The Military and Politics of Turkey
In several countries, the military has played a crucial role in the political arena of the country. In specific instances when the military is dissatisfied with the bad leadership of politicians, the reaction is lightning-fast and harsh. Soldiers ensure that their native countries have only the best leaders. In other cases, the military runs its own candidate for the presidency in order to acquire influence on the key decisions made by the government. Most countries in the Middle East or Arabic countries have experienced a situation where the military interfered with the political life of the country. A clear example is an Arab spring, during which the population and the military ousted several governments from the power. Among the countries where politics and the military collided in recent times, there are Turkey and Egypt.
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Most presidents elected in Turkey had a military background; consequently, the military had a considerable influence on decisions made by the government. On the other hand, Egypt had dominated the political scene in the region until the revolution of 2011 that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak’s government who was an ex-military commander. Even after that event, the military has continued to shape the situation in the country. Therefore, the military has had a huge influence on the politics of Egypt and Turkey for many years already. This paper discusses how the political status of Turkey and Egypt has come into contact with the military of these countries.
In the past, the Turkish military used to have direct control over the politics of the country. The military could directly shape the decisions of the government. According to Eccarius-Kelly (2011), the military has had a partial influence on politics in the country for years. However, in 2002, several institutional reforms were put in place; they drove the military to the background. This situation was mainly attributed to the emergence of the highly conservative and religious elite in the government. Additionally, bureaucracy in the government, as well as a business-oriented approach chosen by the government, deprived the military of allies that it used to have in several sectors of the government. This fact made it hard for the military to exercise direct control over decisions made at the national and international levels.
Consequently, scores of military personnel were involved in the legal process that was conducted at a large-scale in order to accuse officers of different alleged plots with the view to ousting the government. They came to be known as Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon (Wilson, 2016). These actions aimed to discredit the military and its actions of political nature in the eyes of the Turks. In 2012, the discredit of the military reached its peak; consequently, half of all admirals and one in every ten generals were sent to prison. As a result, the influence of the military on the political life of Turkey has virtually vanished away due to the institutional reforms carried out by the new conservative government in the 2010s.
However, this lack of trust by the Turks has taken a different turn. In 2013, a complaint was filed by the Turkish General Staff with the judiciary that demanded that all those engaged in the Balyoz trial to be retried (Haugom, 2016). The military took such an action after the then chief political adviser, Yalcin Akdogan, of the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip, had made a statement that most of the military personnel jailed due to this legal process had been convicted under false claims. The next year, all these officers were released and waited for another trial. In 2015, the judge dismissed the entire case due to fabricated evidence. This dismissal by the Court was the turning point for the Turkish Military that had been mauled by disgrace and humiliation in the eyes of the Turks for several years.
After this event, the military has begun developing closer ties with the government. Moreover, the importance of the Turkish military has increased because of the security situation in the Southeastern Provinces of the country (Haugom, 2016). Now, they could involve issues that affected national security. The deteriorating situation in these provinces was a result of the armed conflict with the Kurdish Forces. Additionally, increased tensions with Russia have also led to more inclusion of the army into the security decision-making process. The military has again started to be considered the central force in protecting the country’s internal and external security.
Apart from the increased tensions with Russia and the difficult security situation in Southeast Turkey, the relationship between the government and the military has improved due to the emergence of a common enemy: the Gulen Movement. The Gulen Movement is an Islamic social and religious movement in Turkey. This organization used to be an ally of the government that helped it keep out the military after it came to power in 2002 (Yavuz, 2003). As a result, the influence of this movement saw many of its supporters rise within the ranks of the government, the judiciary, and the police force. The movement came into conflict with the AKP government for the first time in the period between 2010 and 2011. In 2013, a number of corruption investigations in the country targeted several people affiliated with the government. The president blamed the Gulen movement for this investigation and called it a form of retaliation for the break-in relationships with the government in the past (Tekin & Guney, 2015). At this point, the national leader accused the movement of attempting to oust the official government through the judiciary by using these corruption investigations. Since 2015, the group has been referred to as a terrorist organization. This common enemy of the government and the military has improved the relationship between these two institutions in order to curb the influence of the Gulen Movement on the government, the military, and the entire state.
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The improved relationships between the AKP government and the military have had several significant implications. The president’s desired to build New Turkey, a country with a strong and well-equipped army that works together with the government. In such a manner, the professional and political interests of the Turkish military were to be protected. The military generals have welcomed the new initiative by the government as it allowed modernizing their institution according to today’s standards.
The civilian-military action of 2002 targeted the de-militarization of the politics of Turkey. The reforms conducted have made the military have a lesser influence on the politics of the country, especially when it comes to promotions of high-level offices in the government. However, the armed forces have retained an influence especially on issues that concerned the defense and security of the country. The military can manage its forces independently and has an influence on such issues as budgetary allocations on its operations, as well as the deployment of the army. It means that the military has not been entirely regulated by civilian or governmental oversight and control. Therefore, the military has become somewhat independent in its dealings and has been involved in matters revolving around its budget or related to its forces in any way.
Additionally, there is little motivation within the military to be completely involved in the political process of the country. The forces are still recovering from the Balyoz and Ergenekon legal processes (Haugom, 2016). There is also a huge animosity between the lower ranks of the military and the top connoisseur. This situation has been attributed to their involvement in this legal process that saw some officers sent to prison for a period. Military officers of the new generation have accepted democracy; they support it and oppose the traditional involvement of the army in political affairs. In such a manner, a possible renewed move towards entering politics is likely to have little support from new officers. The cooperation between the Chief of General Staff and the government aimed at keeping the military aware of any form of political influence. These improved relations between the military and the government have not provided the military with a strong reason to involve itself in the politics of the country. The Turks have also evolved their thinking concerning the roles that the military should play in the country. Although most people trust the military, they still do not support its entry into the political scene.
From the above experience, it is clear that today, the Turkish military does not have the intention to re-enter the political scene. However, the military has the capability to re-enter the politics especially due to the autonomy of the institution, as well as its continued involvement in the decision-making concerning issues that affect the military. The Kurdish insurgency in the Southeast region of the country is a key determinant of the political nature of the country. In this issue, the forces are likely to support the hand of the government in the form of not taking any concessions from the Kurdish forces. It shows the continued cooperation between the government and the Turkish armed forces in matters that affect both the internal and external security of the country.
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The Military and the Politics of Egypt
In several cases in the history of Egypt, the military played an important role in the transition from tyrannical governments to more democratic ones. Consequently, with time, the political and military environments have closely intertwined. The recent uprising in various countries of North Africa and the Middle East, which were termed as the Arab Spring, saw the ousting of different regimes including the Egyptian one. In these uprisings, the revolutions were started by civilians. However, the revolution in Egypt saw the military take on a leading role in this transition. Since the uprising of 2011, the Egyptian military has been playing a huge role in the national politics of the country. During the transition process, the lack of involvement of the military in the previous governing processes made it resistant to any forms of democracy.
The rule of Hosni Mubarak was halted in 2011 by protesters who opposed the leader’s plan to have his son supersede him as a president. After the protests, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) offered to govern the country for a six-month period while awaiting the transition to a civilian government (Hassan, 2015). At this time, the civilians believed that the military and the civilians were a single hand. For one year and a half, the military has controlled the most crucial governmental institutions, including the bureaucracy in the government, the judiciary, and the media (Horst, Junemann, & Rothe, 2016). Consequently, a number of retired military personnel were chosen to head various departments of the new government. The military also developed a close association with the Muslim Brotherhood by supporting their candidate for the presidency of Egypt and also won the majority in the Parliament. Moreover, these relations enabled the military to support and continue to protect the economic and political advancement that had been made since the era of Hosni Mubarak.
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During this transition period, the most powerful figures in the government came from the military. The then minister of defense and the Chief of Staff were among the most influential individuals from the SCAF (Zainab, 2013). At this time, the SCAF controlled both the legislative and presidential authorities. Also, two civilian authorities were chosen by this body to supersede weak prime ministers. These officials passed their duties to the retired army generals and colonels, who acquired a unique possibility to hold various positions in the government. Several laws were passed in this period by the SCAF. One of these laws sought to give immunity from being prosecuted to any army officer, who was accused of the engagement in any form of corruption dealings.
During the transition from Mubarak’s reign, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood worked for hand in hand in swinging elections, protecting the constitution, and doing the business. During the elections, the Brotherhood and the SCAF had a close power-sharing relationship. Several elections were held during this time. Under the military rule, the Egyptians have gone into the ballot four times: one presidential vote, two parliamentary elections, and one referendum. The relationships between the SCAF and the Islamists played a crucial role during these elections and referendum (Jabbar, 2014). The Islamists mobilized the civilians to vote for the SCAF. In turn, as a repayment of this favor, the SCAF allowed the Islamists to violate some election rules; the organization protected the voting areas but allowed them to use religious slogans and leaflets at the voting stations. During the elections, the civil society that monitored the elections reported cases of buying votes for the food. This support ensured that Morsi won the elections. A few days before the election, the SCAF issued an amendment to the Constitutional Declaration that limited the control of the elected president over the military.
In the new Constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood, the armed forces preserved their autonomy due to the relationship that they had with the SCAF (Ginsburg & Huq, 2016). The military continued to have a semi-independent status in its endeavors. Several elements of the constitution still were above the oversight of the government or even any audit by the society, including any revenues got from businesses with the civilians, as well as the military budget. The authority to scrutinize these budgets or revenues was given to the National Defense Council, a body that comprised military officers from the government. In addition to that semi-independent status, the Parliament was required to consult this council concerning any laws that it wished to pass regarding the military. The constitution also offered a guarantee that the minister of defense would be chosen from within the ranks of the military.
Apart from the constitution, the Morsi administration also gave a unique business advantage to the military. The regulations by the Muslim Brotherhood helped the military to maintain its untaxed trading empire that was not scrutinized (Zainab, 2013). The military preserved its influence on the politics of Egypt by acquiring a state-owned car production factory. The Ministry of Military Productions invested in the production of tablets that other ministries ordered without any public tenders. The armed forces were allowed to get more land, on which they built shopping malls and a medical school that was used to train the staff to treat civilians in its hospitals. From the above influences on the elections, the business, and the ratification and drafting of the constitution, one can observe that the military used to have a huge influence on the decision-making process of the Morsi’s government.
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Additionally, in June and July 2013, the military heeded the call by the civilians to fulfill its national duty and save Egypt from the economic ruin. The army with the support of the people’s call came together with other political parties to remove Morsi’s government from power (Hayes, 2015). This decision came even though it was against the interests of the military. Before this decision, the military had given Morsi and the leaders of the opposition two days to settle any arguments that they had. The failure to comply with the ultimatum would see the military design an own path to the future. After the failure to comply with the ultimatum, the military removed Morsi’s government from power, and many people did not view the act as a military coup but as a revolution conducted by the people with the support of the military. Consequently, one can witness instances, in which the military played a huge role in deciding the political path of Egypt. Moreover, the military took a direct role in the politics and governance of the country after Mubarak had been removed from power. The army also played a huge role in ousting the president’s government from power.
After removing Morsi from power, the Egyptian military decided to withdraw from politics partly in the exception of national security matters. It was unlike the direct approach that the armed forces had utilized since 2011. Since that event, there has been a democratic transition spearheaded by General Al-Sisi, Muslim and Christian leaders, different youth groups, and political parties through a roadmap that they developed in close cooperation (Zainab, 2013). It included a new constitution draft, followed by-elections for both the parliamentary and presidential seats. Since this point, the military has only engaged in decisions that affect the security of Egypt. This strategy shows its partial engagement in the decision-making process. Additionally, several governors that were chosen to head different provinces were retired military generals.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had been the minister for defense during Morsi’s regime, won the elections that followed after the president was removed from power. He won more than 95% of the votes (Torelli, 2015). Sisi’s main campaign pledge during the elections was that he would engage in a battle with the Muslim Brotherhood. The election of Sisi as a president has continued the involvement of the military in the politics of Egypt. Therefore, in the past few years, the military in the country has taken a direct intervention in the political arena of the country. It was done in the form of direct leadership, as well as getting some of its leaders for elective positions in the government. As a result, it has had a huge influence on the decisions made by each government.
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In both Egypt and Turkey, the influenced the political decision-making of their countries at some points in history. However, comparing the two bodies, the Egyptian military used to have more direct intervention in politics as compared to the Turkish one. This situation has mainly been attributed to the attitudes of people. In Turkey, for many years, the military had been humiliated due to the alleged involvement of its officers in corruption dealings. On the other hand, the Egyptian military was considered to save the people from tyrannical governments. After the transition to newer governments, the military involvement in politics has been minimal, except for decisions that directly affected the military such as their budget and the security of the country. Minimal intervention in politics has allowed the nations to form civilian governments and, in the process, take on the path of democracy.