Egyptian Lessons for Turkey

Joost Lagendijk
July 09, 2013

Despite some fundamental differences between Egypt and Turkey, the recent events in Egypt have also revealed several remarkable similarities between the way in which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has reacted to the massive protests that started in İstanbul's Gezi Park and the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt to cope with the strong opposition in Egyptian society against its rule that eventually resulted in the military coup of last week.

In my previous article I specified four of these parallels: a majoritarian approach to democracy; the failure to distinguish between acts of revenge by old foes and legitimate demands for a more inclusive democracy; an underestimation of the fear of Islamization; and the void created by the lack of an attractive political alternative.

The $1 million question is how the AKP and the MB are going to respond to the opposition they have been facing recently or, in the case of the MB, the violent repression that still goes on.

Let's start with the lessons Turkey's ruling party should draw from both Taksim and Tahrir. That will matter in the first place, of course, to Turkey. But the reaction of the AKP will also have a huge impact on the wider Muslim world. Many political Islamists in North Africa and the Middle East, especially a new generation of reformers, will follow closely how the AKP, the best example of a post-Islamist party, will further develop. They did so in the past 10 years, and they will keep on doing so in the future for one simple reason: After ruling Turkey for more than 10 years, the AKP is way ahead of all movements and parties in the region that, in one way or the other, could be labeled as political Islamists.

So what will the AKP's answer be? At the moment it's clear the ruling party is in no mood to question its own shortcomings. The mishandling of the Gezi Park protests continues, the media are still under pressure and the hunt for foreign scapegoats is ongoing. It seems the AKP critics are correct who claim that the party is unwilling to change strategy and will try to win next year's elections by relying on its core constituency and by sticking to the successful electoral formula of the last decade. No opening to political opponents, no softening of policies that have caused unnecessary unrest. That assessment could well be true and it is most probably the course of action that Erdoğan and the people around him prefer.

But it is not the whole story. There are several reasons to believe another outcome, particularly after 2014, might be possible as well. Opinion polls and many private conversations have convinced me that a considerable group of AKP voters are unhappy with the style and, to a certain extent, policies of the current AKP leadership. Many realize that, anyway, the Erdoğan era inside the AKP will come to an end next year when the prime minister, in all likelihood, will be elected as president under the present constitutional rules. Nobody can be sure who will take over as prime minister in October 2014. What we do know is that among the candidates several are known for their more moderate approach and conciliatory style.

The future of Turkey's democracy, whether one likes it or not, will, to a large extent, be determined by the outcome of the internal AKP struggle for dominance and direction in the post-Erdoğan period. Will we see more of the same or will there be an AKP 2.0 that has realized a new, more prosperous and democratic Turkey needs a new, inclusive, less confrontational way of governing?

The shape and substance of the AKP 2.0 will also influence how the MB 2.0 will look like. Will the Egyptian Islamists abandon the political game, resort to underground, sometimes violent resistance and remain an authoritarian, inward-looking movement? Or will they learn from the mistakes they made while in power, continue to believe electoral democracy will bring huge benefits to Egypt and therefore try again in next year's elections, albeit with a less rigid and more pragmatic modus operandi?

Gezi Park has forced the AKP to make up its mind. The coup in Egypt has made the result of that rethinking crucial for the rest of the region as well.


PN member Joost Lagendijk is has been Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. He is now living and working in Turkey as a Columnist for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Today's Zaman.


Originally published by Today's Zaman.

Photo by Thorsten Strasas.

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