Maggie Michael
and Christopher Torchia

CAIRO: Now that Egypt has its first freely elected president, Egypt’s powerful generals appear headed toward copying the Turkish model from decades past — retaining overwhelming powers while allowing a civilian regime complete with the trappings of democracy to emerge.

It is not the model that many in today’s Turkey boast about, but rather one dating back to the 1980s and 1990s when civilians ran Turkey’s day-to-day affairs under the watchful eyes of the military.

Egypt’s ruling generals went for a power grab even before the winner of a June 16-17 presidential runoff — Mohammed Morsi of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood — was announced on Sunday.

The two sides are now thought to be negotiating a power-sharing deal behind closed doors. The military currently retains full legislative powers, controls the process of drafting a new and permanent constitution and has the final say on foreign policy and security.

The seeds for such an arrangement were planted soon after longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011, when Egypt’s generals ordered an Arabic translation of Turkey’s 1982 constitution, according to Middle East expert Steven Cook of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. The document empowered Turkey’s military to police the political arena.

Wahid Abdel-Maguid, a political insider who has been a key player during Egypt’s transition, agrees that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and other generals on the ruling military council are seeking to replicate the Turkish model.

“The generals mainly want a unique status in the constitution, to be independent from the executive authority and even stronger than it,” Abdel-Maguid said. The military “will be the one steering the country’s policy in the future directly or indirectly.”

The Turkish military of the 1980s and 1990s sought domination to protect the secular nature of the state. Although Egypt was never as secular as Turkey, the Egyptian generals similarly seem largely motivated by their desire to prevent the Islamic Brotherhood from gaining a monopoly on power.

But Turkey has changed over the past decade.

The military’s political clout has largely been broken by a government led by moderate Islamists with a strong electoral mandate and a public commitment to secular politics.

“Model might not be a suitable word. But Turkey can be an aspiration point for Arab countries,” said Kamer Kasim, vice president of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization. “Turkey has a large Muslim population. It is secular and it has been experiencing democracy for a long time. I think Arab countries can take great lessons from Turkey’s bad experiences” — such as a string of military coups over the decades.