Fear of Tahrir: Turkish Perspectives on the Egyptian Revolution


University of Oxford

In this paper, I present a critical reading of Turkish public debates and the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on the uprisings in the Arab world in general and the Egyptian Revolution in particular. Based on a mapping exercise of the major political currents in the country and their view on the Arab revolutions, I argue that this debate is shaped by three fields of tension and contestation.

Firstly, and notwithstanding the ideological fragmentation of Turkey’s political landscape, views on the Arab world in general can be described as ‘Orientalist’ and patronising, whether rooted in a secular-nationalist or an Islamist Ottomanist worldview. It follows from there that outside smaller socialist groups rather than in-depth knowledge of societal and political processes of a particular country, often unsupported grand assumptions regarding the nature of Arab or Egyptian politics prevail. Secondly, since in the last decade of AKP rule, foreign policy debates have become an integral part of the domestic political agenda, external events have been turned into tools in the internal political debate. Hence, developments in the Arab world and Egypt have come to be explained along (and exploited by) the polarised positions in Turkish politics. And thirdly, the Turkish government’s position has been flexible and determined by national and US interests in the region, with differential responses to the events in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Over all, though, it has solidified into a policy of active support for political Islamist movements, particularly those in the Ikhwanist tradition. Milli  Gorus (National View), the mainstream Islamist movement in Turkey, from which the ruling Justice and Development Party has evolved, shares some of the Brotherhood’s core ideological and political points of reference. I will argue that this engagement is, in many ways, a coming home of Turkey’s Islamist movement both domestically and in the region, albeit on terms of the new, pro-Islamist US policy in the Middle East.