Turkey’s stance on Egypt coup ‘shows its democratic maturity’

Turkey’s stance on Egypt coup ‘shows its democratic maturity’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey’s stance on Egypt coup ‘shows its democratic maturity’

Mensur Akgün (R), the director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT), speaks to Barçın Yinanç of the Hürriyet Daily News about the recent developments in Egypt and Turkey’s reaction to the events. DAILY NEWS photo, Hasan ALTINIŞIK

All political parties in the Turkish Parliament have issued a joint statement condemning the military coup in Egypt, which demonstrates the country’s democratic maturity, according to an expert on the Middle East. The debate as to whether what happened was really a coup or not stemmed from the existence of some in Turkey who have expectations for a similar event, but they are only a minority, says Professor Mensur Akgün from Istanbul’s Kültür University.

Was what happened in Egypt a coup or not?

No doubt it was a coup. It took place not on Wednesday, but on Monday when the army issued an ultimatum.

If it is so obvious, why has there been a discussion as to whether or not it was a coup?

In Turkey, fortunately, the political parties have not shown any doubt about it. They said unequivocally that it was a coup, and this is very important. They all say that if something similar happened in Turkey, we couldn’t tolerate it. Turkish politics are united against the toppling of democratic regimes by military means. This shows the maturity of Turkish democracy. Some in Turkey have the expectation that the army could make a similar intervention, which is why we had a debate about it in Turkey. It is normal that there could be some who might feel like this, but they are in minority.

This certainly must be an atypical coup, as millions were on the streets in Egypt celebrating it?

No, actually it is a typical coup. An ultimatum was issued by the army, support was given to the opposition in the street while no similar support was shown for the government. You could feel the weight of the military tutelage regime. This is a country ruled by a military regime since 1952. It is not only about the Muslim Brotherhood; if another political party had acted outside the margins determined by the military it would have faced the same end.

The debate about the coup was also valid in the international community, due to the fact that some in Egypt supported the coup.

All coups receive support from society. Armies don’t stage coups without the support of society; armies create the support in society. The world’s reaction was very hypocritical. Many that bless democracy can’t name it; they see it as an overthrow by a people’s movement, otherwise they would have to implement sanctions such as suspending military aid. But that would have consequences like distancing Egypt from the West and destabilizing the Camp David order [the peace deal between Egypt and Israel]. They chose the cheap way in order to avoid bearing the consequences, and refrained from recognizing it as a coup. U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement is a typical one, he told the soldiers between the lines: “I like the appointment of the head of the Constitutional Court, don’t remain in the front line, rule the country behind the scenes.” This is very disturbing. The same is valid for the European Union. The EU loses its own credibility when it turns a blind eye to the coup.

But how did we come to this stage? Isn’t the Muslim Brotherhood to be blamed as well?

Of course they made mistakes as well. But we have to be very careful here, I am not talking about a cause and effect relationship. It is not as if the coup would not have happened if the Brotherhood had not made mistakes. That type of cause and effect relationship ends up legitimizing the coup. I am talking about mistakes that prepared the ground for a coup. The coup could have taken place, perhaps even if they had not committed those mistakes.

The Brotherhood is blamed for not improving the economy, but it was impossible for the Egyptian economy to be improved in one year. They are blamed for not consolidating democracy, but we are talking about a country that has been under autocratic rule. You can’t expect democracy to flourish in country that has not previously had democratic experience.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s mistake was the rhetoric it used, which was not inclusive but exclusive. Another mistake was their wish to take hold of the whole state and take everything under control. A movement that has waited for 83 years should have waited to consolidate its power first. But their biggest mistake was made on Monday; the day the army issued the ultimatum. They did not see it as coup, assuming they could negotiate with the army. Had Mohamed Morsi said, “I am not accepting this. I am resigning and going to early elections,” his legacy and Egyptian democracy could have been saved to a certain degree.

What do you think about Turkey’s reaction?

The statement of the Foreign Ministry, as well as that of the foreign minister, was very balanced. It did not make an account of the past. It condemned a military coup, but accepted the de facto situation. It said Turkey’s support to the Egyptian people would continue, which means there would be neither embargo nor sanctions. It stated two demands: There should be a return to democracy and there should not be revenge.

I was a little bit concerned by the earlier tweet of Hüseyin Çelik [deputy chair and spokesperson of the Justice and Development Party, AKP]. It was too emotional, and I had the impression that the AKP’s members associated themselves too much with the Muslim Brotherhood. But my initial concerns were not justified. The prime minister’s statement reflected the balanced official line as well. There is a support to a principle, to democracy, not to a party or a leader.

But apart from the official line, what must the AKP members be feeling?

Obviously, they look with sympathy [to the Muslim Brotherhood]. All similar movements were inspired by the AKP’s experience in Turkey. They like the idea that the Arab world was trying to change following the Turkish model. Therefore, there is resentment. But this resentment needs to be controlled. I can understand that [resentment], but the new regime in Egypt might not. We need to be careful with the reaction in view of our relations with Egypt. In addition, look at the reaction coming from the region. The Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar have all blessed the regime change. If we take an emotional reaction about Egypt we would alienate others in the region. There is no need for that. We need to engage.

What will the consequences be for the Arab Spring?

The Arab Spring has gone backward. If that was about the abolition of Middle Eastern exceptionalism - that democracy can’t exist in this region - then this experience is over and it has been postponed for a long time. We went back to the past, to the times of military tutelage. We have the same picture from the past; religious leaders have sided either by force or consent alongside the military. Why has there been enthusiastic support from the region, from Saudi Arabia, from the Gulf countries? Because they were fearing the spillover effect of the Arab Spring. They are all now relieved. The intellectual mobilizing force of the revolution has been finished. There could be something looking like democracy, but the system will be autocratic. The whole region will be ruled by authoritarianism. This will not be limited to Egypt; it will spread to the whole region in waves.

Who is Mensur Akgün?


Mensur Akgün is the Director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution under the auspices of Istanbul Kültür University in Turkey, where he holds the position of chair of the Department of International Relations. From 2002 to 2009 he served as director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), to which he is still an adviser. Previously a columnist at daily Referans, Akgün currently writes for daily Star. He received his bachelor’s degree, first from the Middle Eastern Technical University and second from Oslo University, in the fields of International Relations and Social Anthropology respectively. He completed his master’s degree in Political Science at Oslo University and his doctoral studies at Boğaziçi University.