Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Insights for Egypt's and Tunisia's Islamists from Turkish Experience of Democratic Transition

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Insights for Egypt's and Tunisia's Islamists from Turkish Experience of Democratic Transition

Article excerpt

Two years after the fall of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, both countries are struggling with political instability and socio-economic problems. Egypt's experience with democracy ended with a violent coup d'etat, while Tunisia is still struggling with the destabilizing effects of political assassinations and polarization. Since the toppling of the regimes, the revolutionary forces have become divided among themselves by entering a fierce ideological struggle. The two countries could not economically recover because the global economic crisis is still taking its toll and these nations remain politically instable. Are there any lessons from Turkey's democratic transition for Egypt and Tunisia? I will elaborate on the current situations in Egypt and Tunisia by drawing similarities from the Turkish case.

There is a major difference between AK Party's rise to power in Turkey and the electoral victories of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt. The former came to power through a gradual democratic process with a long history of hard-fought successes and failures, while the Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts came to power through a popular uprising after a long period of suppression. In the two Arab countries, the Islamists did not instigate revolts but their participation was instrumental in toppling the dictators later on. Based on their grassroots organizations and efforts, they gained the plurality of popular votes in extraordinary conditions following the fall of the regime. In Tunisia, the revolutionary dynamic somewhat continued as the Revolutionary Council took over the transitional period. However, in Egypt the High Military Council controlled the transition and managed to shift the reform dynamic by convincing the Islamist parties to accept a partial constitutional amendment, rather than drafting a new constitution based on a revolutionary spirit. In the end, the military institution managed to remove the Morsi government and once again took power in Egypt.

Similar reasons brought the AK Party, al-Nahda and the Justice and Development Party to power: poverty, oppression of basic rights, lack of freedom, high inflation and corruption. Before the arrival of the AK Party, Turkey experienced what we can call a "malfunctioning democracy," which could not bring political stability and economic welfare. The Turkish military intervened in the political process several times directly and indirectly in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997, limiting the civilian role in the political process. The interference of the military occurred because the secular established elites did not fully trust the majority Muslim public and kept a limited space for democracy. Each time the military returned to its barracks by maintaining a privileged position in the system. The Turkish establishment enabled the bureaucracy to supervise civilian action in the social sphere and politics.

With limited political leverage, civilian leaders of Turkey fell short in achieving serious social and economic development due to political and economic instability. This instability resulted partly from the resistance of established elites (e.g. bureaucracy, bourgeoisie and intellectuals) to transfer power to elected officials. In the 1970s and 1990s, Turkey was in a state of political turmoil filled with violent clashes and political assassinations, which in turn resulted in military intervention in politics. Both Tunisia and Egypt are going through a similar political turmoil today with ideologically motivated conflicts and assassinations. The Tunisian problem of destabilization is closer to Turkey in the 1990s, where political assassinations were main reason for instability. Despite its relative success compared to Egypt, Tunisia's Islamists managed the crisis better than Egypt, as al-Nahda came to realize the necessity of power-sharing.

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