February 05, 2012, Sunday

Will the people of Egypt become divided like the people of Turkey?

The people of Egypt, from liberals to conservatives, from Christians to nationalists, who made history by toppling the 30-year-long Mubarak regime, are attempting what is proving to be a chaotic undertaking.

While discourse between opposing parties has become more and more tough in the first democratic elections to be held in the history of the country, Tahrir Square, where people from all ideological backgrounds banded together against the Mubarak regime, is becoming the setting for a battle between these opposing groups. Similarly, just in the last few days almost 100 people were killed at a football match. Egypt is a country that is vulnerable to political provocation, and recent events have shown how swiftly the country is to divide into different camps.

For years, Egypt was one of those rare countries that prove people with different thoughts and beliefs can live peacefully together. It was almost impossible to see people fighting in the streets of Egypt, which witnessed some of the world’s most pious Muslim and Christian communities living in the same country. While women hesitate about getting into a taxi in many countries around the world, even during the day, in Egypt a woman could take a taxi, even at night, and go wherever she wanted.

With this environment of social peace and confidence, Egypt was always a country that offered something for Turkey to aspire to.

Intense secularity and Kemalist thought in Turkey has resulted in deep social fault lines. A happy minority in Turkey cast out a large proportion of society by means of the state power it had captured. Conservatives, Kurds, minority groups, democrats and liberals, among others, were exposed to the oppression of secularists and Kemalists.

As a result of this, today we are able to witness how vicious political discourse in Turkey has become. When the prime minister criticizes opponents with severe and hurtful words, opposition parties are ready to retaliate.

The social classes from which political parties emerge arguably carry this discourse into the social sphere. Certain secular groups continue to look down on conservatives, and religion is still considered a phenomenon that should never be visible in social life.

While Kemalists accuse democrats of treachery, some groups, claiming they fight for the rights of Kurds, express their demands by throwing Molotov cocktails at shops or by laying mines on roads.

As for nationalists, they try to block the tiniest sympathy towards Kurds.

Maybe the existence of a strong government and an economy that is doing well are preventing some social incidents from becoming more serious. However, a potential economic or political crisis in Turkey may cause unpreventable social events.

As for Egypt, it is luckier than Turkey in terms of this issue. It is in a position to take precautions by learning from the experiences of Turkey. In particular, political parties or movements that have power should take care over their choice of discourse.

Second, Egypt shouldn’t allow the development of a deep state, which has been a problem in Turkey for years. The deep state in Turkey, which derived its power from the army, can be found at every point in life, from the business world to universities, from the media to the mafia.

Third, no organization should have special privileges in parliament. In particular, the position of the army should be clearly determined and no political party should be able to plan to remain in government by negotiating with the army. Regulations concerning the military, which in Egypt has never been so weak as it is now, should be established with determination.

Fourth, domination of the media by the state should end. There are still many newspapers and television stations controlled by the state and therefore by the army, even though Mubarak’s regime has ended. Additionally, diversity should be allowed within the media, and groups with different political and ideological perspectives should be encouraged to establish newspapers and television stations.

The fifth issue is that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should be supported in their efforts to make a contribution to the country. It is not just the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that has created positive change in Turkey in the last 10 years. NGOs have also played a key role in efforts to develop Turkish society.

Sixth, religious movements and groups should take all parts of the community into consideration when expressing their opinions. Undoubtedly, the one issue that is guaranteed to provoke people is religion.

Some of the paragraphs above are about problems that Turkey has also been trying to solve for years. As Turkey began to deal with those problems, it moved forward in terms of democracy and also enjoyed great economic improvements.

Egypt’s success in climbing out of its current difficulties will depend on the steps it takes to deal with these problems.

Previous articles of the columnist