Second Annual Conference: The Middle East After the Revolution: Arab and Turkish Insights
Second annual conference of Insight Turkey was held in Cairo on Monday, January 30th.
Second annual conference of Insight Turkey, an academic journal that has been in publication for the last 14 years, was held in Cairo with the participation of scholars and experts. The first conference, titled “Debating New Turkey” was held in Washington DC , and the second conference, titled “The Middle East After the Revolution: Arab and Turkish Insights” was held in Cairo on Monday, January 30th.
The editor in chief of Insight Turkey, İhsan Dağı, in his opening statement emphasized the Arab peoples’ quest for justice and instinct to defend their honor, their reaction to the repressive police governments and the desire to have control of own destiny were the dynamics that triggered the revolutions. He expressed that the changes that took place in Egypt and other countries, contrary to the doctrines of modern history, proved that it was possible to have a political regime open to public participation in the Arab world. He also stated the Arab people who were for years stuck between an authoritarian regime and a possible Islamist totalitarianism, proved, with the elections undertaken in the aftermath of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia that “a third option” was possible. Dağı indicated, in this period in which the Arab peoples are discovering their democratic powers against despot rulers, peoples’ demands began to influence political process not only in countries that are actively going revolution, but also in non-democratic countries.
In the three panels following the opening statement, the process of drafting of the constitution, , civil military relations and regional problems were discussed in comparative perspective by both Turkish and Egyptian scholars.
First Session: Drafting New Constitutions in Turkey and Egypt: The Principles and The Process
In the first session, constitutional experiences and traditions were discussed at length in the context of their historical backgrounds. The moderator of the session, journalist Fehmi Huveydi, after highlighting the importance of Turkey’s experience, commented on the significance of the ruling party’s efforts to reconcile secularist and Islamic values. He also emphasized that the Turkey of 2000’s not of 1970’s had to be understood by Egypt and the Arab world and added that Turkey had valuable experience to offer to the Arab world. Underlining that Turkey was democratizing as well as westernizing, he articulated his receptiveness to mutual interaction by expressing their readiness to learn all of Turkey’s lessons except its military government. Huveydi reiterating the democratic problems the Arab world faced stated that in the case of a changing Islamic identity, democracy could meet with some resistance. Huveydi also stated that regional actors like Israel and global actors like the United States did not want the democratic process to succeed in Egypt
Levent Köker, from Atılım University, emphasized the basic principles of constitution drafting, taking Turkey as an example. Koker—who focused on the content, the actors, and methods of constitution drafting—stressed that only a system in which a constitutions prepared by publicly elected representatives and approved by the public with a referendum, could be valid. He emphasized that an ideal process of constitution drafting would a) perceive every segment of the society as equals b) provide for civil liberties and rights as a whole c) not to assume any topic taboo that was impossible to debate. He stressed that these principles formed the necessary conditions for a democratic political life to be carried out in a country and added that with the ideal conditions these principles would shape the politic life and the process of making the constitution. Köker reminded that the norms of international human rights were superior to the constitutions’ and in the Turkish case, a constitution could not be drafted without being subjected to restrictions. He further emphasized that the Treaty of Lausanne, European Council membership and EU membership processes offered guidelines for constitution drafting that needed to be considered.
Gamal Gebril, from Helvan University, discussed the role of the religion, the parliamentary system and the changes that principles like nationalism went through in the context of previous constitutions of Egypt. Gebril stated bringing rights and freedoms under constitutional protection was a customary practice in the Egyption conventions of constitution drafting and indicated that the revolution of 25th January 2011 followed in the same path. Gebril stated that in Egypt constitutions were conventionally drawn by government appointed commissions and approved by the public in a referendum. However, for this to function well today, he argued, it was crucial to inform the public. Gebril purported that Islam did not reconcile with secularism. The moderator, Huveydi, challenged Gebril’s statement and indicated that it was possible to make secularism and Islam congruent as it was the case in Turkey. Gebril argued that the principles needed to accomplish a real democracy were present in the traditions of Egypt and Islamic world.
Fazıl Hüsnü Erdem, faculty member at Dicle Universtiy, beginning his speech by mentioning that the qualifications of Turkish constitutionalism were affected by the experience of Turkish-Ottoman modernization, argued that these qualifications were elitist, tutelary, authoritarian and centralist. He further indicated that constitutions with these characteristics aimed they aimed to strengthen the government rather than individuals. Erdem evaluated the Turkish constitutions through their historical processes and stated that the Ottoman Basic Law of 1876 legalized the de facto law of the time and it was a step towards protecting the rights of individuals even though it was based on a weak constitutional system. He also stated that Second Constitutional Monarchy and the pluralistic political life of 1908-1909 positively affected the later political life and 1923 Constitution (Teşkilat-I Esasiye) was a document that reflected this understanding and the social legality of it was relatively high. Erdem underlining the weaknesses of the characteristics of representative democracy of the 1924 constitution stated that the tutelary approach of 1960s was fortified with the 1982 Constitution. The present constitution could not meet the demands of the society and especially the identity demands despite the seventeen changes, he stated, and added that the expectations from a new constitution was high.
Ramadan Battikh, from Ain Shams University, stated that all basic values necessary for a political system were present in Egypt and what needed to be discussed today was the role of military, place of religion and especially the balance of powers. Battikh drew the attention to the differences between the government and the regime and emphasized there should be no impositions of power on the government and the basic identity of the state should be protected. Battikh, arguing that any political system such as presidency, would function just as well as the parliamentary system as long as it did not exclude the president from the political processes. Commenting on the current status of the political parties, Battikh argued that Egypt was still at the beginning of the process in the formation of political parties.
The fact that any constitution had to reflect the interests of the different factions in a country and that it had to be based on the current distribution of power has been emphasized in the question and answer section of the panel. Another comment emphasized in this section was that since the constitution reflected the conscience of the public and since it could not be based on one group’s interests and opinions, it had to be structured in a way that would include and protect minorities in the political mechanism. Stating that secularism did not always bring democracy, it was argued that the important thing was the presence of democracy and that ways to reconcile universal values with local conditions had to be sought without resorting to reactionarism..
Second Panel: Democratization in Turkey and Egypt: Actors and Dynamics
Hatem Ete, the director of political research at SETA, discussed the turning points of the Turkish political life in its evolution through the Republic and the transformation of this period’s actors. He also discussed the root causes of the tendency to bring the differences between political parties to the forefront of the political life which began with the Democratic Party’s emergence in the aftermath of the Kemalist elites’ consolidation of power in the single party regime until 1946. After outlining the center -periphery distinction which became clear in the aftermath of the 1960 coup d’état, Ete drew attention to the transformation of Turkish political life as a result of the weakening of center parties and strengthening of identity parties, especially in the 1990s, in the context of his analysis of the formation of factions between center right parties and identity parties in the post 1980 era. Contextualizing Ak Party in this background, Ete stated that the party rendered the distinction between center right and identity parties obsolete by consolidating the demands for justice and development in its structure. Ete emphasized that the Party’s initiatives were more towards strengthening the democratization process in Turkey, and he argued that this approach carried the potential to reverse the homogenous nation building process, decrease the power of tutelage regime and widen the political field. Ete concluded his analysis with two observations: 1. Turkey’s history of democracy was full of instances in which the authoritarian regime regenerated itself. 2. Decisive steps must be taken in the struggle for democracy
Ahmed Mohammed Abd Rabou, from Cairo University, began his speech with the mention that many different points of views about the democratic change in Egypt existed among the public. He stated that there were those who defended that the revolution had reached its goal against those who argued that the revolution had already began to regress. Abd Rabou specifically emphasized four different dimensions of the change in Egypt: democratization; institutionalization and formation of democratic organizations; free elections and the transformation of political culture. Indicating that despite the partial advances made in elections and democratization, the transformation of the political culture was a difficult process that needed time and political maturity, Abd Rabou found the participation of the people in the political process and expressing political opinions publicly positive developments.
Abd Rabou, underlined that the military junta resisted the modification of the previous constitution and claimed that the quest to hold elections in this constitution’s guidelines was in fact an example of this resistance. The increase in the number of political parties, Abd Robou argued, translated neither into an increase in the political freedoms, nor could it be understood as the settling of the multi-party system. Abd Rabou especially focused on the party mechanisms and expressed that the ideological lines of parties had just begun to take shape and the division of left and right had just began. He defended that there was no congruence between the political agendas of the parties and realities. Although Abd Rabou claimed that the real issue in the transition period was the political parties’ exploitation of religious feelings in order to gain support, some members of the parliament who spoke during the question and answer section of the panel, disagreed with this claim because, they stated, they ran their own campaigns on economic platform Abd Rabou lastly stated that the high participation rate and the unproblematic elections were positive developments.
Tanel Demirel, faculty member at Çankaya University, reviewed the role of military, taking Turkey as a case study, and stated that with the convention of ruling without governing, the military maintained its hold on politics in the country Demirel arguing that at the core of civil-military relations was the struggle between two political fronts in Turkey in which the military situated itself in the Kemalist front, defended that the normalization of civil-military relations was due to the weakening of the Kemalist front. In addition to this, Demirel, who found the simplification of arguments to to authoritarian regime vs. democratic public problematic, argued that the authoritarian tendencies of the public also had to be heeded. Demirel argued that the advances made in civil-military relations in the recent years were not yet solidified in the political life and a regression back to military rule was still a possibility. To avoid such regression, he called for more permanent measures. Examining the recent normalization process in Turkey, Demirel argued that it was not enough to consider only the changes in civil society and it was necessary to deliberate on the internal strife in the military and especially on the emerging group from the ranks of military that defended the strategy of opening the military up for civil audits in order not to be excluded from politics altogether because they realize it is not possibility to maintain status quo. Reiterating that the retreat of the military did not necessarily signal the end of the tutelage regime, Demirel argued that it was still probable to regress into complete tutelage especially in the context of the Kurdish problem. He ended his speech by issuing a warning against the threats to civil rights and freedoms from the political powers.
Amal Hamada, faculty member at Cairo University, discussed at length the revolutions in Egypt’s political history and the role these revolutions played in the evolution of the place of military in politics. In her speech, Hamada argued that not only revolution brought a democratic political life and reminded the people’s support of the military in the events of officers coup of 1952, disaster of 1967, victory of 1973, rebellions of 1977, 1981 assassination, rebellions of police in 1986 and the revolution of 2011. Referencing the current debates, Hamada underlined two significant issues: the role of military in the political life and the military aid from the United States. In regards to the first issue, she discussed the importance of limiting the military power, particularly in terms of the state of exceptions. Hamada stressed the issue of military aid from the U.S. She called for opening both these aids and the parliament’s budget for civil inspection and stressed the need for a redefinition of civil-military relations and the necessity of military’s retreat from the political life. She argued, although some privileges given to the military in relation to its role in the defense of the country was understandable, in the times of peace economic privileges and foreign aid had to be terminated.
She suggested being patient reminding that these processes took a long time. In the question and answer part, some speakers emphasized that speculative comments made without statistical data about the presence of the military in the economic arena in Egypt should be avoided. Other speakers articulated their discomfort about Hamada’s calls for the continuation of revolution and stated that her speech was problematic as it could keep the youth on the streets.
Third Session: Regional and Global Consequences of The Revolutions in The Middle East
In the third session, regional and global consequences of the revolutions in the Middle East were discussed. Turkish journalist Cengiz Candar argued that these revolutions gave Egypt the opportunity to regain its historical leading role lost due to bad administrative policies. . Emphasizing the change affected in the region by Egypt while undergoing change itself, Candar stated that revolution in the rest of the Arab world, without Egypt was impossible and the transformation seen in many countries today should be understood as an extension of the Egyptian revolution. Candar, who insisted that the momentum of transformation in the region would continue as long as Egypt maintains its vitality, also discussed the geopolitical consequences of this transformation. Candar particularly asserted that this revolution toppled the foundations of the Sykes-Picot order. He objected the perceptions of the revolution as the new Sykes-Picot order. In other words, he opposed the idea the revolution and its aftermath were imposed on the region by external powers. He insisted the post revolution was a period in which the region decided on its own fate in accordance with the changing dynamics. In parallel to other participants, he argued this was the first time an Arab individual claimed his own destiny. He further claimed that in this process, in which the driving force is a quest for dignity, regional politics will be determined by internal dynamics and stated that the region will be changed to the extent the revolution maintains its momentum. Candar, who commented on the transformation in Turkey, pointed out that Turkey experienced the same transformation the Arab world underwent through revolution, through evolution. Moreover, Candar, evaluating Turkey’s position on Israel, stated that Turkey does not adopt this position against the Turkish citizens’ demands, but as a result of them. He stated that Iran and Turkey were the beneficiaries of this new order.
Nadia Mostafa from Cairo University commented on the role of Egypt in the Middle East in the post-revolutions period. She underlined that revolutions have not yet been completed. Mostafa argued that revolutions that were once explained by external dynamics are today explained by internal dynamics; hence for an accurate analysis we must wait for the revolutions to end. Stating that we now undergo a revolution process determined by internal dynamics although external dynamics determined revolutions before, Mustafa recommended waiting for revolutions to end in order to conduct a precise analysis. Nevertheless, Mustafa added that this unique revolution would transform Egypt’s foreign policy. According to Mustafa, this revolution was carried out not only for democracy and human rights but also to defend Egypt’s honor in foreign policy. She emphasized that in this period, in which civilizational and regional neighborhood is gaining importance, an approach that will treat Egypt in context of its environment will be adopted. She underlined that the regional role and regional perspective of Egypt, who is going through a transformation and struggling for democracy initself,— will inevitably be different from Turkey’s perspective. However, she also expressed her dissatisfaction with the lack of debate on foreign policy and emphasized the significance of encouraging young diplomats to take part in the more systematic debates and adopting a more comprehensive discourse comprising Islamist references and problems in the region. Criticizing the weakness of Egyptian foreign policy in the revolution process, Mustafa highlighted that Turkey and Egypt should establish a more comprehensive cooperation on Israeli issue and other regional issues. Arguing also that Egypt should criticize Iran on Syria; she stated that the threat perceptions in the Gulf should be understood.
SETA Director for Foreign Policy, Talip Kucukcan discussed the transformation of Turkish foreign policy particularly in the period following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Stating that Turkey adopts certain principles regarding its regional policies such as economic integration, the policy of zero problems with neighbors, standing by people among others, Kucukcan emphasized Turkey’s quest for carrying out an independent foreign policy. Dwelling also on debates on Neo-Ottomanism, Kucukcan argued that the recent regional activism of Turkish foreign policy has rational bases rather than emotional and ideological ones. He also highlighted Turkish attitude prioritizing the regional cooperation in the resolution of issues.
Delivering the closing speech, Insight Turkey assistant editor Saban Kardas stated that the common theme of the meeting was democracy and one can read the developments in Turkey and Egypt from a perspective focusing on different aspects of the democratic transformations. Kardas emphasized that although Egypt and Turkey are in different stages, their experiences of democratic consolidation showed many similarities. He found the meaning attributed to the new constitution making process to be the leading one among these similarities. He underlined that in both Turkey and Egypt an approach that perceived the making of the new constitution as an instrument to limit the power of the ruling regime instead of a process that reflected the current distribution of power in the country. In this sense, Kardas highlighted countries should draft pluralist constitutions that protect not only the state but also the majority of society by respecting universal human rights and provide a pluralist and citizen-centered political system, as was also mentioned in debates. He emphasized that such a constitutional culture and such a constitutional system that protects human rights by striking a balance between universal and local values will contribute to the resolution of minority problem in Egypt and identity issues in Turkey. He also underlined that there are “ongoing processes” in each country. Reminding that gains of the revolution process in Egypt and gains of civil-military relations in Turkey are still fragile, Kardas emphasized the significance of legal and institutional depth that will render these permanent. Consequently, Kardas reminded the significance of leadership and determined struggle during the transition processes and highlighted the need for a mature, responsible and democratically elected leader who will govern the transition period in Egypt.