Democracy and the Armed Forces: Lessons from the Coups of Egypt in 2013 and Turkey in 2016

Some Western scholars believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible in essence (Lewis, 2010; Fish, 2002). It is suggested that the principles of democracy and the basic nature of Islamic polity are extremely different. In response to this, many other scholars formulate feedback theory, saying that it is not the doctrine of Islam that leads Muslim states become undemocratic. Bayat for example, maintains that it is the intellectual belief and political capacity of the political actors that account for the absence of democracy in a Muslim country, instead of doctrine of Islam itself (Bayat, 2007: 17). Likewise, Ahmed Kuru proposes another notion concerning the reason behind the absence of democracy. He believes in geographic and geologic determinism, saying that the abundance of natural resources, regardless of whether it is in a Muslim or non-Muslim country, creates the undemocratic system of a country. This lavishness of wealth, he argues, establishes patron-client relation between the ruled and the ruler (Kuru, 2014). This theory implies, if the economy of a state relies on taxation, rather than natural resources, then democracy will exist strongly. Lastly, Esposito contends that like all other religions, Islam has a full spectrum of potential symbols and concepts for democracy. However, he argues, each Muslim-majority country has a distinctive experience in achieving a democratic system that cannot be assessed by the western defini-tion of democracy (Esposito, 2016). Therefore, the absence of democracy in some Muslim countries does not necessarily mean that Islam contradicts democracy.

Recently, we witness the rise of hope for democracy in Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East since the Arab Spring which started in 2011 and has toppled the autocrat regimes in the region. Ranging from Tunisia, followed by Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, the wave of revolution gave a new optimism for political change in those Arab countries amid crisis. After six years, the achievement of each revolution differs from one country to another, but mostly was still beyond expectation. Accordingly, Libya and Yemen suffered from civil wars, despite the fact that Qadafi and Saleh had been overthrown. Syria became the field of proxy war between the two blocs of Muslim country and the dictator, Assad who remains in his throne. Only the experience of Tunisia demon-strated the positive accomplishments of democracy and thus became the model for other countries in Middle East as well as North Africa.

In the case of Egypt, the revolution was hijacked by the military generals. At the beginning, given its position as the most powerful and influential Arab country at the time, there existed a greater expectation for the change. In the early 2011, when the protestors who gathered from various backgrounds and success-fully ousted Mubarak – the tyrannical ruler for 30 years—, many believed that the future of Egypt would be brighter. This was subsequently and further ratio-nalized by the achievement, whereby for the first time in the history of Egypt, a fair presidential election was magnificently held. However, what happened in reality was the opposite of the hope. In fact, political and social culture of Egypt was not ready enough to embrace the true democratic system. Finally, in the name of stabilizing the political situation in Egypt, military generals raised a coup which ousted the first democratically elected president in the country. Consequently, the result of the military coup marked the turning point of Egypt’s immature democracy and heralded a return to autocrat regime.

After the experience of failed democracy in Egypt along with in other Middle East countries during the Arab Spring, Turkey then became the next hope for achieving democratic political change. Many analysts believe that Turkey has succeeded in transforming not only their economic condition, but also the face of Islamism (Dagi, 2013). It is no doubt that the person behind the rising optimism of democratization in Turkey was the former prime minister and now the current president, Recep Tayib Erdogan. There are at least two strong reasons why this figure is worthy of respect and why he gained support of the Turks several times in the elections. Firstly, Erdogan was the first strong leader in Turkey who could weaken the role and influence of the military. It seems that the Turkey population has no more faith in the armed forces. The reason being that for almost a century the military had led the country within a secular system and the fate of Turkey remained unfortunate. Secondly, Erdogan has productively improved the economy of Turkey. Before the Erdogan presidency, Turkey was a weak state. But because of his strong commitment to be part of the European Union (EU), coupled with the strong and effective leadership, Turkey then became one of G-20 (Patton, 2006). However, after three periods of leader-ship, Erdogan began to show distinct authoritarian tendencies. Thus, this situation prompted the military to undertake the coup which dramatically occurred in the last 15th July. Though the attempted coup failed, many still believe that the democratization of Turkey is under threat and may be experiencing a setback.

In the wake of reflections about the failed military coup in Turkey, there occur some writings that intended to find similarities in its failure with that of failed coup in Egypt. While some emphasize its similarities over the actual differences, other does the opposite (Shapiro, 2016; Ashour, 2016). Similarly, this article will compare the military coups that occurred in both Egypt and Turkey, but in a more depth analysis. The examination of these two coup d’états is justified by the following reasons. Firstly, because they are remarkable events in the history of democratization in the Muslim world. Although we will never refer to the thesis of Huntington about discordancy between democracy and Islam, these two experiences showed that the process of becoming a democratic country is still a faraway off and will take long time to achieve. In addition, by examining the two coups, we may be able to understand the map and the future of democracy in the region. Secondly, this writing will aim to propose an answer to the question “why the coup, as the serious constraint of democracy, happened recurrently in the Muslim world”. Given the considerations as above this paper will answer these two following questions: Firstly, what were the causes for the coup of Egypt and Turkey?

Secondly, why was the military coup successful in Egypt while failed in Turkey? In order to answer these proposed questions, this paper will reveal similarities and differences between the military coups of both Egypt and Turkey and examined them comparatively.

Author : Muhamad Rofiq