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The all too brief appearance made by a Mr Pamuk in Downton Abbey, I’m sorry to say, did not give rise to the
term “Turkish model.” It is, rather like the “Turkish vice,” a figment of the
Western mind.  If in Victorian
times it was thought that the Ottoman court had an unusually permissive
attitude to homosexuality, in modern Turkey there are supposed to exist
impeccably democratic and moderate Islamists, who marry strict religious dogma
with fidelity to parliamentary institutions and the rule of law.

In the early stages of Egypt’s revolution, the
Muslim Brotherhood let it be known that it understood the need for moderation.
That while it had been allowed more space by the Mubarak regime than competing
political forces, it realised it did not really represent as broad a swathe of
Egyptian society as its electoral strength would suggest.  It wouldn’t contest more than a quarter
of the seats. But then a quarter became a third, a third a “majority,” and
eventually the majority expanded to include every seat for which it could muster a

And since then Mohammed Morsi, the
Brotherhood’s backup president (the movement’s first choice having been
excluded on a technicality) has seized every opportunity to increase his, and
his movement’s, power. There was the terrorist attack in the Sinai, after which
he dismissed top generals. The constitutional convention, originally planned to
be broadly representative of Egypt, rammed through Islamist doctrine, its work
accelerated by a (metaphorical) guillotine. We shouldn’t forget, as well, that
Morsi only won very narrowly against Ahmed Shafik, an unpopular apparatchik of
the old regime, in a run-off generated from a field winnowed by a farcical
catalogue of abstruse disqualifications.

He who
controls the process has the power

Morsi understands very well that political
power goes to the man that controls the processes of its exercise, but he
appears to have forgotten that however disciplined and hierarchical the Muslim
Brotherhood itself may be, Egypt is considerably more difficult to control.
Each of his previous power grabs worked because the opposition was divided or
demoralised. Thinking his international cover secure, having taken credit for
Hamas’s ceasefire last December, he executed what in Latin America is called an
autogolpe, or self-coup, by
means of a decree eliminating all constitutional checks on his power.  After intense protests this time he
backed down.

It looks like Morsi is in a race to capture
Egypt’s institutions before the Egyptians, and the world, realise quite what
he’s up to. Whether he has done enough may depend on two other races he’s
running. The more he uses every ounce of the Brotherhood’s power to eliminate
anybody else’s influence on institutions, the less Egyptians trust them, as
they come to see they have been captured, not reformed. Instead they take to
the streets, in violent protest. The brotherhood’s own militias, politicised
football hooligans (21 were recently condemned to death for taking part in a
riot) and a mysterious new “black bloc” of anarchist street fighters
brawl.  Meanwhile Egypt’s economy
founders: economic activity is disrupted, foreign investment dries up, and
people have  ever more difficulty making ends meet.

Egypt’s disorganised opposition can share some
of the blame. The National Salvation Front is slow, reactive and naive. It is
even said to be thinking of breaking one that cardinal rule of opposition in
quasi-democratic countries. “Never boycott elections” should be inscribed in
tablets of stone. It is the equivalent the military warning “Never invade

Now despite Morsi’s comments, recently unearthed, calling Jews
“bloodsuckers” and the “descendants of pigs and monkeys” his style is not the
fervid charismatic fanaticism of a Khomeini, a Hitler or a Mao. A consolidated
Brotherhood regime would remind us far more of the bureaucratic centralism of a
Soviet Party-state (what emerges should Morsi’s grip slip and the Army attempt
to reimpose military rule is another matter entirely).

But unlike the Soviet Union, Egypt needs the
outside world. It needs investment and continued aid from the US and European
Union. Morsi himself still craves international status. Egypt’s institutions,
weak though they are, still retain some structure and independence. The next
crunch point will be the parliamentary elections in three weeks. Aid, and
respectability, should come with conditions, and in particular a credible
international observer mission to prevent electoral fraud. It’s too late for
the opposition to win, but not too late to create conditions where they can
fight another day.