Imperiled Polities: Egypt and Turkey—Two Visions of Democracy

25 Jan


The Meaning of a 98.1% Vote


In mid-January there was a vote in Egypt as to whether to approve a constitution drafted by a 50-person committee appointed by the interim government put in place after the military coup carried out on July 3, 2013. The constitution was approved by 98.1% of those who voted, 38.6% of the eligible 53 million Egyptians. This compares with 63.8% support received by the constitution prepared during the presidency of Mohammed Morsi from the 32.9% of the Egyptian citizenry that participated in the vote. It should be observed that this new constitutional referendum was boycotted by both the Muslim Brotherhood and various of the youth groups that has been at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak upheaval in 2011. Also the validity of the vote was further discredited because of the atmosphere of intimidation in Egypt well conveyed by the pro-coup slogan: “You are either with me or with the terrorists.” Not only had the MB been criminalized, its assets seized, its leaders jailed, its media outlets shut down, but anyone of any persuasion who seemed opposed to the leadership and style of General el-Sisi was subject to arrest and abuse.


In the background here are questions about the nature of ‘democracy,’ and how to evaluate the views of people caught in the maelstrom of political conflict. On one level, it might seem that a vote of over 90% for absolutely anything is an expression of extraordinary consensus, and as a result el-Sisi’s constitution is far more popular than Morsi’s constitution, and hence more legitimate. Reflecting on this further makes it seem evident, especially when the oppressive context is to taken into account that the one-sided vote should be interpreted in the opposite manner, making Morsi’s vote more trustworthy because it reached plausible results. Any vote in a modern society that claims 98.1% support should be automatically disregarded because it must have been contrived and coerced. In effect, we cannot trust democratic procedures to reveal true sentiments in a political atmosphere that terrorizes its opponents, and purports to delegitimize its opposition by engaging in state crime. The consent of the governed can only be truly ascertained if the conditions exist for the free and honest expression of views for and against what present power-wielders favor.


Maybe, however, the connections made between democracy and legitimacy, seeking this populist signal of approval by the ritual of a vote, is itself a kind of blindfold. It would seem that a majority of Egyptians did, in fact, welcome the el-Sisi coup, believing that a military leadership would at least ensure food and fuel at affordable prices and restore order on the streets. In other words, most citizens in crisis situations posit order and economic stability as their highest political priorities, and are ready to give up ‘democracy’ if its leaders fail to meet these expectations. In my view, what has happened in Egypt is the abandonment of the substance of democracy by the majority of the Egyptian people, as reinforced by the suppression of a minority hostile to the takeover. This dynamic is hidden because the discourse and rituals of democracy are retained. It is this process that I believe we are witnessing as unfolding in Egypt. In effect, polarization of the first two-and-half years following the overthrow of Mubarak has been followed by the restoration of autocratic rule, but due to the intervening embrace of political freedom, however problematic, the new autocrat is even harsher than what was rejected at Tahrir Square three years ago.


The Politics of Polarization and Alienation  


Amid this political turmoil that has been spoiling the politics of the Middle East is a conceptual confusion that contributes to acute political alienation on the part of those societal elements that feel subject to a governmental leadership and policy agenda that is perceived as hostile to their interests and values. Such circumstances are aggravated by political cultures that have been accustomed to ‘one-man shows’ that accentuate tendencies toward adoration and demonization. Each national situation reflects the particularities of history, culture, values, national memories, personalities, and a host of other considerations, and at the same time there are certain shared tendencies that may reflect some commonalities of experience and inter-societal mimicry, as well as the deformed adoption of Western hegemonic ideas of modernity, development, constitutionalism, and governance, as well as of course the relationship between religion and politics.


The recent disturbing political turmoil in Turkey and Egypt, each in its own way, is illustrative. In both countries there are strong, although quite divergent, traditions of charismatic authoritarian leadership, reinforced by quasi-religious sanctification. Very recently, however, this authoritarian past is being challenged by counter-traditions of populist legitimacy putting forward impassioned demands for freedom, integrity, equity, and inclusive democracy, which if not met, justify putting aside governmental procedures, including even the results of national elections. Within this emergent counter-tradition is also a willingness to give up all democratic pretensions so as to restore a preferred ideological orientation toward governance, that is, resorting to whatever instruments are effecting in transferring control of the state back to the old order that had lost control of the governing process by elections, and had poor prospects of democratically winning power in the future.


In Egypt, this circumstance led to unconditional opposition to the elected leadership, especially to Mohammed Morsi, the president drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. The aim of this opposition, whether or not consciously espoused, seemed to have been to create a crisis of governability of sufficient depth to provoke a crisis of legitimacy, which could then produce a populist challenge from below that brought together ideological demands for a different orientation and material demands for a better life. It is true that Morse lent a certain credibility to this rising tide of opposition by a combination of incompetence and some clumsy repressive moves, but this was almost irrelevant as his secular and fulool opponents wanted him to fail and never allowed him even the possibility of success. For such opponents, the idea of living under a government run by the MB was by itself intolerable. In the end, many of those who had pleaded so bravely for freedom in Tahrir Square were two years later pleading with the armed forces to engage in the most brutal expressions of counter-revolutionary vengeance. Whether this will be the end of the Egyptian story for the near future is difficult to discern, the downward spiral suggests insurrection and strife for the foreseeable future.  


In Turkey, such a collision has recently produced turmoil and highlighting the dangers and passions that accompany lethal polarization, initially, in the encounters of the summer of 2013 at Gezi Park and some months later in a titanic struggle between Tayyip Recip Erdogan and Fetullah Gulan generating a rising tide of mutual recriminations and accusations that threatens the AKP dominance of the political process, a threat that will be soon tested in the March local elections, especially those in Istanbul and Ankara. Turkey is different than Egypt in at least two major respects. First of all, its economy has flourished in the past decade, producing a rising middle class, and a business community with lots to lose if investor confidence and currency exchange rates decline sharply. This reality is complicated by the fact that part of those that have gained economically have been aligned with the AKP, and by the degree to which the Turkish armed forces are also major stakeholders in the private sector. Secondly, a major achievement of the AKP leadership has been to depoliticize the role of the Turkish military, partly to protect itself against interference and partly to satisfy European Union accession criteria.


Alienation and emotional distress is more a symptom than an explanation of why there exist such strong political tensions. Better understood, these conflicts are about class, religion, status, political style, the benefits of governmental control, and availability of capital and credit. An additional source of public antagonism is the unresolved, and mostly unacknowledged, debate about the true nature of democracy as the legitimating ideal for good governance in the 21st century. One perplexing element is language, especially its use by politicians concerned with public opinion. There is this impulse on one side to base governmental legitimacy on pleasing the citizenry, and the impulse on the other side is to insist upon fidelity to law and constitutionalism. Both sides have powerful arguments that can be invoked to support their claims. There is no right and wrong, which is infuriating for polarized discourse that can only raise its voice to shout in higher decibels, but can never reach a conclusion of the sort that might resolve a scientific debate or solve a mathematical puzzle. Each side is motivated by unshakeable convictions, and has no disposition to listen, much less appreciate, what the others are saying. In effect, good governance is impossible in the absence of community, and what has become evident is that society unity is currently unattainable in the presence of the sort of alienation that has gripped the publics in Egypt and Turkey, and elsewhere. 


Part of the controversy, but only part, can be reduced to these differences over the very nature of democracy. Another part, as discussed in relation to the vote on the Egyptian constitution, involves the abandonment of democracy in substance while insisting on its retention in form.


Varieties of Democracy


The word democracy itself needs to be qualified in one of two ways: majoritarian or republican. And here is the central tension: the public myth in all countries that deem themselves ‘modern’ endorse the republican tradition of limited government and internal checks and balances, while the political culture is decidedly ambivalent. It can spontaneously legitimize the majoritarian prerogatives of a popular leader with strong backing on the street and among the armed forces, even at the cost of republican correctness. Because of this reality, there exists a tendency by those social forces being displaced through societal power shifts to view a newly ascendant leader through a glass darkly. They suddenly lament authoritarian tendencies that never troubled them in the past when their elites held the reins of governmental authority. Part of the recent confusion is that sometimes the authoritarian tendency gets so corrupted that it loses support even among those who share its class and ideological outlook, and a reformist enthusiasm emerges. This happened in Egypt, but its tenure was short lived as its adherents, drawn from the ranks of the urban educated elites, quickly realized that their interests and values were more jeopardized by the ‘new’ order than it had been by the excesses of the ‘old’ order. 


We find in Egypt this pattern played out through the wildly gyrations in the perception of the armed forces as a political player. In the Mubarak Era the armed forces were the central pillar of the state, and a major beneficiary of governmental corruption, neoliberal inequities, and a principal perpetrator, along with other security forces, of state crime. In the Morsi period of governance the armed forces seemed to stay in the background until either responding to or prompting the populist mandate of the opposition exhibited by mass demonstrations and media mobilization based on a paranoid image of Muslim Brotherhood rule and widespread genuine distress about economic stagnancy and political disarray.


After the July 3rd coup led by Morsi’s Minister of Defense, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the armed forces set aside the constitution, installed a transitional government, promised new elections, and set about drafting a constitution that embodied the hegemony of the armed forces. What has taken place, however, is an undisguised exercise of authoritarian closure based on declaring the former choice of the citizenry, the Muslim Brotherhood, to be a ‘terrorist’ organization whose leadership were victims of several atrocities, imprisoned, forced underground, and fled the country. Nevertheless, despite these repressive measures, the armed forces are proceeding on a basis as if their action has been mandated by ‘democracy,’ that is, by majoritarian demands for change enacted on the streets of Egyptian cities and through the subsequent endorsement of the repressive steps to be undertaken by the regime, eventually validated through demonstrations, voting, and electoral ratification. In the background of such a counter-revolutionary turn, of course, were weak institutions of government accustomed to operate for decades within a strict authoritarian political space, and a governmental bureaucracy whose judiciary and police continued to ideologically aligned with the old order. Such an entrenched bureaucracy seems to have regarded the reemergence of authoritarian and militarized politics as natural, linked in their imaginary with Egypt’s ancient heritage of greatness and more comfortable with such domineering figures as Nasser and Mubarak as compared to the density and seeming incapacities of Morsi.


Challenging Democracy in Turkey


The situation in Turkey is much more subtle and less menacing, yet exhibits several analogous features. Despite the outcome of elections that brought the AKP to power initially in 2002, a development subsequently reinforced by stronger electoral mandates in 2007 and 2012, most of the opposition never accepted these results as politically acceptable, and immediately sought to undermine the elected leadership in a variety of legal and extra-legal ways. In the background of this alienation was the implicit and feared belief that the AKP was mounting a challenge to the hallowed legacy of Kemal Ataturk, as well as to the rigid Turkish style of secularism that was periodically reinvigorated by the armed forces that staged coups, which in 1982 had imposed a highly centralized, security oriented constitution on the country. With political acumen, the AKP maneuvered pragmatically in an impressive manner, creating a rapidly growing economy, seeking to play a conflict resolving role throughout the Middle East, and repeatedly proclaiming a fidelity to the secular creed as the foundation of public order, and by stages subjecting the armed forces to civilian control. Despite the magnitude of these achievements the AKP and Erdogan never gained an iota of appreciation or respect from the anti-religious Kemalist opposition that claimed to be the only legitimate guardians of Turkish ‘secularism.’  Strangely, this alienated opposition was never able to present a responsible political platform that could give the Turkish people a positive alternative, and so the prospects of mounting an electoral challenge remained poor, especially given the accomplishments of the AKP.


In such a setting this intensely alienated opposition seemed increasingly dependent on manufacturing a crisis of legitimacy that would restore the old state/society balance that had prevailed since the founding of the republic in 1923. The Ataturk legacy included a somewhat reluctance acceptance of procedural democracy in the form of free and fair elections with the apparent implied assumption that the outcome would remain faithful to his modernist orientation, modeled on Europe, that accompanied the founding of the republic. The range of opposition was limited by a law allowing the closure of political parties that seemed to be straying from the prescribed Kemalist path. When the AKP defied these expectations in 2002, the opposition became quickly fed up with the workings of  ‘democracy,’ and seemed early on to count on being rescued, as in the past, by a military intervention that they hoped would be encouraged by the U.S., which was assumed to be unhappy about the Islamist leanings attributed to the AKP political base and leadership.  The disappointment among the old secular elites arising from the failure of these expectations to materialize deepened the alienation and frustrations of opposition forces, especially on the part of urban elites in the main cities of Turkey in the western part of the country, which exaggerated the faults of the government and ignored its achievements.


With such considerations in mind it was understandable that there would be exhilaration among the opposition generated by the Gezi Park demonstrations in the summer of 2013, especially in its initial phases that were as much a protest against the AKP’s embrace of an environmentally rapacious neoliberalism as it was against the authoritarian excesses of the Erdogan leadership. This enthusiasm weakened when the Gezi movement was substantially hijacked in its subsequent phases by the most extreme tendencies of the alienated opposition, which seemed to believe that Gezi presented an opportunity to fashion a full-fledged crisis of governability out of this narrowly focused protest that might force the resignation of Erdogan, if not the collapse of the AKP. There was an attempt to take advantage of escalating public outrage that resulted after excessive force was used by the police to maintain order in the Gezi context. Of course, Erdogan’s harsh style of discourse, including off the cuff opinions that reflected his Islamic devoutness, were part of the broader political atmosphere, and were particularly alarming to an already alienated opposition, reinforcing their their underlying beliefs that any alternative would be better for Turkey than what the AKP was bestowing upon the country. The situation was aggravated  after the AKP electoral success in 2011. It seemed to give Erdogan confidence that he need no longer adhere to his earlier cautiously pragmatic approach to leadership, and he adopted the sort of swagger that both frightened and disgusted an opposition that was not inclined to give him any leeway.


Similarly, the more recent, unexpected, and still obscure and bitter public falling out between the AKP and the hizmet movement has injected a new virus into the Turkish body politic posing unpredictable threats. It may turn out that this conflict represent nothing more fundamental than a struggle for relative influence and power that calmer minds will resolve before long. Perhaps also Turkey is experiencing some of the almost inevitable mishaps associated with keeping one political party with a strong leader in power for too long. Such prolonged control of government almost always produces scandal and corruption, especially in a political culture where the rule of law and the ethics of civic virtue do not have a very strong grip on behavioral patterns. In the more distant Turkish past are the memories of Ottoman times when the country was a regional power center, governed by highly authoritarian figures, a hallowed past that was secularized in the last century but not challenged in its essential role in Turkish political culture.


Majoritarian and Republican Democracy Assessed


With this mix of considerations in mind, the distinction between ‘Majoritarian Democracy’ and ‘Republican Democracy,’ although simplifying the actual political texture, seems important.  In Majoritarian Democracy the leadership is essentially responsible to the electorate, and if its policies reflect the will of the majority, the views and values of opposed minorities need not be respected. Critical views treat such forms of government as susceptible to the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ which has subjective and objective realities distinguishing between what is perceived and what is actually taking place. Arguably after Morsi’s election in 2012, and given the embittered opposition that seemed unwilling to accept the outcome of the vote, the Muslim Brotherhood used the prerogatives of office in a failed attempt to impose the majoritarian will, and may itself have been prepared to change the rules of the political game so as to retain control. Part of the majoritarian mentality is to locate a check on its excesses in the will of the citizenry, and thus when the people are mobilized to demand a new leadership for the country without waiting upon the niceties of the next elections, the path is cleared for the sort of military takeover that occurred last July. Of course, majoritarian dynamics are subject to manipulation by anti-democratic forces whose zeal is directed toward gaining control of the state.


‘Republican Democracy’ in contrast starts with a generally skeptical view of human nature, and seeks above all to find procedures and support the nurturing of a political culture that prizes moderate government over efficiency and transcendent leadership. The American self-conscious adoption of Republican Democracy at the end of the 18th century, as spelled out for the ages in The Federalist Papers, is a classic instance of molding a constitutional system that was wary of majorities and protective of minorities and of individual rights ( although totally blind to the human claims of slaves and native Americans). Unlike Egypt or Turkey, Americans were seeking to arrange a different future for themselves than was associated with British royalism, and its absolutist pretensions. In the background, were political thinkers such as John Locke with a stress on the link between good governance and rights and Montesquieu who argued along analogous lines about the cardinal relevance of separation of powers to the avoidance of the concentration and excesses of state power. Delinking government from religious claims of certainty was also consistent with republican sensitivity to human flaws and the general ethos of Lord Acton’s famous saying ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’


Because over time every political system faces crises, the American founders realized that the envisioned arrangements would only survive the tests of time if two conditions were realized: first, reverence for the constitution by both lawmakers and citizens, and secondly, judicial supremacy to override legislative and executive swings toward either implementing the momentary passions of the mob or aggrandizing power and authority, and thereby upsetting the delicate balance of institutions. Despite this self-conscious commitment to the republican approach, in times of war and crisis, the democratic feature of accountable power-wielding tends to yield to claims of national security and public expediency. And once such departures from republicanism become entrenched, as a result of a long period of warfare or in relation to nuclear weaponry, and now transnational terrorism, the authoritarian genie is able to escape from the constitutional bottle. As the American motto of ‘eternal vigilance’ reminds us, there are no safe paths to moderate government, and its most influential advocates realized that their wishes might be so defeated that they recognized that the people enjoyed ‘a right of revolution’ if despite all precautions the governing process had become despotic.


It need hardly be argued that neither Egypt nor Turkey are remotely similar to the United States or Europe, but the superficial embrace of democracy by these and other countries might benefit from examining more closely the menace of Majoritarian Democracy in a fragmented polity and the difficulties of establishing Republican Democracy in political cultures that have been so long dominated by militarism and authoritarianism. Egypt is experiencing the essentially anti-democratic restoration of authoritarian militarism, while Turkey is trying to preserve sufficient stability and consensus to enable the self-restrained persistence of procedural democracy and a successful process of constitutional renewal that rids the country of the 1982 militarist vision of governance, and moves toward creating the institutional and procedural frame and safeguards associated with Republican Democracy. Beyond this, however, will be the immense educational challenge of shaping a supportive political culture that entrenches republican values in public consciousness, above all a respect for individual and group rights and an inclusive approach to policy formation that seeks participation by and approval from stakeholding constituencies opposed to the majority. Such a vision of a democratic future for Turkey implies a process, not an event, and will require an ongoing struggle inevitably distracted by both manufactured and authentic crises of legitimacy. The hope is that moderate minds will prevail, serving the long-term interests of a state and its peoples that retain great potential to be a beacon of light for the region and beyond.



16 Responses to “Imperiled Polities: Egypt and Turkey—Two Visions of Democracy”

  1. Gene Schulman January 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I find it curious that after two days there hasn’t been one response to this important essay. I wonder if the subject is too remote from the usual blogs posted here with emphasis on the Israel/Palestine conflict?

    I also find it ironic that, as Turkey and Egypt are trying to find their own routes to democracy, the US seems to be turning its back on its democratic traditions and regressing to authoritarian militarism. The future does not look bright.

    • ceylan January 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm #


      Same here: I have been also wondering why no one has jumped to reply. My guess is that this time those who take every opportunity to attack Richard are going through the shock of thinking the same way with him thus they are speechless.


      The intensity of the interview you have published previously is still in my conscience, it hurts: OUCH!


      ps: I still can not see all the comments; as in this case/time I only see one and it is Gene’s only. wondering where the trouble is!?

      • Kata Fisher January 29, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

        @ ceylan

        I have reflection:
        False graciousness is worthless; it is better to grieve by truth!
        Practicing manners is worthless; it is work of bereavement.


    • chris smith January 31, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      These are indeed issues that the people of the World must understand, or perish. Richard does have a US bias, does he think the US is really a democracy? When the 0.1% has total control of the president, congress, the supreme court and the regulatory bodies, it is difficult to call it a democracy. Perhaps easier than the Democratic Republic of North Korea. The US does have some components of their Constitution which have merit.

      I live in Toronto, Canada, and was reminded of the criticism of democracy as being a “Tyranny of the Majority”. Here in Canada we have a “Tyranny of the Minority”. Mr. Harper, our Prime Minister and his Conservative Party got 40% of the vote last election, of those who voted. That was only 24% of the Electorate. Many Canadians don’t vote because the “First Past the Post” electoral system is a total farce. So, even though more than 3 out of 4 Canadians didn’t want him and his crazy ideas he now has a “Strong Mandate” to implement them. This state of affairs is strongly supported by our media, including the so called centrist ones like the Toronto Star.

      In Northern Europe and elsewhere most countries have Proportional Representation where approximately the numbers elected reflect the publish wish. It forces parties to work together rather than screaming at each other as ours do. It is a component of what democracy needs to function properly, something unknown in North American Governments.

      • Kata Fisher January 31, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

        @ chris smith

        There are select problems; is it possible that there any solution you may see?

        Can you give suggestions what needs to take place? Do you have an outline in your mind for Turkey problem-solving? I just wonder. I know that there is a whole lot going on, and many people are angry about all conditions that are observable.

        Fr. Carlo Maria Vigano has observed US-conditions and has given good points (from Philosophical/Theological stance) how things are starting to be appearing here in US/globally (already are).

        In general, US democracy is shifting away from its original establishment.

        Also, he would be the person who understands corruption at its best – as he was at struggle to clear it up in the Church of Rome/Vatican; he was reassigned/appointed t another position.
        You can find his lecture “Religious Freedom, Persecution of the Church, and Martyrdom” @ Notre Dame via YouTube (during his 2012 visit).


  2. peripamir January 31, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    The reason why this article has not drawn much attention could be because (1) Richard wrote on the same subject a short while ago, and (2) the part on Turkey, while recalling some useful background information repeats much of the previous content and, in the same vein, sounds more like a sophisticated propaganda piece intended to please the current regime, than an objective assessment of the state of political governance in Turkey today.

    The “crisis of legitimacy” Richard rightly speaks of in reference to the AKP has not been manufactured by the “opposition” (by which I assume he means the political not public opposition ?), not at all, but by the authoritarian and anti democratic policies of the AKP itself, most notably since the outbreak of a huge corruption scandal on 17 Dec encompassing members of the government, their families and their powerful friends in business. It seems incredulous that Richard makes only passing and a rather cynical reference to the corruption scandal, failing to mention that the Erdogan government has since removed from office over 5000 police officers, scores of prosecutors, judges and inspectors involved in the corruption probe.

    The whole country has been rocking with new stories of executive interference in the judicial procedure almost every single day. There is NO rule of law in Turkey today. None whatsoever. No independent judiciary. There is no free press. 90% of media channels are owned by government cronies, Turkey still imprisons the most journalists in The World and the government is about to pass a law curtailing Internet access in its attempt to control the platform where most criticism against it takes place. There is no fruitful discussion in parliament because the majority party holds sway in most voting procedures. Only a PM who does as he pleases, including preventing his own son from being summoned by the prosecutor for questioning in relation to corruption charges. In fact in its attempt to fend off all criticism and enquiry, the regime has adopted a style of aggression that indiscriminately encompasses all potential opponents, ranging from judicial actors to businessmen to football fans. If all these these do not constitute a threat to democracy, it is hard to see what would.

    The fact that Richard makes no mention of any of these stupendous events, in the same manner he failed to speak about excessive police brutality during the Gezi protests – an inexplicable oversight – calls into question his impartiality and the soundness of his position. Despite his shifted sensibilities on the question of political polarization, the responsibility for which he previously placed entirely on the political opposition, he still sounds like someone whose judgement has been clouded by his loyalty to his friends in the ruling AK Party, rather than like an independent impartial scholar. He uses THEIR arguments of “victimization” and their political animosities with regard to the practically defunct parliamentary opposition, and refuses to recognize that most of these politicians whom he defends, including the PM himself, are not honest brokers or devout believers, but greedy, dishonest, corrupt policy makers who have unabashedly stolen public funds (because they somehow believe this is “owed” to them because of past injustices) and used religion solely or primarily for political ends.

    It is news to me as someone who lives in Turkey to learn that the Gezi movement has since been “hijacked by the most extreme tendencies of the alienated opposition” (?), especially since Gezi is an extremely heterogenous movement essentially encompassing a range of civil society groups (including Kurdish nationalists, feminists, gays, environmentalists, professional organizations such as lawyers and architects, leftists factions, modern religious groups, etc), as well as students and ordinary civilians who participated in the street protests and those who gathered in evening forums.

    As for Erdogan’s success in “depoliticizing the military”, this was done at the price of imprisoning hundreds of innocent military personnel on trumped up charges and at unfairly conducted trials which many bodies, including numerous international organizations, have since sought to draw attention to.

    The “economic success” story, which has mostly benefitted individuals and construction companies close to Erdogan, is about to unravel as well (and will likely henceforth be the focus of international attention) as economists have been warning for a long while. And the sad fact is that THAT is the reason the Erdogan government will lose support from its own power base one day. And not because of the shocking violations of rule of law this regime has engaged in or turned a blind eye to during its long rule.

    Finally, it is a total obfuscation of reality to speak about “stability” or “consensus” in Turkey in times such as these when we feel the country is literally falling apart. It is a great pity that a scholar of the calibre of Richard Falk cannot grasp this reality but instead, after everything that has happened, is STILL trying to be an apologist for an unjustifiable regime.

    • Richard Falk January 31, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

      In response to Peri Pamir’s screed: I can’t remember who said it, but it
      applies: “it’s not where you look, it’s what you see.” The wildly exaggerated attacks on the AKP and especially on Erdogan are not something new. I recall Peri demonizing Erdogan from the moment he became Prime Minister, as well as praising the Turkish military as the only thing that keeps Turkey from being swept away by an Islamic tidal wave. It is true that I have written previously about the toxic impact of political polarization that has afflicted Turkey for the past decade, but its character shifts with the onset of new developments. Peri is astonished that I do not express horror at the police brutality exhibited at Gezi Park or belittle the broad coalition of forces that were arrayed against Erdogan on that occasion. Of course, it is unacceptable for the police to handle protest events in this manner but it happens in democratic societies that are stressed by an opposition that portrays its elected leaders as evil persons who are destroying society. With far less provocation, horrible police brutality greeted the civil rights movement in the South or anti-war demonstrations on American campuses, but most people in the country tried to confine these ugly incidents rather than to claim that there all there was to American constitutionalism. For Peri to bemoan the total absence of tolerance for criticism in Turkey, and then to express such hostile and damning views of the Turkish leadership seems to beg a question–why with such views so transparently expressed is she still at large, and not only her, but any reader of Turkish newspapers or viewer of the incessant talk shows on the current political crisis, would be struck by the stream of insulting criticism that is directed toward the AKP leadership.
      This is not to deny that Erdogan following the 2011 electoral outcome seemed somewhat intoxicated with his role as populist political leader, and it is reasonable to think he had reached the end of his capacity to provide the kind of composed leadership that a divided country such as Turkey needs and deserves. But for those secular fundamentalists like Peri to fail to acknowledge that he put forward a package of democratizing reforms after the Gezi Park events, that he encouraged investigation and disciplinary action against those police responsible for the use excessive force, that he has indicated his intention not to seek an extension of his tenure as Prime Minister, and that the curtailing of the role of the military was a major achievement given the periodic coups and repressive military rule in republican Turkey. What may be more astonishing is the refusal of these extreme critics to take notice of the role of Hizmet movement in Turkey that had penetrated the police and judiciary in a manner that created a plausible perception of a ‘parallel government’ that any legitimate government would act to regain control of the governing institutions. Perhaps, saddest of all is the refusal of Peri and her allies to appreciate the great achievements of this period of AKP governance: repaid IMF debt, reduced poverty, increased support for the disabled and vulnerable, initiated major effort to resolve the Kurdish problem, accepted the Annan Plan for resolving the Cyprus gridlock, used diplomatic initiatives to heal the wounds in the Balkans, collaborated with Brazil to find a way to end tensions with Iran, tried to encourage a peaceful resolution of tensions between Israel and Syria, Israel and Hamas, became an important and respected player at the United Nations acknowledged by election to the Security Council, navigated through a global economic recession in a more successful manner than did the European Union or North America. There were failures and mistakes of a serious character, but to call me an ‘apologist’ or ‘propagandist’ for the Turkish government because I believe that more was done for the benefit of the Turkish people as a whole than at any time since the end of World War II. This seems so obvious as to be hardly worth insisting upon, but the deformed political discourse that accompanies polarization makes it necessary to make the effort at least to see through a glass ‘less darkly.’

  3. monalisa February 3, 2014 at 6:23 am #

    Dear Richard,

    both countries, Turkey and Egypt, are located on political and geostrategic important areas.

    While Turkey is struggling to find its own path, influenced and partly ruled by NATO-strategic outlines (which has to be taken into political consideration) and the demands of Kurds and the Turkish citizen (both come after NATO)

    is Egypt in a far lesser independent position. It is parted between Saudi Arabian interests and US-strategic (Israel Lobby) interests whereas the Egyptian population is practically inbetween smashed and its demands for democracy “outruled” (neither USA is democratic in its real terms nor Saudi Arabia) often brutally.
    Concerning Egypt, USA stands for the military and Saudi Arabia for religion.
    Sounds simple but is a catastrophe for the Egyptians.

    At the present both countries will struggle.
    Maybe both countries will have a better outlook when the world-geo-political scene changes.

    Take care of yourself


    • Gene Schulman February 3, 2014 at 6:31 am #

      Maybe both countries will have a better outlook when the world-geo-political scene changes.

      @monalisa: Don’t see that happening any time soon. ;-(

      • monalisa February 3, 2014 at 7:43 am #

        to Gene Schulman,

        I see that some changes are taking place on the diplomatic platforms.
        I see too, or better experience on daily basis, how more and more influence through mainstream media takes place in Germany and Austria which shows clearly the anxiousness of some Western Power/s to loose influence.
        Therefore here much more US positive “influences”.
        And more and more negative polarized “informations”, “documentations” etc. of the Eastern countries.

        In my opinion It will go slowly until it gets to a certain point.
        Except: if certain Western Power/s get/s too nervous because of fear loosing too many “grounds”. Then we would have to face maybe a catastrophe … (with false pretexts, as usuall in the past done).

        I am glad that I reached a certain age …
        and hope that no catastrophic things will happen ….


  4. peripamir February 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    If Richard Falk can make a statement like “the WILDLY EXAGGERATED attacks on the AKP and especially Erdogan … ” (the most recent “attacks” being spearheaded by the Gülen (Hizmet) movement-owned “Today’s Zaman” newspaper, which was well appreciated by Richard in the past for its “objective criticism” of Erdogan ..) at a time when the country has literally been thrust into the throes of a huge democracy crisis by the ruling party portending extremely serious socio-political (not to mention economic) consequences, then I need not say more… What Richard fails to realize is that the AKP he still admires is not the same political entity anymore. Unlike the international press and a multitude of international organizations, not to mention political leaders around the world, Erdogan’s mask has clearly not dropped for Richard yet.. I must have touched on a very raw nerve indeed to deserve such a scathing response. My main concern, as always, is to alert readers less familiar with events in Turkey to Richard’s not very balanced evaluation and subsequent misrepresentation (because, by the same token, he himself has been extremely PARTIAL to the AKP from the beginning !), especially with respect to what is happening in the country today.

    But suffice it to say at this critical juncture : Let History be our judge ..

    • Kata Fisher February 3, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

      I have a reflection:

      From organizational perspective it seems that institutions and governments (as organizational systems in general) fall apart because there is no consistency in the main area of overseeing (not effective approach to governing). Effective approach to governing would definitely include management and leadership, in overlaps – this, however, from many different direction into single (one) consistency. Meaning, the central consistency of governing has to hold.

      With that, the condition is established that the way institutional structure itself is established will hold. It will hold even when there are experiences of some shifts and changes.

      Understanding shifts and changes can neutralize negative effects of some abrupt changes.

      Governments, and their political stand/approach to the governing would have to be in oversee, first internally (in the Land) and then externally (outside the Land, by universal government that is guided by universal Laws).

      In all these instances, values, goals, and mission would have to be aligned with objectives that they will be in pursuit, as government/institutions. The missions itself is governing and care for people (in general term).

      Further, Turkey (and not only Turkey, but other lands) had to take additional burdens and care for people that became refugees, and should have not have be refugees/in that position. Not by natural shifts/changes in the land, rather external consequences, in the first place.

      These conditions, in turn results in shortage what lands can deliver to their own citizens, as they take part in care for refuges.

      It is best to integrate refuges into societies, and avoid refugee camps and areas – this is so due to the needs of the people (they should migrate freely according to their needs, as guest-citizens in the Lands). With this, not only refugees will receive what they need as they are becoming a part of the civilized society/in transition, but will also add to the internal strength to other lands when away from home.

      Providing for people outside civilized areas is not sufficient and effective way of 21 century World-governing, and needs of the peoples.

      It seems that Turkey has done well in that area of work, and has provided outside and inside help for refugees in different areas of needs, but still has coming short on the needs of their citizens. This can also have a significant part in readjustment in the Land itself, and there will be a need to catch up with.

      People in different and often vital positions get distracted as there is very much going on (internally and externally/globally).

      It would be possible for Turkey them to receive recommendation of priorities?

      Also, people that are often holding vital positions are tempted by different gifts/invalid needs that are not appropriate at their appointment of governing. Or are they receiving ecclesiastical gifts, as leaders of the lands that are monitored by ecclesiastical body?

      Now, I know this sounds ridicules.

      We can look at this in another way: How much corruption of unbalanced powers of some cost other lands, and how much additional burdens lands such as Turkey have to take on, apart from their own responsibility and/or corruption? Is it much significant – or, perhaps, not relevant?

      We all know that costs of the wars that are not necessary, and could have been avoided did not fulfill the needs of international community. Further, the costs for the wars when would be shifted/redirected (in cost and service) could eradicate world-poverty and could build world economies: growth & development.

      In addition to this I have this to say, regardless how controversial this may be:

      We have people that can be criticized for their humanitarian efforts, people as Bill Gates who gives where people really have no priority of need, and who somewhat imposes his own will/power on the poor (apart from whole person need) and value, and vision…and priorities of values and mission of International community.

      An individual does exactly the same as their social/economical standard? – Their medical standard. Children need food first, then medical care.

      Meaning, if we cannot fill peoples bellies with daily bread – we have no business imposing some medical needs on to another (our own will, first) on peoples and lands. Their will first: food for their bellies. (Now, I am not saying/applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and mocking poor; however, addressing a basic need of a human, in an elementary context).

      Bill Gates is violating needs of a human/a single individual by his own ethical standard/vision.

  5. SEO March 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Wow, that’s what I was looking for, what a information! present
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  6. Beau Oolayforos August 30, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,
    Very late and somewhat tangential, but on seeing a picture of soldiers in the streets of Cairo, I was appalled with the caption “A new dawn for Egyptians, with the detention of president Mohamed Morsi…”, at least until I uncovered the source – – the Murdochs. Didn’t realize how deep the pathology goes.


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