What Does Morsi’s Ouster Mean for Turkey?

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In the wake of the Arab Spring, many had hoped that Arab states would adopt the Turkish “moderate-Islamist” model when forming new governments; however, this approach seems to have been abandoned following the July 3 events in Egypt.

The United States and the West are not taking firm stands against the Egyptian army. The world has abandoned former President Mohammed Morsi. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, interrupted his holiday to convene an Egypt summit in Istanbul.

The West — led by the US and the EU — and Middle Eastern countries are not adopting firm stances against the Egyptian army that overthrew a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government. There were some mooted criticisms and calls for the army to restore the regime to the civilian government, but there were also congratulations directed at the new leader. In statements about Egypt there is no mention of the word “coup.” “Removal” or “toppling” are the preferred words.

The most notable reaction came from Turkey and Tunisia. They both denounced the coup. In Turkey, the prime minister interrupted his holiday and held a summit meeting with his key colleagues. Why is the Turkish government on such high alert? How can the coup in Cairo affect Turkey? Is Turkey fearing the collapse of the “model” that was once seen as a source of inspiration for the region? We asked two experts about this:

Ali Bulac, a journalist, writer, and theologist, said: “The Arab Spring halted Turkey’s growing role in the region; Turkey was opening up to the region as a model that integrates its economy with the global economy, is in harmony with the West and where Islamic democratization and secularism can coexist. The Arab Spring disrupted this model. Turkey’s mistakes in reading the Syrian crisis and its misperceptions of the Middle East and the bipolar world brought the end of that model.

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“The impression I get from the second Tahrir uprising by Arab nationalists and liberals — which toppled the Brotherhood — and the West’s non-committal attitude, is that the global establishment has given up on the moderate Islam project. This will certainly reflect on Turkey. Turkey may easily experience a gradual decrease in the easy credits it was acquiring by saying, ‘I represent moderate Islam. I will rehabilitate the region.’ This loss of stature will not only be seen in economic but also in political, diplomatic and military arenas.

“The AKP perceived the Gezi Park-Taksim events as a threat against itself, and it may not be unjustified in thinking so. Today, Turkey is displaying a fully justified reaction to the coup in Egypt. The model that was being promoted for the past 10 years is now under review. I insist that there is a correlation between Turkey and Egypt — Taksim and Tahrir.

“At the very outset, Turkey was a spark for Tahrir. It was a source of inspiration. Now the July 3 events will affect Turkey. My perpetual thesis is that there are similarities in the modernization experiences of Turkey, Iran and Egypt. In those two countries, all basic upheavals, major reforms and revolutions take place at five to six year intervals. Today, there is serious political change in progress in Iran and Egypt. It will happen also in Turkey.”

The second expert we approached was veteran journalist, writer and Middle East expert, Cengiz Candar. He said: “Egypt can’t affect Turkey directly in the short run. But should the AKP exhibit displeasure and fully identify with the Brotherhood, we will be affected. I am afraid such a perception already exists. The AKP has ideological affinity and institutional links with the Brotherhood. But Turkey is not Egypt. They have diverse political processes. If the AKP exaggerates its reactions, all the forces that intend to mobilize against the AKP might take action.

“Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had an ambition to shape an Egypt-Turkey axis. This is now totally off the agenda. This is a serious weakness for Turkey and its political vision for the region. Egypt was the center of gravity for a Sunni bloc based on the Brotherhood. There is now a serious gap.

“The US is concerned with stability in Egypt. Many countries attach priority to stability ahead of democratic concepts. This is a mistake. Yes, democracy was scarred by the military coup in Egypt, but to be elected does not mean democracy by itself. This time, 2.5 times more people were in the streets compared with 2011, and the vast majority of them mutinied against the authoritarian governance of Morsi and the Brotherhood. Don’t they count? Did all of them advocate a coup?

“Obviously the moderate Islam project has been badly bruised. That is the prevailing perception. The moderate Islam project was an outcome of the Arab Spring. It was a general picture nourished by Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey. Now the pixels of that photo are blurred. It is sad, but it is the reality.

“Moreover, there is something called geopolitics. You are a political party. You are governing a country. You are not a civil society outfit. If you are going to deal with everything from a morality angle, then go and set up an NGO. Those ruling countries have heavy responsibilities. They have to think of the interests of millions of people. They have to be cool-headed and build their policies on realism and balances of power.

“I can look at it as a moral issue. They can’t. They can’t say, ‘You removed my friends from power, therefore I am also out of the game.’ What are you going to do with Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Religious scholars from Al-Azhar distanced themselves from the Brotherhood. Why? Is Al-Azhar any less important than it has always been? Are Al-Azhar scholars immoral? Let’s confront the Saudis, Qatar and the UAE, let’s abandon Al-Azhar and take on the Shiite world. What will then be the parameters of our policy?

“With this development in Egypt that followed the Gezi Park events, the Turkish government is obviously suffering from a serious psychological setback.”

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