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Egypt Should Employ the ‘Turkish Solution’

What ails Egypt isn't much different from what ailed nascent Turkey, ninety years ago.

by
Stephen Green

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February 12, 2011 - 12:00 am
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What just happened in Egypt? Let’s call it the Turkish Solution.

The First World War did not end neatly in the Middle East — or anywhere else. The Ottoman Empire quit fighting a week before the armistice on the Western Front, and two weeks later the capital at Istanbul was occupied by Entente troops. But that was hardly the end of it.

There were two different peace treaties. First came the Treaty of Sèvres, which chopped up the Ottoman Empire about as neatly (and completely) as the European powers had carved up Africa 45 years prior. But Sèvres was never ratified by the Turkish parliament, as the Brits had dissolved it already. And anyway, Mustafa Kemal Pasha wasn’t having it, and set up his own post-Ottoman government in Ankara.

Naturally, that led to more fighting — the Turkish War of Independence. This time the Turks won. The resulting Treaty of Lausanne was much more generous, and gave Turkey the borders it still has today. (OK, except for Iskenderun, but that was a trifle.)

Mustafa Kemal Pasha also changed his name to Kemal Atatürk (“father of the Turks”) and went about modernizing and westernizing his new country as quickly as he dared — and gave us the Turkey we know today. Or at least the Turkey we knew up until a few years ago, before Atatürk’s westernization gave way to a sort of creeping Islamization.

Atatürk was an idealist. He knew Turkey needed a democratic republic if it was to become western and modern. But he was also a realist, who knew that the Turks were not fully ready for the responsibilities of self-governance. So Atatürk gave the military a special role, one that would make us here in the West rightly aghast. Put simply: When the civilian government became too corrupt or strayed from the overarching goal of westernization, the guys with guns would show up and set things right. After an appropriate time (determined by the army, of course) the army would stand down and civilian politicians would resume power.

It was never pretty, but it mostly worked.

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