From Egypt to Syria and from France to Greece, the demands for change, voiced by the majority of the people in these countries, are related to relative deprivation.
In a nutshell, relative deprivation is the gap between high expectations and missing opportunities. It strongly differs from “absolute” deprivation, which primarily deals with abject poverty and lack of education. At the heart of relative deprivation is a growing sense of social, cultural, political and economic awareness that fuels expectations. The deprivation dimension comes when such growing expectations are unmet. In turn, these unfulfilled aspirations and expectations lead to growing frustration, alienation, victimization, humiliation and sometimes even to radicalization.
Sociologists and political scientists agree that blocked aspirations and social frustration were the main drivers behind the “Arab Awakening.” For instance, “educated unemployment,” which creates a category of youth which can be best described as “frustrated achievers,” is very important to analyze. After all, it was an educated but highly frustrated fruit vendor who sparked the whole revolution in Tunisia -- an event which inspired millions of other educated but unemployed youths across the Arab world.
Now that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have led to change of power in favor of Islamist parties, the main question is whether growing social, economic and political expectations can be met. The Arab Awakening created the notion that public mobilization can actually create change. Therefore, the stakes are now higher than ever. Higher expectations can lead to higher disappointment. What is taking place in Egypt, with the military regime and its allies in the judiciary trying to hijack the democratization process by dissolving parliament, does not bode well for the future. The remnants of the Mubarak regime are trying to create a paradigm for military tutelage.
This proves that the so-called Turkish model that supposedly inspires countries like Egypt works in two different directions. In fact, there seem to be two different Turkish models. The most familiar one is about the evolution of Turkish political Islam. The other is about the role of the Turkish military in shaping the political system. The events in Egypt prove that the Egyptian army continues to play a crucial role in the ongoing transition to post-authoritarianism. It should come as no surprise that whenever the military becomes the most important factor shaping the political environment, people think of the Turkish model. After all, the Turkish military has played a crucial role in the formation of the republic and has been the self-declared guardian of the Kemalist regime in Turkey since 1923. But recent developments on the front of Turkish civil-military relations have confirmed the country’s embrace of Western standards of civilian supremacy.
This is why for the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt the model to emulate is not the role of the Turkish army but the role that the Justice and Development (AKP) has played in consolidating civilian supremacy. Yet, it should not come as a surprise that Egyptian generals are much more interested in emulating the role of the Turkish army. Their logic is based on a simple question and a simple answer. Why is it that Turkish Islam and the AKP are moderate? Answer: Turkish Islam and the AKP had to abide by the “red lines” of the secularist Turkish army. Therefore, the Egyptian army needs to establish these red lines as well.
At the end of the day, such negative dynamics and the wrong focus on the wrong Turkish model will exacerbate the situation in Egypt. The clock of relative deprivation is ticking. The expectations of the Tahrir Square generation and of the millions of Egyptians who supported the revolution cannot be thwarted. Heightened expectations with a closure of political space and opportunities will be a combustible mix for Egypt. Bridging the gap between expectations and opportunities will require stronger institutions ensuring upward mobility and political opening. If the military fails to understand this and Islamic parties fail to strengthen the institutions providing good governance, the dynamics of relative deprivation will lead to more frustration as well as higher levels of social, economic and political conflict.