Rights, freedoms and the Egyptian coup

Rights, freedoms and the Egyptian coup

I was tweeting and messaging with some Turkish, Egyptian and Syrian friends late last night, with my eyes fixed on news channels trying to learn what’s going on in Egypt where the military staged a coup against a dictator in the making, Mohamed Morsi. Thanks to advances in technology, distances have ceased to exist – even if time is still an issue; it was virtually as if we were drinking coffee and exchanging opinions in my study room.

The night started with a delightful 4th of July reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone during which the U.S. envoy delivered a lecture in democracy to Turkish ministers standing just next to him. Interestingly enough, almost at the same hour in Egypt, where Ricciardone had served before, the military was completing what the anti-Muslim Brotherhood opposition and people had started at Tahrir Square in toppling the Morsi government in a, so far, bloodless coup.

Any coup, of course, is unacceptable. Yet, one has to understand the awful situation our friends in Cairo were in. Coup on one hand, and a religious fundamentalist dictator in the making in the other. Which one to choose? In Turkish we have a rather interesting saying: “It is no big deal for a bachelor to get a divorce.” One has to be in the shoes of an Egyptian intellectual to understand the pains s/he might have suffered in deciding to support or not support the coup.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was quick to declare the coup “a dirty development” and called Egyptian people to “defend” their vote “which is their honor.” This “honor” literature is quite amazing. How many girls are falling victim to honor crimes every year in Turkey? Is saving a family’s honor by killing a girl who opposed being sold to a 70-year-old man comprehensible in modern societies?

So far it appeared that the Ikhwan or the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt has preferred not to engage in an armed confrontation with the military, an action which might be very costly and bloody. Yet, it might adopt a civilian disobedience campaign and trigger a low-intensity violent campaign to wear out the patience and prestige of the new pharaohs of Cairo.

Ricciardone was stressing that 237 years on, Americans still celebrate freedoms and rededicate themselves to the eternal defense of liberty. In a speech decorated with quotations from J.F. Kennedy and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, he said, “237 years after we declared our independence as a Republic, we still celebrate our independence of thought, by confronting and testing new ideas – no matter how provocative, or critical of the status quo.”

To members of a government that in order to quell Gezi Park and related protests horrendously used tear gas, killed at least five people and caused a partial loss of sight in at least 18 people, the U.S. envoy had a message: “Today the citizens of Turkey are also debating – passionately – which ideas, philosophies, and values should prevail in their own marketplace of thought... While you debate the most sensitive questions of these times, the United States stands by the Republic of Turkey and her democracy, and we reaffirm our support for all Turkish citizens’ freedom of expression and of peaceful public assembly. No modern democracy can thrive without free, energetic, and independent-minded mass media, and now, the new social media. I salute the courage and professionalism of Turkey’s best journalists.”

July 3 night will be a landmark for Middle East and perhaps global politics. Egypt was saved from a dictator. The Turkish one in the making was scared by the development. But as is said, fear is no remedy to death… What will be the impacts on the neighborhood, on Turkey?