Felicia Muftic: Turkey could light the way for a democratic Egypt
Grand County, CO Colorado
As Egyptians will find out, Democracy has its risks and the outcome may surprise them, but they can learn some lessons from what happened when Eastern Europe toppled their Communist rulers and Turkey evolved from military control to a more open democracy .
Those emerging from Communist dictatorships mistook democracy for economic and political anarchy. The old guard scrambled to keep economic power and privilege by taking advantage of the plums of enterprise fire sales and the habit of corruption of the past carried into the new order. It has taken a decade to get over the cowboy capitalism and political corruption that followed and it still a work in progress.
My hopes and fears for Egypt are shaped by some personal experiences. I cherish my 50 years of being in close and frequent contact with ordinary people who were friends and relatives I met through my husband, a native of the Balkans, a region that contains a significant Muslim population. For 500 years Turkey ruled Bosnia and the culture and values still shape their attitudes and lives throughout the Balkans, even during and after Communist dictatorships.
Egypt will still have to struggle with the vestiges of corruption that seem to be inherent in both Communist and military dictatorships. Croatia and Serbia are learning that exposure of corruption by a free press and protection of human rights provide a way of eventually mitigating corruption.
We do not know yet what the ultimate outcome will be of the Egyptian uprising. It was a spontaneous one, not led by those seeking religious dominance, but by the young and educated wanting jobs and freedoms described to them on the Internet. It was young, educated Tunisians who showed the disgruntled population in Egypt how it could be done.
This year in Istanbul I saw a vibrant economy and few headscarves and a bustling population of young people on the way to work and study. Muslim Turkey could provide the model for Egypt’s future. Like Egypt, Turkey has been ruled by a military dictatorship since the days of Ataturk, with generals sometimes pulling the strings of government out of view and sometimes more publicly. Thanks to Ataturk’s lingering imprint, Turkey has been secular, though their more liberal form of democracy has permitted the rise to power of more Islamist political parties. Nonetheless, it has remained an important NATO ally and has been a model of a successful moderate Muslim country.
Yes, indeed, the West has an enormous stake in protecting the oil transit through the Suez Canal. It is more than the Suez that is shaping European and U.S. policies toward Egypt. The U.S. especially has concern about protecting Israel and fears that Egypt could become the homeland of al-Qaida. The outcome could be a disaster for our own national interests.
There is reason for optimism. The revolution so far has focused on demanding the military powers giving more human rights and freedom. It has not yet asked for dismantling of the military; just the removal of Mubarak. Like Turks, Egyptians respect their military. Given the accepted power of the Egyptian military and Western support of it, and the fact that radical Islamists constitute a minority, a Turkish form of governance could even be a likely outcome.
In new democracies there is always a risk that those who represent a minority view can manipulate the political system and grab control of the election process. If pressure is maintained to make elections honest and open and free press and other human rights are observed, chances of this happening are diminished.
Citizens become less radical if their voices to address grievances are heard and they have the power to change their governance peacefully.
Much of what happens in the future of Egypt is beyond our control but we can continue to exert pressure to make good on promises to provide the kinds of freedoms the West enjoys.
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