News & Events
Transitions in Action: Reflections from the Front Lines in Turkey and Egypt
As Professor Necla Tschirgi prepared to spend the summer in the Middle East, she was not particularly concerned with packing the right clothes. It was the books she placed in her carry-on bag that were critical. The two books - “Waging Non-Violent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential” by Gene Sharp and “The Dictator's Handbook” by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith – became her guide books as she witnessed the uprisings in Turkey and Egypt from the front lines.
She consulted these books again and again throughout her two months of travel as she saw the lessons of each come to life – from creative acts of non-violence to brutal authoritarian control.
The uprisings and subsequent violence in both countries began as non-violent protests against democratically elected leaders. According to Professor Tschirgi, a native of Turkey who studied at the American University of Beirut and taught at the American University in Cairo, both protests escalated towards violence when these leaders failed to acknowledge or address the legitimate concerns of protesters. Rather than creating a process where grievances could be aired and responded to through political dialogue, those in power claimed that their electoral wins gave them the right to rule without regard to rising levels of popular unrest. In Turkey, Prime Minister Tayyib Erdogan’s government squashed the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. In Egypt, the democratically-elected government of President Morsi was ousted from office by the military and the pro-Morsi demonstrations that followed led to violent crackdown of the protesters by the security forces—once again demonstrating the proclivity of authorities to quickly resort to violence rather than taking the longer road to resolving conflict through non-violent political action.
While there are some similarities in the two cases, Professor Tschirgi emphasizes that what transpired in the two countries subsequently merits close attention. In Turkey, the protesters are committed to continue their resistance to the Prime Minister’s policies through the ballot box. Egypt, on the other hand, finds itself with a repressive military-backed regime that threatens to overturn the 2011 Tahrir Revolution’s promise for bread, freedom and dignity. Professor Tschirgi attributes the differences in the political trajectory of the two countries to their respective levels of political development. Indeed, Professor Tschirgi argues that it is erroneous to compare the two countries since they are undergoing very different types of transitions.
Over the coming months, Professor Tschirgi intends to organize a series of events for students and community members that will address nations in transition and how to facilitate these transitions without violence. The series will focus on Syria and Zimbabwe in addition to Egypt and Turkey.
Details for these events will be confirmed and posted soon on the Kroc School's events webpage.