The American Interest

A Tale of Two Islamists

Two waves of popular protests against Islamist regimes, one in Turkey and the other in Egypt, have produced notably different outcomes.  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has weathered the storm, while President Mohamed Morsi was removed from office by the military.  In view of the similarities between Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the latter’s stated intent to follow the Turkish model of a secular state’s gradual transformation into an Islamic republic, it might be fruitful to compare and contrast recent developments in the two most populous Muslim countries in the greater Middle East.

In the early days of unrest, street protests in Turkey were compared in the Western media with the misnamed Arab Spring.  The comparison itself was inaccurate: No regime change was in the cards, no foreign money and logistics were in evidence, and apart from a few hot spots in Istanbul, Ankara, and a few other cities, life in Turkey went on as usual.  The government remained firmly in control of the state apparatus, the police proved obedient, and the army—already purged of hundreds of senior officers and no longer a significant political factor—stayed in the barracks.

Erdogan is safe because the Turkish army has been neutralized as a political force in its own right.  Even in the midst of mass demonstrations in Istanbul’s...

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