January 29, 2012, Sunday

Will Egypt be able to achieve what Turkey achieved in 2002?

Although it has been one year since the Jan. 25 revolution, Egypt is still unable to take serious steps towards solving its political and economic crises.

Despite the fact that the first democratic parliament in the country’s history held its first session at the beginning of the week, both the existing political structure of parliament and the stalemates facing the country are causing Egyptians to brood over the country’s future.

For decades, Turkey underwent a more severe crisis than that currently facing Egypt. Turkey seemed like a Third World country due to poor management by the elite class who had control of Turkey’s major institutions, unsolved murders in which the deep state was involved, repeated economic crises, political conflicts caused by coalition governments, diplomatic failures, income inequality, corruption and the Kurdish problem, which became a chronic issue as time passed.

Although the economic recovery and opening up of Turkey initiated by late President Turgut Özal in the ‘80s paved the way for the country’s development to a certain extent, the coalition governments that later swept into power pushed Turkey into a series of stalemates.

When the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took power in 2002, Turkey had just recovered from an economic crisis and was standing in the middle of the worldwide chaos caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

When the AK Party became encumbered with this heavy political, economic and diplomatic burden, no one thought that they were going to make any great breakthroughs. General opinion was that the pro-status quo powers, led by the army, would not let the AK Party take full control, just as they had previously made the position of prime minister untenable for Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the National View (Milli Görüş) movement, in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan participated.

However, the AK Party government proceeded to make some very smart moves. In particular, by clinging to adjustment laws that would aid Turkey’s EU accession, it both offered an olive branch to the West and also undermined potential internal threats.

It particularly refrained from making decisions that might have drawn a rebuke from the West. Important steps were taken in terms of minority groups, basic constitutional rights and the Kurds. By pursuing a “zero problems” policy, Turkey established close relations with neighboring countries, with the West and with Israel.

Of course, media and nongovernmental organizations made a great contribution to the success of the government. Organizations other than the government played a great role in eliminating the deep state and in constraining the power of the army. All the time, the driving force that led to the AK Party government winning three successive elections was the economic success of the country. The Turkish economy grew almost fourfold in 2011 in comparison to 2002. Inflation was brought under control, serious moves were made in terms of unemployment and the foundations that would allow Turkish entrepreneurs to become influential all over the world were laid.

To return to Egypt, in many ways the current situation is similar to how Turkey was 10 years ago.

Although Mubarak quit his official position, his legacy continues in Egypt. The economy has hit rock bottom, corruption and bribery are widespread, unemployment and poverty are very high and diplomatic difficulties are looming. Many parties, the political interests and demands of which are poles apart, are sharing the same parliament.

Therefore, it would be natural for these two countries, which resemble each other in economic, geographical, political, cultural and religious terms, to benefit from each other’s experiences. Also, the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, which will take control over politics and the economy in Egypt, resembles the AK Party in so many ways will contribute to the value of this shared experience.

The Freedom and Justice Party that emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood should implement serious economic reforms in order to protect the country from political crises.

It won’t be hard for Egypt, which boasts a large labor pool and an educated population, to come up with the most suitable economic model for the country.

If work on the new constitution, which will have an important impact on the future of the country, is conducted in accordance with the viewpoints of all parties, it will ease the struggle for a peaceful Egypt.

Political and diplomatic discourse both inside and outside the country will have great importance during this period. Unnecessary and unexpected diplomatic crises may prevent foreign investment in Egypt, which is crucial for the country, and harsh polemics in domestic politics may result in social rifts, as happened in Turkey.

Egypt’s most obvious disadvantage at this time may possibly be that it lacks a leader as charismatic as Erdoğan.

Previous articles of the columnist