Talking about secularism when Egypt looks to Saudi Arabia as a model

Talking about secularism when Egypt looks to Saudi Arabia as a model

Hearing the results of a recent survey on Egyptians’ political leanings has been quite astonishing for me. But it was more astonishing to hear that the survey results have been a surprise to a knowledgeable foreign observer who has been living in Egypt for the last couple of years. “I think Egypt has become more Islamized than we realized,” the observer told me.

The survey, conducted by the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, showed that 41.4 percent of the participants have chosen Saudi Arabia to be the best model for Egypt to follow and adhere to its methods. Turkey ranks fourth at less than 10 percent, coming right after the U.S. and China, with 10 percent each.

“A lot of Egyptians go to Saudi Arabia and they like the order they see in comparison to the chaos they experience in their own country,” said the same observer. The return of security ranks as a top priority, at 28.4 percent, followed by price stabilization and unemployment. Nearly 59 percent of Egyptians consider the spread of chaos as potentially being the worst-case scenario. Add to these findings the fact that 40.1 percent classify themselves as Islamists.

Given this background, it might be interesting to re-evaluate the messages of secularism that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave during his visit to Egypt last month, and whether it served the intended purpose.

The statement, it seems, had a bombshell effect, leaving a bitter taste among members of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was probably received more receptively by others in different corners of the Middle East.

I am sure the Christian minority in Syria lent a strong ear to what Erdoğan was saying on secularism because it seems they remain one of the three strong pillars remaining loyal to President Basar al-Assad’s regime out of fear that once the regime falls, they will be oppressed by the majority Muslims. Looking at what happened in Iraq, in which they witnessed thousands of Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in Syria, it is not that difficult to understand their fears, which have probably been reinforced by the recent incidents in Egypt.

Of the two other pillars, the army’s support seems to be the most difficult to break, whereas the business community’s support seems to be the most likely to weaken. As sanctions begin, the business community is feeling more and more uncomfortable.

As Turkey has given hope on Bashar al-Assad, it will not come as a surprise if it decides to appeal to the minorities, Christian as well as Kurdish, so that they might opt to put pressure on the regime.

I have been told by experts that are monitoring Syria that Turkey’s criticisms have been very critical, especially in weakening the regime’s dismissal of protests as a foreign plot supported by the United States and Israel. In view of Turkey’s strained relations with Israel and shaky ones with Washington, it might be difficult for the Syrians to be convinced that Turkey, which once supported Damascus despite U.S. objections, has now joined hands with Israel and the U.S. to topple al-Assad.

While the Justice and Development Party government might not have a credibility problem with the Arabs in Syria, it might be a different story with the Kurds and Christians, since its own track record is not that brilliant when it comes to Christians and Kurds in Turkey