Egypt to opt for 'demo-Islam'

As well as building a democracy, Egypt also needs to restore popularity in the region. Its future government may model itself on one or the other of the Middle East's key players, Iran or Turkey.

Turkey PM Erdogan 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Turkey PM Erdogan 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With the Egyptian revolution finally over, the nation-building begins. When deciding which model to adopt for its reborn country, Egypt will have to cast its eye globally and regionally. While there are many issues to be taken into consideration, three are empirical: These are food, liberty and perhaps more importantly, regional prestige. Its size and historical role means Egypt sees itself as the leader of the Arab world and a major player regionally. Only Turkey and Iran are potential rivals in the regional race for influence and leadership, and both countries are non-Arab.
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Under former president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt failed spectacularly in this race. By receiving American aid and building a strategic partnership with Israel, Egypt in effect sacrificed its leadership role; associations with the two countries most hated by the Middle East, rules out this option.
But the Egyptian people still believe they deserve a more meaningful role in the region. Therefore, in rebuilding the country, the new Egyptian government will have to closely examine the models created by its two rivals, Iran and Turkey.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will almost certainly survey the Iranian model first. With little bread and even less liberty, a cursory inspection reveals that Iran has achieved next to nothing with regards to standards of living and basic human rights. However, the picture changes when the country is examined in the regional context.
With its nuclear arms race, Iran still remains the region’s hot topic. Its Islamist model has stolen the hearts of many Lebanese and Palestinians, turning both Hezbollah and Hamas into its regional allies. Iran has also nurtured a meaningful friendship with Syria. But needless to say, Egypt cannot ignore the fact that Iran has also managed to raise ample fear in other Middle Eastern countries region and isolate itself entirely from the rest of the international community. Basing itself on the Iranian model means Egypt cannot hope to increase its regional popularity and become the free democracy millions of Egyptian demonstrators demanded.
This leaves Turkey as the other possible model to imitate. During the last decade, Turkey adopted a combined democratic-Islamic model ("Demo-Islam") that has done wonders to the standard of living of its citizens, with the economy increasing annually between 4 and 5 percent. Today, it is a more democratic country than ten years ago, and indeed, one of the most democratic countries in the Muslim world.
What about Turkey's regional and global record? Without a doubt, Turkey has become the most important regional player during the last decade. It runs an independent, assertive global and regional foreign policy. It is closer today to Syria than Iran, and has a fair amount of influence in Jordan and Lebanon with which it recently integrated its economy. Geographically, it is close to Qatar and other Gulf countries and has growing influence in Iraq by consistently improving its relations with the Kurds in the North. In addition, Turkey has decent working relations with the US and is still negotiating for full membership in the European Union. Its recent political tension with Israel has certainly caused no harm to its standing in the Middle East - quite the opposite in fact.
With the differences between the two models so clear cut, the future Egyptian leadership would have to be stupid to opt for the Iranian one. No doubt, the Egyptian youth too will be attracted to the Turkish model’s basic freedom and human rights, and vie for it to be instituted so that Egypt can restore its regional prestige.
Thewriter, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to SouthAfrica, was director-general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University andthe Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.