Monday, 8 July 2013

What Lessons Will Turkey Take From Egypt?

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. You really do. He has had a horrible summer so far.

First, many thousands of his own citizens rebelled for days against his own narrow, very limited vision of democracy and his arrogant assumption that he and only he knows what is best for that complex country of almost 80 million people.

Second, and most alarming, his fellow Islamists in Egypt get booted out of power. Days of mass anti-government rallies culminated in the army removing the Moslem Brotherhood government and attempting to install a more professional cadre.
Not everyone voted for the Egyptian president
Erdoğan’s indignation kicked into high gear as he railed against this ‘shocking’ anti-democratic move. He and his henchmen predictably blasted Western nations for not reacting for more forcefully against the coup. To Erdoğan’s people, the Egyptian coup was nothing more than the work of ‘anti-democratic’ forces around the world. They conveniently ignore that there was nothing remotely democratic about the short rule of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt. In addition to being administratively incompetent the Brotherhood froze all other elements of Egyptian society out of the governing process. In short, they made it easy for their opponents to drive them from power and forcefully deliver the message that real democracy only begins at the ballot box. The most glaring example of this abuse of ballot box power was Adolf Hitler who was, after all, elected. It didn't take him long, however, to destroy the democracy that brought him to power.

Erdoğan even went so far as to claim that the Moslem Brotherhood government had been undermined by an economic boycott during its short time in power. I have no idea where this groundless claim came from, but once again it shows his complete disregard for any facts. But, as his reactions to the unrest in Turkey show, he will simply make up facts to suit his thundering arguments. When all else fails he and his sycophants can always fall back on the tried and true ‘Jewish, international, financial conspiracy’ theory to explain problems in Turkey and Egypt.

So far he has remained tactfully silent about the support that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown for the Egyptian army’s move. We shall also forget for the moment Turkey’s own support for that notorious despot Omar al-Bashir of Sudan (subject of an international arrest warrant for genocide in Darfur) or that Erdoğan himself was the honoured recipient of the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights just before that dictator was driven from power.

The backdrop to Erdoğan’s unhappiness about the Egyptian situation is, of course, Turkey’s own history of military intervention.  He is all too familiar with the military justifying its actions by saying it was protecting the secular character of Turkey’s government against inroads by radical Islamists. His answer to this risk was to lock up several leading military figures and throw the key away. As usual he misses the fact that his own democratic credentials were severely dented by jailing hundreds of his opponents for years without the benefit of a trial – which might, after all, show that the charges were false or fabricated in the first place.
No longer a real threat in Turkey
Erdoğan’s erratic and increasingly shrill behaviour just might reflect the looming domestic threats to his own legacy and the collapse of his grand vision of Turkey’s role in the Middle East.

 His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) prides itself on Turkey’s rapid economic development during their rule. Up to a point that’s true. But as more and more economists are noting, the wildly touted growth numbers don’t stand up to rigorous analysis. They are good, but not great. Much has been said about the relatively low level of government debt. Again, true as far as it goes. But the government spokesmen never mention the explosion in private sector foreign debt. But most of all, Turkey’s economic performance rests largely on the ephemeral confidence of international investors who provide the $200 billion external financing that the country needs every year. And nothing removes that confidence faster than political unrest coupled with the merest hint of monetary tightening by major central banks. International investors are getting restless and starting to question the wisdom of their Turkish investments. The stock market is down more than 20% since the end of May. The currency has depreciated more than 10% since the beginning of the year and is approaching the once-unthinkable level of 2:1 against the US dollar. As far as the AKP is concerned a weakening economy is far more dangerous to the party’s future than the almost non-existent threat of military intervention à la Egypt.

Not too long ago Turkey’s smug foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was crowing about a resurgent Turkey’s key role in the Middle East as a balance to the deteriorating relations with the European Union. Now Turkey has to look long and hard to find a Middle East ally beyond, of course, Hamas in Gaza. The new rulers of Egypt will hardly appreciate Turkey’s loud support for the deposed Moslem Brotherhood. Wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar will continue to support the coup in Egypt regardless of Turkey’s objections. And who can predict how Syria will turn out. Turkey has gambled heavily on the fall of Basher al-Assad who, so far against all odds has avoided the fate of Gaddafi or Mohammed Morsi.

Turkey faces a critical period over the next several months with delicate Kurdish negotiations, possible changes to the constitution, juggling the economy, and meeting the demands of its own people for real democracy and inclusion. Has  the prime minister learned anything from the unrest in his own country as well as Egypt? Will he be able to meet these challenges with something more than his usual bombast and conspiracy theories?

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