Egypt: A Return to the Old Turkish Model?

07/07/2013 05:54 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2013

The coup d'etat in Egypt was the most expected event in this country, and yet it looks as if it has caught the Muslim Brotherhood government by surprise. It seems that too quickly the Islamists subscribed to the idea, that their complete control over Egypt was assured, as they believed that the military lost its will to assert its influence in the country. This was a fatal mistake, hubris leading to consequences unforeseen by Morsi and the religious leader, the Murshid Al-Am [the General Guide].

In fact, the Egyptian military had no intention of abandoning its pivotal role in the politics and society of Egypt, and the readiness to accept the Brotherhood's election victories was always qualified. Contingent on the latter understanding that there should be some kind of what the French once called, cohabitation.

The Islamists will be on top, but not completely, and the army will continue to rule over its own state-within-the state. By which I refer to the fact that the military has traditionally functioned as the largest corporation in Egypt, alongside its other roles as the custodian of public order and the defender of the homeland against external aggression.

This is not to diminish in any way, shape or form, the courage of the mostly young demonstrators in the squares of Cairo and Alexandria, but it was the army who dealt the decisive blow. Decisive, but not yet final. The Brotherhood is quickly recovering, its popular support is still huge, and its ability to destabilize the situation is not to be discounted.

Eighty years of sustained repression can explain both the big appetite for total control as shown by Morsi, as well as the resilience and determination which will be much in display now, in a desperate attempt to turn the tables. In short, the Islamists, fortified by the force of belief and endurance, will not give up easily and quickly.

That said, the military will have their hands full, and regardless of any promise about early and free and democratic elections, the developments on the ground will determine the evolution of the situation. It is Egypt, not Syria, and the military stands a good chance of staying on top, while sparing Egypt the trepidations of ethnic and regional break-up. Egypt has a 5000-year tradition of strong, central government, and it will not change. But the price will be high, both in terms of the human cost, and also the damage to the sense of national solidarity. Egypt will come out of this crisis with a need, greater than ever in its modern history for a strong, stable leadership, and no civilian government will be, on its own, able to foot the bill.

Egypt will need the type of cohabitation, which the Morsi government failed to establish, this time between a nationalist government, with the inclusion of moderate, collaborationist Islamists, and the military.

And that brings us back to the old Turkish model as a possible functioning formula for the new Egypt, a scenario which was discussed by this blog in the past.

The old Turkish model was the existence of a democratically-elected government, whose overall control of the country was restricted by the powers given to the military as the custodian of the secular state, in the best tradition of Ataturk.

The Turkish military developed an enormous economic power, much the same as the Egyptian military has, and on various occasions intervened in Turkish politics, brushed aside unwanted governments, not just the Islamic government led by Negmatin Erbakan, but also corrupt, secular governments, such as the Menderes government in 1960. Surely, the idea was to preserve the separation between mosque and state, but as shown it went beyond that.

The rise of the AKP and its success in establishing an Islamic government, though not Islamist, coupled with Turkey's economic rise, led to a significant reduction of the power of the military, but even today it will be premature to conclude that the Turkish military has ceased to be a force to reckon with in Turkey, particularly as the AKP government under Erdogan may seem to be challenged in a big way when it is suspected of moving away from moderate Islam to an Islamist approach. Hubris of rulers is dangerous everywhere.

The Turkish model worked for almost 80 years, so it is erroneous to refer to the rise of the AKP as the evidence that the model failure. It can still work though in Egypt, with the adaptations and adjustments required by the particular circumstances of this country.

The new Egyptian constitution, while refraining from separating completely mosque from state, as was done in Turkey, will still grant the military the powers that its Turkish counterpart enjoyed in its heydays. One of them will be to be able to deal with the Islamists, while giving a role to the moderate Muslim elements, protecting the rights of the Christian minority, as well as that of women, and respecting Egypt's regional and international obligations. The purists among the Tahrir protesters will have to acquiesce with the central role of the military in shaping and conducting national security issues, and its important role in the economic life of the country.

It may seem as a reincarnation of the "old" Mubarak regime, and while it may look like one, it will still be different in one major respect. After the downfall of Mubarak, and then the Brotherhood, whoever will hold the reins of power in Egypt, the military included, will have to realize that the new player in town, the Egyptian people, cannot and will not be taken for granted anymore.