Will Turkey’s soft revolution become a model for Egypt?

When the unwavering Egyptian revolutionaries made their historic stance in Tahrir Square, perhaps the most heartening message they received was from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During a meeting with his party members in the Turkish Parliament on February 1, Erdogan openly urged Mubarak “to listen to the wishes of the people in order to create security and stability” in the country. He went on: “First you must take steps that are good for Egypt. You must take steps that satisfy the people,” implying that in accordance with the demands of the people, Mubarak should resign at once.

Then Erdogan gave him good advice that Mubarak had failed to follow during the 30 years of his brutal rule. “I want to offer a very sincere piece of advice for Hosni Mubarak: we are ephemeral; each of us will die one day and only be remembered in this world by what we have left behind. The longest lasting thing we can leave behind would be our good deeds… Our greatest wish in Egypt and Tunisia is that reforms will be implemented as soon as possible, but also that peace and security will be established.” The speech was a very risky move by a politician that could create a breach in relations between the two countries and even with other tyrannical Arabian regimes that are facing a threat of popular revolt. But similar to his earlier foreign policy remarks, Erdogan’s skill for empathizing with his people is un-matched. His was a genuine expression of the feelings of the Turkish public.

For some Western commentators Erdogan’s speech was the most forceful and meaningful statement made in support of the popular uprising. Delphine Strauss of the Financial Times averred that the speech was “the most remarkable intervention on the Egyptian crisis yet heard from a leader of a Muslim nation” at the time. The Egyptian Embassy in Ankara must have also realized this at the time and thus reacted swiftly and harshly against Erdogan’s sincere remarks. The Egyptian ambassador appeared on some Turkish TV channels to express the crumbling regime’s anger against Erdogan’s comments, and went so far as to indirectly threaten Turkey’s economic interests. Thanks to Egypt’s Zionist supporters in some segments of the Turkish media, vicious criticism was directed at Erdogan for not being “prudent” and “endangering” Turkey’s national interests in the region. However, these voices did not echo the sentiment of the Turkish public that felt great sympathy for their long-suffering brothers and sisters in Egypt.

Erdogan’s remarks also sparked debate in Egypt as well as elsewhere. The debate was about Turkey being a role model for post-revolutionary Egypt. The connection between the two was made due to their similar experience: Turkey’s AKP, under the leadership of Erdogan, successfully dismantled a totalitarian regime. During its eight-year rule, the AKP has treaded a soft and gradual path toward revolution against a regime that was fully backed and supported by the military.

In this regard, in an interview given to Turkish daily newspaper Zaman at Tahrir Square on February 2, Dr. Camal Nassar, one of the spokespersons of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), remarked: “We don’t want an Islamic regime, we want a democratic regime. In this regard we consider Turkey as a role model for us but of course Egypt is different from Turkey and we need to take differences into consideration.”

Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of MB, Hasan al-Banna, in his article entitled Democratic Turkey is the Template for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood also pointed out the significance of Turkey as a role model in the post-revolution era of Egypt:

“But the leadership of the movement [MB] –” those who belong to the founding generation are now very old –” no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example.”

Ramadan also highlighted the pitfalls that seem to cast uncertainty for the MB’s future stance: “Behind the unified, hierarchical facade, contradictory influences are at work. No one can tell which way the movement will go,” referring to the influence of the Salafi ideology on the old generation of the movement. However, overall he was firm that Turkey is standing as a good model for Egypt.

On the other hand, renowned Egyptian journalist Fehmi Huwaydi took a critical position and opposed the idea that there are similarities between the two countries. In an interview given to daily Zaman newspaper, he compared the armies of the two countries: “In Turkey the army is intimately involved in politics but in Egypt this is not the case.” He was certain that the Egyptian army “will honour democratic principles and relinquish its powers to a civilian rule… The army is the only institution which did not involve in corruption and torture.” Regarding the comments of the Turkish prime minister, Huwaydi argued that “those remarks did not have a great influence on the demonstrators. The Egyptian people were busy with toppling Mubarak, thus they did not pay any attention to the comments coming from the outside.” Finally, Huwaydi harshly rebuked the suggestion that Turkey may be a role model for Egypt or other Arabian countries. He said “no country would be a model for another; Turkey has its own unique circumstances, but we may make use of some of its experiences.”

One may agree with Huwaydi’s remarks about the positions of the armies in both revolutions. While the Egyptian revolutionaries were celebrating the fall of the most notorious dictator of modern times with the intervention of the army and praising the army for its support, Turkish courts were busy with processing indictments of 163 high-ranking army officials who had planned and initiated a number of military coups against Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP. There are now more than 30 generals in Hasdal Military Prison in Istanbul.

The Turkish army had presented itself as a loyal supporter of the regime and thus did not shy away from intervening four times in the democratic system of the county to reinstate the regime’s “power”. However, thanks to Erdogan’s prudent and strong-minded statesmanship and popular support from the public, the army failed to realize a similar coup despite several attempts, and finally they are being brought to the point where they must abide by the constitution and the law.

Turkey’s soft revolution was fought against various groups that shared power. But their power was meaningless without brute force which would eliminate any threat aimed against the system. Therefore, behind the scenes, Turkish revolutionaries fought the most ferocious skirmishes against the army which perpetrated malicious plots against the “freedom and democracy” of the Turkish people.

Yet, in Egypt the army was perceived as saviour of the Egyptian people, and as Huwaydi and many other political analysts and commentators expressed: “it was the only force to bring long awaited freedom and democracy” to the Egyptian people.

Unfortunately, anyone familiar with the modern history of the Middle East would agree that what Huwaydi and other commentators expressed was nothing but good will. As with the Turkish army of the past, the Egyptian army also has strong connections with the US. Officers of both armies have studied at US war colleges; the armies are supplied with training and weapons by the US.

This was due to the fact that the armies of Middle Eastern countries were considered to be the most potent weapons in the arsenal of US foreign interest. As masters of imperial domination, US policy makers have been well aware that political powers have no future if they are not fortified with military might. This would make their puppet leaders resilient against any possible adversaries, and also enable them to replace leaders without resistance in the event that they become incompetent. This was the reason why both Egypt and Turkey had experienced several military coups that did nothing but reinforce US influence.

In this regard the Washington Post reported about the “coordination” between the Egyptian army and American officials. According to the newspaper, since 2005, US officials and the Egyptian army have been working on post-Mubarak scenarios. The newspaper also claimed that were it not for the joint pressure of the US and the Egyptian army, Mubarak was not planning to leave his post. American officials realized the grave consequences of such a scenario that would have led the revolutionaries to take more radical action and even clash with the army. Thus, the US pressured the army to give an ultimatum to Mubarak, who finally yielded to the double pressure and resigned.

Muhamed El-Baradai, one of the opposition leaders in Egypt, raised his concern towards the army’s murky stance after Mubarak’s resignation: “Although Mubarak is gone, his regime stands firm on the shoulders of the army. Retired army members have been appointed as mayors, executive managers or important posts in the Ministries. The army has so far not disclosed its intention fully…”

In Turkey the turning point came when the Turkish people, who had tired of political, religious and economic suppression, took matters into their own hands by empowering a brave and determined leader and achieved one of the most remarkable revolutions of the century. The Turkish public traditionally had held the army in high esteem and it has always been a source of national pride. However, this did not obscure their realization that armies usually are founded upon the principles of power and domination. Thus, if they are left unchecked by the representatives of the people, soldiers are prone to be manipulated by external forces that are deemed to be more powerful.

Egyptians also showed the same kind of courage, resolution and frustration in their struggle, and toppled Mubarak. However, they are only half way in their struggle for freedom. If they want to succeed in realizing their aspirations fully, sooner or later the Egyptian people will have to rise up and confront the army, whose interests may lie elsewhere.