the ability to be Turkey’s strategic ally in the same way the MB was. Yet, the Turkish government could still revise its ties and develop a cooperative relationship with the future ruling coalition. At the same time it could continue to denounce the military coup and advocate the reintegration of the MB.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” according to Albert Einstein. Don’t let Egypt become Syria for Turkish foreign policy.