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Morsi’s lesson for Erdogan 17 juillet 2013

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) Wednesday, July 17, 2013, p. 26

James E Baldwin *

The democratic Islamist parties can avoid alienating opponents – Tunisia’s gets this, Turkey’s does not.

Egypt’s coup was not just a major shock for Mohamed Morsi, but also for the Middle East’s most successful Islamist party: Turkey’s AK party. When news of the Egyptian army’s deposing of Morsi broke, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cut short his holiday on the Aegean coast and convened a crisis meeting of senior ministers. Over the following days Erdogan strongly condemned the coup, calling it the « killer of democracy » and referring to Egypt’s « so-called administration ». Why does the coup matter so much to Erdogan’s AK party?

One problem is that the Egyptian coup upsets the AKP’s vision of exporting its brand of populist democratic Islamism throughout the Middle East. The AKP saw the Islamist parties that were elected after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as following its lead, and cemented this connection with aid – including training and equipment for Tunisia’s police and a $1bn loan to Egypt.

The AKP also downplayed the scale of popular opposition to Morsi, and presented the coup as a plot hatched by the Egyptian generals. And it used the coup as a metaphor to discredit Turkey’s Gezi Park protest movement. Some drew a direct connection: Hatam Ete of the pro-AKP thinktank SETA tweeted that « what was attempted in Turkey has succeeded in Egypt ».

Such conspiracy theories are the legacy of years of oppression of Turkish and Egyptian Islamists by the military-backed secular establishments. But the problem for the AKP and the Muslim Brotherhood is that their paranoid style is now losing its resonance outside their bases. The narrative of victimhood stopped attracting broad sympathy once they moved from persecuted opposition to power.

The uncomfortable truth the AKP does not want to accept is that the massive protests that preceded the coup represented a broad-based rejection of Morsi’s policies. It should acknowledge this fact, and recognise that it was not political Islam the protesters rejected. Although many of the individual protesters are hostile to political Islam, others are Islamists. Neither do the Gezi Park protesters want to exclude Islamism. What both movements reject is an aggressive majoritarian understanding of democracy. They insist that vibrant opposition is as important a part of democracy as an elected government. The protesters’ key demand was to be taken seriously and listened to. The demonisation of opposition as the work of mysterious foreign forces is therefore not just a misdiagnosis of the problem, it is the problem.

Tunisia shows a different way forward for democratic Islamists. The Islamist Ennahda party, elected after the first revolution of the Arab spring, has also publicly opposed the Egyptian coup. But despite the similarity between Tunisia and Egypt, the coup is less threatening in Tunis. Some of Ennahda’s opponents have formed a tamarod (rebel) campaign in imitation of Egypt’s, but have had limited success. Unlike Morsi, Ennahda has not attempted to use a narrow poll victory to implement an aggressively partisan agenda, instead governing in coalition with two centre-left secular parties, Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic. The relative success of Ennahda, despite potentially divisive disagreements over the place of Islam in the constitution, shows the value of this inclusive approach.

A common thread running through not just the Arab revolutions but recent protest movements worldwide is the demand for a plural political sphere. If democratic-Islamist parties are to avoid alienating their opponents, they must respond to this.

* James E Baldwin teaches Middle Eastern history at Queen Mary, University of London

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