Egypt’s Transition in Crisis: Falling Into the Wrong Turkish Model?
Egyptian secular parties and independent politicians with either a liberal or leftist orientation have decisively lost the first major political battles of post-Mubarak Egypt. In the recent parliamentary elections, they only managed to secure a measly 25 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and a truly dismal 15 percent in the Shura Council. And they only initially secured about 40 seats in the 100-member Constituent Assembly, elected by the parliament to draft the constitution. (The present situation is difficult to ascertain because the majority of non-Islamist members appears to have withdrawn, the Islamists have offered to withdraw ten of their participants to make room for more non-Islamists, but it is not clear what has actually been implemented.)
Defeated politically, and with few prospects of electoral victories in the near future given their fragmentation and lack of on-the-ground organization, secular parties and independent politicians are now turning to the courts to reverse the outcome of the elections. They have filed two lawsuits that challenge, respectively, the election law on the basis of which the parliament was elected and that of the Constituent Assembly elected by the parliament. The two law suits, filed in the Administrative Courts, are likely to end up in front of the Supreme Constitutional Council. Whatever the legal merits of the cases, there is no doubt that this is a highly political maneuver to stop the rise of Islamist parties.
The courts have been put squarely in the middle of a political battle that challenges their capacity to remain neutral. Should the courts declare the election law unconstitutional and invalidate the elections, the country would be plunged into a major political crisis that could keep the military in power for months to come. And if the courts declare the way in which the parliament formed the Constituent Assembly unconstitutional, the country will hurtle toward the presidential elections scheduled for May 23 and 24 with the transition process in total shambles.
The real cipher is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Would the military use the opportunity of the artificially-induced crisis to step in and impose a new process, disband the parliament, and author its own constitutional text (or at least some clauses)? It has certainly not backed off in the war of words. And it has even decisively taken sides between secular and Islamist politicians when it issued a decree to allow the liberal Ayman Nour to run for president despite an earlier (and clearly political) conviction while not doing so for Brotherhood leader Khayrat al-Shatir, also previously convicted for political reasons. The SCAF has so far not gone beyond hinting that it might constrain or modify the process, but a constitutional coup remains a possibility. If it comes it could be ugly—especially if the Brotherhood calls its supporters out in the streets.
In the year since the uprising, there has been much speculation that Egypt might follow the so-called Turkish model. Depending on the speaker, this can mean one of two things: either a system in which the military would maintain ultimate oversight over the political process, as was the case in Turkey until recently; or conversely the rise to power of an Islamist party that would move away from religious dogma and become a broad, socially conservative, and economically liberal political party.
But with the secular parties’ decision to turn to the courts, another Turkish model has suddenly begun to loom very large for Egypt: one in which the elements of what Turks call “the deep state”—the military and the security apparatus, supported by other key institutions, including parts of the judiciary—strike back hard against Islamist movements, cheered in the process by non-Islamist civilian political parties that jettison their democratic credentials with alacrity and depend on nondemocratic actors to crush their Islamist opponents. This was the Turkish path after Islamist Necmettin Erbakan became prime minister in 1996. It is only in the past few years that this model has faded from the political scene in that country.