With Sunday’s validation of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, as Egypt’s new president, we are embarked on a full-scale test of the much-vaunted “Turkish model” of Muslim democracy — including a factor that upsets people now in Egypt, but was a crucial ingredient in Turkey’s rise to regional superpower, which is a strong army that is prepared to act as guarantor of a stable, western-leaning secular state.
The Egyptian military has stumbled and fumbled during this transition, and the generals have been contemptible in their efforts to protect themselves and their petty prerogatives. Now that they have announced the new president, they mostly should step out of the way — opening the way for early elections to form a new parliament to take over from the one that was voided by a constitutional court ruling ten days ago.
But I’d be surprised if Morsi and the Brotherhood aren’t slightly relieved to have the army as an outrigger in this next crucial era for Egypt. Job One will be rescuing the economy — and reassuring investors, tourists and the other foreign benefactors Egypt needs that the country is safe for business. Without the army’s help, that may be impossible.
Khairat el-Shater, a leading strategist of the Brotherhood, seemed to understand the benefits of such a security partnership when I saw him a few days before the final balloting on June 16 and 17. “Our style is not collision,” he said, in explaining why a Morsi administration would be likely to maintain continuity in some senior leadership of the army and intelligence service. He said he recognized that this would be an important signal of stability to foreign governments.
The army needs to retreat now to the proper, reticent role of the military — protecting the state and the constitution, in extremis, but otherwise letting civilians run the show. That’s pretty similar to the description people would have offered of Turkey in its late Kemalist period, when the army continued to control the political parameters so as to maintain the secular character of the state that had been founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1919. In that protected area, safe even for what some had regarded as an extremist AK Party that was seen as an offshoot of the Brotherhood, the modern Turkey of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arose.
Egypt needs a strong civilian government that can deliver on the promises of the revolution — including less corruption and a fairer distribution of the fruits of free enterprise. But it’s also true that right now, a shaky Egypt needs the stability that would come from a democratic partnership of “the soldier and the state,” as Samuel Huntington put it in the title of a famous book. Better that than the other, more famous Huntington prescription for the future, “clash of civilizations.”