And Atatürk’s Turkish Solution is very much like what just happened in Egypt — albeit de facto rather than du jure; an ad hoc coup, rather than a careful design. What Atatürk meant for the Turkish army to do in a crisis, the Egyptian army has done as a desperate measure. It’s also not stretching the truth even a whisker to say that your typical Egyptian in 2011 is not much more ready for the full rigors of republican democracy than your typical Turk in 1924.
So, having an ex-spy chief in charge, with a somewhat westernized military at his command, is a pretty decent short-term outcome. Two cheers, then, to the people of Egypt for forcing Mubarak out and for tolerating (for now) his replacement.
The army promises that the September election will be held as planned. We’ll see. We’ll also see if the Egyptian people tilt to the West, as they seem to have done these last three weeks. Or if they’ll tilt towards Mecca and vote themselves in a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship, using the One Man, One Vote, One Time so popular in Third World countries.
What ails Egypt isn’t much different from what ailed nascent Turkey, ninety years ago. Also like Turkey, Egypt’s army is the most westernized and secularized institution in the country. So if Egypt tips more West than East, the army will certainly be involved to a degree we would never tolerate here.
Now is not the time to press Egypt any harder. The White House has been alternately pushing and pulling the Egyptian government for weeks now, to little positive effect. Egypt has its own democratic processes in place, due to begin unfolding in September. We might not like how things play out — we were never entirely comfortable with Turkey’s occasional military coups, either.
This is a tricky moment. The army needs to relax its grip on Egypt, without ever losing control. And it must walk a fine line between nurturing democracy and denying sharia — all the while, keeping an eye to turning power back over to a legitimate civilian government. The Muslim Brotherhood is always watching for any weakness, any opening. But the protestors on the streets have their expectations, too, for affordable food, economic opportunity, and a government they can trust.
The army can’t deliver all that, but it can help the process along — and maybe even provide the occasional (ahem) course correction. While it’s far from ideal, for the time being the Turkish Solution is Egypt’s best and only bet.