SEMİH İDİZ > The Brotherhood should have listened to Erdoğan

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International relations contains many ironies. It will be recalled that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had exhorted Egyptians, just prior to visiting post-Hosni Mubarak Cairo in September 2011, to adopt a secular Constitution. Pointing out that “secularism does not mean atheism,” he had told Egypt’s private Dream TV that under the Turkish Constitution the state is equidistant to all faiths, or lack thereof.

“I, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan am a Muslim, but I am not secular. I am, however, the prime minister of a secular country. In a secular country people are free to be religious or not,” Erdoğan had said, expressing his hope that the way Egyptians saw secularism would change after these remarks of his. But they didn’t.

The Islamic Brotherhood, for whom secularism amounts to atheism, wasted no time in responding to Erdoğan. Dr Mahmoud Ghuzlan, its spokesman, rejected Erdoğan’s exhortation and accused him of meddling in Egypt’s affairs. Erdoğan, in turn, let the matter rest.

The Brotherhood went on to force a new Islam-based Constitution on the country and made sure it did not carry even a hint of secularism. Liberal and Christian Egyptians were, as was to be expected, offended and angered. Some might argue that the writing on the wall for President Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood became clear at that point.

Today, the same Erdoğan who was accused of meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs by the Muslim Brotherhood is being accused of doing the same by the military-installed interim government in Cairo. Badr Abdelatty, the spokesman for the government, was quoted by AFP on Tuesday (July 16) expressing “strong resentment” over comments by Erdoğan after the military coup. He said these “represent a clear intervention in internal Egyptian affairs.”

Both the Brotherhood and the enemies of the Brotherhood have thus accused Erdoğan, albeit at different times and different circumstances, of meddling with Egypt’s affairs. Looking at this one can’t help but wonder if he can ever get it right. He did get it right in his Dream TV interview, though, when he called on Egyptians to adopt a secular Constitution. This idea was later seconded by President Abdullah Gül, too.

But Erdoğan did not push the point, going on instead to implement policies and utter remarks in Turkey that undermined his own exhortation to the Egyptians. If he had stayed the course, however, and used his influence in the region that was at its peak at the time, to put friendly pressure on the Brotherhood to heed his Dream TV remarks, things might have been different for that country today.

Erdoğan is, after all, the only one who could be convincing in this respect, given the allergy Islamists have to the concept of secularism, ensuring that any exhortations from the West for this form of government would automatically be seen as an anti-Islamic ploy. Erdoğan however is the leader of an Islamist party that he took to victory in three successive elections, and his remarks could hardly have been taken as a ploy against Islam.

But a golden opportunity was wasted by Erdoğan and the Brotherhood, no doubt because both sides were blinded by what they considered to be the unstoppable rise of political Islam from Turkey to Tunisia to Egypt and beyond. Thus the Brotherhood went full force in imposing its brand of Islamic government on Egypt as a whole, and that was its downfall. Although the dissimilarities between Turkey and Egypt are glaring, many are still arguing that there is a vital lesson in all this for Erdoğan too.

Had the Brotherhood heeded Erdoğan’s remarks on secularism, however, it would not just be in power today, but would also have contributed to efforts to show that Islam and true democracy – which of necessity entails secularism for the sake of pluralistic inclusivity – are compatible under an administration lead by the Brotherhood. Given its political DNA, however, this was clearly not to be.


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7/18/2013 11:51:42 PM

Nadiri: What a contradictory statement and a choice of example that proves your claims wrong. England is a paragon of secular society, where religion and LAWS have not been mixed. You confuse laws with traditions maybe. What and where to drink for example is FORCED in Turkey, same with Islam classes, same with state support of a particular sect, like building only Sunni mosques and broadcast of only Muslim prayers on Muslim holidays on state TV, sponsored Haj, etc. Still confused?

Red Tail

7/18/2013 10:46:59 PM

Murat. As far as I know, there are no Christianist countries today (apart from the Vatican, but that is a very unusual country). I can not think of any country which has replaced democracy with the teachings of the Bible, and which forces all people of the nation to follow the Bible and other religious teachings, interpreted by Bishops. As far as I can recall, in most Christian countries you can choose your own life style, and you can drink, wear what you want, say what you want about religion.

Nadiri Başaran

7/18/2013 8:33:29 PM

Secularism is just the separation of state and religious institutions (free from religious rule/teaching/imposition not 'influence')

Nadiri Başaran

7/18/2013 8:04:16 PM

@Murat - England is a 'Christianist' country but a 'secular' society. Christian values of christian politicians have been the main reason why there is so much freedom there. Religion and politics have co-exsisted there for centuries.

Nadiri Başaran

7/18/2013 7:47:03 PM

I don't force anyone to live by my beliefs, nor do I think it is right for anyone to do so (has RTE forced anyone to not drink, pray five times a day or fast? No) There are religious people in government in many secular countries who contribute to decisions and don't force their religion on anyone, neither should they. The fact that some Islamists do is no reason to exclude religion from government. I can't be clearer,to me it's a matter of democracy and fairness.

Köksüz Kosmopolit

7/18/2013 6:49:04 PM

@Murat: almost ALL states in regions with historically Christian majorities were "Christianist” to some degree, subjecting Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians (as well Christians of the “wrong” kind) to measures ranging from discrimination to death. But note that word “were”! The power of religion in those countries has been reduced in degrees ranging from “a lot” to “completely”. Not by the religions themselves, of course; but by the increasing strength of secular Enlightenment values.

Tekion Particle

7/18/2013 5:48:24 PM

@Nadiri Başaran, please look up what "DEMOCRACY AND SECULARISM" mean. You are coming up with the same nonsense ill-informed comments every time. @RED TAIL well explained but don't be surprise if it falls on deaf ears again.


7/18/2013 5:04:48 PM

Religion and politics never mixed well. There is not a single example of a successful democracy where an Islamist government or party is in charge. Can someone point to me a "Christianist" democracy or even a state other than Vatican? Secularism is not a choice for democracy. It needs to be enforced if that is what it takes, just like enforcing rule of law, it does not make a regime less democratic. On the contrary. Sad that we discuss this a century after it was resolved.

Recep Ozel

7/18/2013 4:24:15 PM

@ Nadiri If Muslims were not allowed to pray, build mosques, and walk around in black sheets in Europe and America, you would cry at how undemocratic they are!!! However they are democratic and allow people of all faiths to practice freely!!! They don't force anything on you. It is you who is undemocratic and has no respect or tolerance for other peoples beliefs!!! You are simply a trouble maker...

mara mcglothin

7/18/2013 3:14:31 PM

NADIRI So do you think that Saudi Arabia is an appropriate government???? When you mix religion with politics you get oppression of the "other" and even oppression of denominations within a religion. Everyone is always pointing fingers at each other. How many times have we heard that Alevis are not Muslims? Try not to hit your head on the wall RED TAIL
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