To what Turkey is the Brotherhood taking Egypt?

25 June 2012

The Brotherhood points to the Turkish experience over the past 10 years as a model, but events bring Egypt closer to the Turkey of the 1980s in the aftermath of a military coup

The Muslim Brotherhood have often invoked the Turkish experience under the Justice and Development Party as their model. They point to Turkey as a successful case of reconciling Islam with capitalism, democracy and pro-western policies.  Moreover, it is seen as a success story of civilian rule subjugating military power after decades of continuous military intervention in politics. With the large role that the military has in military in Egyptian politics, the Brotherhood were hoping to follow the Turkish model of gradual democratisation.

The Justice and Development Party’s grip on power in Turkey has strengthened since 2008.  A number of generals were tried for the first time in the country’s history after their implication in an attempted coup. In 2009, the Turkish constitution was amended to further empower the parliamentary majority. The following year, the Justice and Development Party won the absolute majority in the national elections for the third time in a row. In 2011 the generals behind the 1980 coup were put on trial, undermining the very legitimacy of the military ‘corrective’ intervention that marked Turkish political life since the 1960s.

The Brotherhood appeared to be pursuing something similar thought the gradual takeover of state power. They almost secured an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, and played a key role in appointing the constituent assembly that would draft Egypt’s upcoming permanent constitution. Yet, the developments that followed were far from satisfactory for the Brotherhood. The double failure to form the constituent assembly, combined with the perceived weak performance of the Brotherhood majority in the parliament, dealt a lethal blow to the group’s plans.

The High Constitutional Court facilitated a soft coup. According to their court ruling, the People’s Assembly is to be dissolved on the basis of the unconstitutionality of the parliamentary elections law. The Supreme Military Council retrieved legislative powers until a new parliament is elected in the coming months. The military council issued a constitutional addendum. The recent developments seem to inaugurate Egypt into a scenario that is much closer to Turkey of the 1980s and 1990s, not of the Justice and Development Party.

The military’s recent move supported by the judiciary is a serious and dangerous precedent for Egypt’s nascent democracy.  Following the failure of civilian parties to reconcile their differences to form a viable constituent assembly, the military stepped in along with the bureaucracy and judiciary to assume a custodian role.

If the military is to gain anything from this constitutional coup, it is the opportunity to draft Egypt’s permanent constitution. Such a process can only mean the institutionalisation of the military’s custodianship together with the judiciary in any future pluralistic setting. In such a context, the non-elected elites will regulate the political scene at the expense of elected representatives.


Such institutional arrangements will bring Egypt closer to Turkey in 1982 when the country's constitution was drafted by the military junta following the infamous coup of September 1980.  The 1982 constitution provided the military with well-institutionalised channels to influence and regulate Turkey’s multiparty system.  To start with, the constitution established a National Security Council that was formed of military representatives together with elected officials. The council had a broad mandate in external as well as internal affairs that were loosely defined as national security matters.

Additionally, the Supreme Court was given the right to overview the ideological leanings of political parties. It proved to be a powerful tool to continuously ban Islamist, communist and Kurdish parties that were found to contradict Kemalism, the founding ideology of the modern Turkish state encapsulated in the six principles of republicanism, economic statism, populism, laicism, nationalism, and reformism.

These institutional arrangements were by wide ‘deep state’ networks that extended to state agencies, unions and associations. Deep state has come to be the term describing the active engagement of Turkey's security apparatus in regulating and managing the political arena following the restoration of democratic procedures in 1983. The 1982 constitution was socially and economically conservative as well. It laid considerable bureaucratic and legal barriers to the freedom of association and labour union formation.

How can a popular revolution end up with the same outcome as a military coup? That is the question. In Turkey, the 1980 coup came in the aftermath of a crushing political and economic crisis in the late 1970s managed poorly by party elites. Amid hyperinflation, fuel shortage and economic breakdown combined with widespread violence, the military entered the scene as the saviour of the Turkish republic. The junta ruled directly for three years during which parties, unions, associations, strikes and other forms of public protest were all banned. The military redesigned both the country's economic and political systems.

Egypt started at the opposite end.  A corrupt and repressive authoritarian regime could no longer manage the socio-economic crisis. Since around 2004, various forms of protest increasingly exploded in the public sphere. The regime collapsed under the sheer weight of social protest in January 2011. The regime fell under the blows of recently politicised crowds that belonged to no faction or political party and that had negative rather than positive demands. Yet, the ouster of Mubarak did not mean the collapse of state authority.

The military – which is the oldest component of the ruling coalition – stepped in. Throughout the last year and a half, the old interests vested in the existing power and wealth arrangement could reorganise. The target is no longer the restoration of Mubarak’s regime; rather it is the maintenance of old interests in the garb of legitimacy and democracy. This is what we can get out of Shafiq’s campaign.

The Brotherhood could only partially fill the political vacuum left by the collapse of the old authoritarian order. However, the forging of a new political order that could mediate and manage the intense social conflict in Egypt needs more than an electoral machine that seems in many instances to be on autopilot. Negotiating, agenda setting and bargaining are all skills that were much needed, and missed, since the fall of Mubarak.

It is because of the overall poverty of Egypt's political class that the military had the change to keep its de facto power, and to step in once again with the hope of reproducing the old interests in new conservative settings. However, the game is far from over. The discontent and disenchantment of significant popular sections of society, combined with the high expectations produced by the revolution, will constitute a long-term source of pressure that will keep shaping and reshaping the political order.

* Published at Ahram Online - 25 June 2012.