03 December 2012

Why the Turkish Model Will Not Work in Egypt

You probably know that Egypt's Islamist president Muhammad Morsi (BBC adopted new spelling) has recently given himself sweeping powers with a simple decree. Although he claimed that he was not seeking unchecked powers for himself, his move triggered a wave of protest in -where else?- the Tahrir Square.

He tried to contain this situation by acknowledging that these new powers would become invalid once the draft constitution is ratified in a referendum. And he rushed the constituent assembly (dominated by Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists) to finish the text and get it ready for a referendum. They complied and had a new draft the following day. The new draft was boycotted by women, secular and Christian members of the assembly.

Since Morsi's new powers prevented Supreme Court judges from ruling on the constitutionality of the constituent assembly they retaliated by refusing to oversee the referendum that will take place in two weeks time.

In other words, in the span of two weeks, Morsi went from a savvy statesman, who brokered a peace deal in Gaza, to a clumsy dictator wannabe pushing an authoritarian Islamist agenda.

The first part earned him a Time Magazine cover as "The Most Important Man in the Middle East."

Ironically, while this issue of Time was still in circulation Morsi became an object of scorn and ridicule and people began calling for his resignation.

This got me thinking.

From the beginning of the Arab Spring, the new Islamist movements in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco professed a desire to emulate what they called the Turkish model. There are four political parties called either Justice and Development Party (as the Turkish AKP) or (in the case of Egypt) Justice and Freedom Party.

The question that springs to mind, is it enough to copy the program of a party and emulate their agenda to duplicate their success in a different setting? Or to put it more bluntly, is the Turkish model applicable to Egypt?

My answer is that there are several elements that set the Turkish model apart and without those, any effort to use it as a blueprint is likely to fail.

Governance Experience: AKP's Origin in Municipal Government

Outside observers assume that the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) got formed in 2001 and came to power the following year. And from that perspective, they have been an outstanding success, quadrupling Turkey's GNP in eight years, turning it into a regional superpower and a prominent member of G20, not to mention winning three consecutive electoral victories, the last of which garnered them 50 percent of the popular vote.

The key factor that such observers overlook is the origins of AKP in municipal politics. Throughout the 1990s, politicians who later formed the AKP became mayors of sizable cities in Turkey. Tayyip Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul, for instance.

In that capacity, they reduced corruption, expanded services and fixed many niggling daily problems. At the time, it was rumored that they were redirecting graft to specific public works: "You need this liquor license, you used to paying this amount to get it done quickly, give the same amount not to me but to this bridge restoration fund." They were not squeaky clean but in a country like Turkey getting things done is more important than being above reproach.

In fact, they were so successful that many secular people who were initially leery of their ulterior (i.e. Islamist) motives began to vote for them. And have been doing ever since.

Municipal administrations were also a very good training ground in governance for these future AKP politicians. Istanbul's GDP was $180 billion in 2008. That's bigger than many small and medium size countries. Managing such an economy requires technical skills and organization. They developed those on the job. They also learned how to handle themselves in power positions. How to compromise with different interests.  How to prioritize problems to be fixed. How to present one's platform. How to bid one's time.

By the time they came to power in 2002, they knew what to do and how to do it.

In contrast, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a clandestine political organization with extensive experience in working underground, avoiding security forces and operating at the margins of society. They have absolutely no idea how to govern a complex society like Egypt.
When Morsi was laying out his 100-day program after the elections, a friend of mine likened it to the first 100-day program of a city mayor in Turkey. It was all about garbage collection and grams of bread. This goes to show that Egypt is more centralized than Turkey. The president of Egypt is also the mayor of all cities, making all daily decisions.
It was clear from the abrupt appearance of the decree and the backtracking that followed it, Morsi was not aware of the governance issues his move entailed. He does not have the skill set or the organization to manage an important country like Egypt.

Avoiding Early Confrontations with Vested Interests

When AKP formed its first government, they were well aware that the army was looking for an excuse to overthrow them. They appeased the military for years. They made sure that the generals felt that they were in charge. They stayed away from difficult issues like Kurdish rights. And above all, they did not challenge the economic interests of the army elite.
 Already boasting of its fame as the most privileged army in the world with far-reaching connections in the economy, the TSK [Turkish Armed Forces] is running a center that commands economic assets amounting to $50 billion. OYAK has now grown into a giant holding incorporating 60 companies and affiliates. The areas in which these companies operate are incredibly diverse and include automobiles, cement, iron and steel, finance, energy, mining, agricultural chemicals, foodstuffs, construction, transportation and logistics, private security and information technology. OYAK even has investments abroad, including cement plants in Romania and Cyprus and two companies in Spain and the Netherlands.
OYAK is the army pension fund and it is one the largest and most profitable corporations in Turkey:
 According to TESEV’s report, the figures for year-end 2009 indicate that OYAK’s total assets are worth TL 12.676 million, the combined sales revenue of all OYAK companies reached TL 19.1 billion and their total assets TL 28.3 billion. OYAK is one of Turkey’s five largest holdings. (...)
In 2000, Koç Holding stood at the top with $11.7 billion in annual turnover, followed by Sabancı at $5.6 billion and OYAK in third place with $4.9 billion. OYAK CEO Coşkun Ulusoy announced in 2005 that OYAK is the most profitable holding in Turkey.
The AKP governments threaded carefully with existing business interests as well. The Turkish business class has always had a symbiotic relationship with the state and disrupting those would have had dire consequences. Instead, they pursued a policy of creating their own business class. They used the state apparatus (first the municipal then the central government) to give these up-and-coming entrepreneurs special contracts, incentives, cheap credit and subsidies.

These so-called Anatolian Tigers used these incentives to post impressive returns and they became the economic backbone of the AKP government. By the time the old state sponsored bourgeois class caught wind of what was going on it was too late. They found themselves eclipsed in many sectors. Today TUSIAD, the main organization of industrialists and business people has a powerful counterpart called MUSIAD and even though the M stands for Independent most people believe it actually means Muslim.

AKP waited until 2010 to finally challenge the predominance of the army. By then, they were in charge of the economy. Turkey was negotiating full membership with EU and the country was considered a regional super power. AKP cadres ran all state institutions. A coup d'etat was unthinkable under the circumstances. The country had simply become too complicated for the generals. Since their economic interests were tied to the process they just gave up.

Morsi seems unable to comprehend these dynamics.

His effort to rush a draft constitution in the face of solid opposition from vested economic interests (for which the Brotherhood has no counterbalance) and from secular groups and, I assume from the army, indicates a certain naivete, as in "if I sneak in a constitution, they will be helpless to do anything about it."

Or to give himself sweeping powers, thinking that no one would object to them, because, you know, he means well.

If he wants to implement the Turkish model, he should study it carefully. It takes a solid class analysis, a vigorous economic base, good governance skills and, at least in the beginning, a lot of patience with other societal groups.

Muslim Brotherhood has none of these things.

I am wondering with Netanyahu going rogue, forces behind the Arab Spring will require a personnel change in Egypt.

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