[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments]
The stamina of the brave people of Egypt, who are entering their third week of pro-democracy demonstrations, makes it clear: The days of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s long time dictator, are numbered. That’s why the nature of the post-Mubarak era, which is uncertain, is the real big question.
The reason for the uncertainty is the elephant in the Tahrir Square: the military, which has the power to dominate the whole system. Its leadership, under new celebrity Gen. Omar Suleiman, has shown goodwill by not using any force against anti-Mubarak protestors, but that is not enough. The real question is whether the military will act as a midwife to democracy, by holding free and fair elections in the shortest term possible, and respect the authority of the winners. The other alternative is a military dictatorship, overt or not, which will deprive Egypt from democracy once again for the years to come.
Word has it that the second option looks appealing to some in the West — and, I am sure, in Israel. The reason is not hard to get: The chance that the elections will be won by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most formidable political force, and the flagship of Islamism in the whole Sunni world. So, the reasoning goes, wouldn’t a more secular-minded military rule be better than a democratic election that will empower the Islamists.
Steve Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an expert on both Egypt and Turkey, wrote a good piece recently about this “romance with the Egyptian military” that he apparently sees in Washington. He added that people are also making “false analogies” with the “Turkish model,” presenting the decades-old quasi-military regime in Turkey as a good remedy for the future in Egypt.
I read that with some disdain — but without any surprise. For I have seen many Westerners over the years who believed that the Turkish military was doing a great service to Turkey by “protecting the democratic regime” from the supposed excesses of democracy.
“Well, why don’t you try to discuss that nice idea with the thousands who have gone through the torture chambers of our juntas,” I once asked someone who defended that pro-militaristic line. If you tend to think alike, I would encourage you as well to talk with the thousands of Turkish (and Kurdish) families who have lost their sons to “unsolved murders” committed by gendarme squads. The liberals who have been threatened and humiliated by our sinister generals might also be a good reference to understand how lovely the “Turkish model” used to be.
Today, Turkey is much less brutal of a state, and more free of a society, thanks to the very decline of that doomed “Turkish model.” Besides, the new model, represented by the incumbent Justice and Development, or AKP, and its base, shows that Islamism can evolve into post-Islamism, by accepting the rules of secular democracy and the market economy. The outcome is still too “conservative” for the taste of the secular Turks, and still too pro-Palestinian from the eyes of the Israelis. Yet it is still a great leap forward within its own tradition.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood must be given the same chance: the chance to freely participate in politics, come to power, face the issues of the real world, and find its own way to pragmatism.
I am aware that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a more rigid form of political Islam than that the AKP has inherited. But as Reuel Marc Gerecht, a neo-conservative, recently put in the New York Times, the party is “evolving.” Moreover, “it would be a serious error to believe that it has not sincerely wrestled with the seductive challenge of democracy.” So, why not give them a chance to be further seduced?
The alternative, a military-dominated Egypt backed by the West, will do nothing other than convince millions of Muslims that “democracy is a lie,” and that the West is unabashedly hypocritical. It will also reinforce a vicious cycle that created Islamism in the first place, and kept on infuriating it.
The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is in fact the perfect case study to see that vicious cycle: The party was born in 1928, as a reaction to the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate, the colonization of Muslim lands, and the foundation of secularist regimes. It got more strident under the oppression of Egypt’s secular dictators, from Nasser to Mubarak. Sayyid Qutb, the party’s powerful thinker who gradually became “the Lenin of Islamism,” owed his radicalism partly to the torture he went through in Egypt’s hellish prisons.
Nobody needs to see that horror film again and again. And what will open the way to the brotherhood’s moderation is not the old “Turkish model,” but the new one, which proves that pious Muslims can be a part of the democratic game and evolve while playing according to its rules.