Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


The Tin-Pot Dictatorships of Egypt and Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
December 15, 2014

Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).


Supporters of the governments of Egypt and Turkey have become adept at telling the world that under presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan respectively, these countries are making progress toward more open and just political systems. In reality, they are nothing more than tin-pot dictatorships.

Over the weekend, Egyptian authorities detained, questioned, and deported my friend and colleague Michele Dunne as she sought to enter Egypt at the invitation of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. Michele, who is the most well-respected Egypt analyst in Washington, has not been shy in her criticism of the Egyptian government. Not to be outdone, yesterday the Turks arrested 27 people including journalists, TV producers, and police commanders on terrorism charges. All of the detainees are either members or suspected members of the Gulen movement. Fethullah Gulen and his followers were at one time allied with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), working together, for example, to subordinate the armed forces to civilian leaders, though at the expense of the rule of law and due process. In early 2013, a falling out over the government’s negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party erupted later that year into revelations about official corruption and other malfeasance at the highest levels of the AKP, which in turn became a sort of political death match between the two big men of Turkish politics. President Erdogan, secure after sweeping AKP victories in municipal elections and his own ascendancy to the presidency, is now exacting his revenge on the Gulenists.

Though in some ways shocking, what happened to Michele in Egypt and to those detained in Turkey is not at all surprising given what has transpired in both countries since the summer of 2013:

  • Number of those indicted and/or jailed for taking part in protests
    Egypt: 16,000 (est.)
    Turkey: 5,500 (est.)
  • Number of protesters killed
    Egypt: 1,000-2,500 (est.)
    Turkey: 63
  • Number of protesters injured
    Egypt: 17,000 (est.)
    Turkey: 8,000-10,000 (est.)
  • Passage of new laws targeting NGOs
    Egypt: Yes
    Turkey: Yes
  • Passage of new laws restricting demonstrations
    Egypt: Yes
    Turkey: Yes
  • Freedom House Press Freedom Ranking*
    Egypt: 155, Not Free
    Turkey: 134, Not Free
  • Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index Ranking (2013)
    Egypt: 135
    Turkey: 93
  • World Bank Rule of Law Indicator (2013)
    Egypt: 34.12
    Turkey: 55.92
  • World Bank Governance Score (2013)#
    Egypt: -0.60
    Turkey: 0.08

Despite all the official declarations of positive change in Egypt and Turkey, they rank below or close to countries like Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia, Greece, and South Africa.

You don’t even need to plumb various tables and indices, however, to understand that Sisi and Erdogan are overseeing remarkably similar politics, built on cults of personalities, manipulation, intimidation, fear, and violence. Sadly, that many Egyptians and Turks are willing to support this kind of governance out of either a desire for revenge or schadenfreude is, ultimately, shortsighted. In both Sisi’s Egypt and Erdogan’s Turkey, anyone could be next. That’s what happens in dictatorships.

*Out of 197 countries.
Out of 167 countries.
Score out of 100.
#Values range from -2.50 to +2.50.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Fred N.

    “Despite all the official declarations of positive change in Egypt and Turkey, they rank below or close to countries like Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia, Greece, and South Africa.”

    Given the statement above from the article, of the countries listed as barely better than Egypt and Turkey with respect to democracy and governance, Greece seems out of place here. I looked up the indices shown here and Greece is not at all close in almost all indicators and ranks above in all instances. I found it odd that a European country would initially be used here and then, with some investigation, found that the comparison here (of Greece to Egypt and Turkey) is not accurate. For example, in the Freedom House Press Ranking, Egypt and Turkey are ranked 155 and 134, resp. Greece is ranked 83. In the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index the ranks for Greece, Turkey, and Egypt are 33, 93, and 135, resp. Again, not even close to be used for comparison. This seems to be a gross oversight but I would expect a more thorough investigation of the data before making unfair comparisons.

  • Posted by MC

    what would we make out of the usa? a tin-pot democracy !

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required