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Response to Mustafa Akyol’s article: There is no such thing as the people

The following is my response to the article by Turkish “liberal” Islamist Mustafa Akyol entitled quite preposterously “There is no such thing as ‘the people’“. In it Akyol reiterates what we’ve heard repeatedly by Islamist supporters that protesters on the streets whether in Tahrir or in Gezi Park do not have the right to speak in the name of “the people”, since there will always be a faction that disagrees with them. By doing so Akyol aims to deprive these demonstrations of any legitimacy as a vehicle for change, claiming instead that ballot boxes are the only way to confer change.

Let me outline the logic behind this article in bullet points:

  • Akyol is a liberal therefore we would assume he supports a democratic system where civil liberties are enshrined in a constitution with the aim of protecting the rights of all people equally.
  • Akyol claims that no group can claim to speak for all the people with the ballot box being the only method for change
  • As such, if the aforementioned “just” system were absent or was to break down, then people demonstrating for the re/institution of equal rights for all people cannot be said to speak for all people
  • According to him, such opposition to tyranny becomes a political opinion as long as another faction ratifies it.
  • This article argues to the contrary. People defending the institution/restoration of a just system that protects the rights of all people equally, against a tyranny of the majority, speak in the name and interest of ALL people.

What follows are a list of tweets in response to his article which takes the extreme example of slavery.

About T. Fouad, MD

Blogging on Egypt, Middle East Politics. Economics. Oncology. Egyptian Liberal, Doctor. كتابة عن مصر والشرق الأوسط, سياسة واقتصاد, طبيب مصري ليبرالي. تابعوني على تويتر @FouadMD


3 thoughts on “Response to Mustafa Akyol’s article: There is no such thing as the people

  1. Name: Ertugrul Cepni
    Email: cepni@data-sistem.com
    Comment: Dear Doctor Fouad; I sincerely welcome the opportunity to discuss issues of politics through Mustafa Akyol’s (Correct spelling Ak means pure; Yol means road) article on “the people power”. I strongly lauded the article but you did not. Reading your thoughts again again I believe we are drawing separate conclusions from What Mr. Akyol says; hence the disagreement! He is writing more to the politicians that abuse power to gain advantage. In doing so they talk in the name of the people and as if they have the backing of all the people for what they say and do! What your thoughts lead me to understand is that everyone can voice their opinion in the interest of all people regardless of a few that may not agree. I certainly will agree to that! All the politicians and all of us opinion makers wish the welfare of all as best we know how. We often here politicians vow: “ask the people”, “go to people”, “people knows best” to serve their political agenda! Instinctively the question that come to mind is which people? Which part of the people? Is it the people that are in politics? Are they the ones who closely follow politics? Are they the ones could careless for their main occupation is to earn the day’s bread? In addition, looking at the history of the development of democracy we learn that any one small group well organized could grab the power and will turn it to a dictatorship! We know that demagogues, agitators, and sweet talkers gain undue power in politics. Mr. Akyol’s article eludes to this as well. “Minority of One” a phrase that I like much. In a society all but one can be on the wrong side! There is another wisdom word that I like “one person that hold the truth shall become majority in the future”. Yes anyone can speak out what they believe to be good for the peoples and the society but not with the backing of all the peoples! Allow me to comment on your response to Mr. Akyol, not that we are on the same side politically or intellectually. Aykol claims that no group can claim to speak for all the people with the ballot box being the only method for change: I discovered Mr. Akyol recently and now read his articles with interest. Not often you find in Turkey an Islamist who writes scholarly and fairly if not all the time! Through his writings I learn more about the Islamists camp for I am strictly secular and a social democrat. From what I have gathered from his writings he does not claim the blot box is the only venue for change. If I recall right since French revolution Bill of Rights and Human Rights Declarations states the right of the people to rise up against tyranny! According to him, such opposition to tyranny becomes a political opinion as long as another faction ratifies it. As I stated above, I understood Mr. Akyol to say that an abusive politician using “people power” and grabbing the rule of the country could turn into tyranny! Please remember that “direct democracy” was abundant because it led the societies to chaos! Also remember that you will find similar arguments is the writings of Aristo.. Allow me to suggest that there could be more appropriate word be used instead of preposterously. I have learned in life that and especially in politics “never say never.. I hope I am understood better now than through two sentences of the twitts!! I have been impressed by your blog.. Congratulations. Someday, I may write my thoughts on the developments in Eqypt!!! With best wishes, Ertugrul Cepni

    Posted by Ertugrul Cepni | August 10, 2013, 9:21 am
    • Thank you Mr. Ertugrul Cepni for your thoughtful reply. If Akyol is talking about populism and its dangers then he has said nothing new. The problem of populism and the controversies of direct democracy are very thoroughly studied. Instead as his title clearly states “There is no such thing as the people”. Hence my use of the word “preposterous” since it is a sweeping statement. Again his article does not talk about politicians but about protests. Many times I have found that commentators wrongly label these protests as a direct democracy. Again this is a mistake. Since those protesting have no intention of habitually protesting let alone ruling from the streets. They are not creating a system of rule that should be seen in contrast to the ballot box. They are there because something at the state level affects them individually not as a group. If you look carefully there are clear characteristics of this. You will see one common factor is the political diversity of the protests. These protests include ALL political factions. Even the notion of labeling them as anti-Islamist is not entirely accurate since I have gone there and have seen and photographed Islamists protesting an Islamist government. The issue of chaos is not to be feared at all since as I mentioned as soon as the people feel they have a just system they will return home. There is no intention to create a system of chaos but to reform or replace an unjust system with a just one. One of the most common slogans common to all these protests “The people demand the downfall of the system”. The Arabic word “Nezam” is wrongly translated into “regime”. My accusations to Mr. Akyol stem from the fact that his argument is flawed and appears to favor of the Islamist status quo. Thank you again for your knowledgeable and courteous reply. Best wishes.

      Posted by T. Fouad, MD | August 10, 2013, 7:40 pm
  2. Great job again. The core issue imho is that Morsi lost his legitacy through sham elections. I differe from you on what really happened, this was not a coup against injustice, it was coup against loss of legitmacy

    Posted by 2imen | August 11, 2013, 8:19 am

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