Major blow to the plea to change the course of history
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Cairo visit in September 2011 coincided with the transition period to democracy in that country, right after the Tahrir revolution. When the prime minister stepped foot again in Cairo one year later in November 2012, the transition process in Egypt had been completed swiftly and one of the leading names in the Muslim Brotherhood organization, Mohamed Morsi, had taken the president’s seat. Erdoğan emphasized the principle of secularism in his first visit; during his second visit nobody witnessed him pronouncing the word “secular.”
When the two visits are compared, other remarkable differences also emerge. In both trips, Erdoğan gave his main messages at conferences held at Cairo University, however in his 2011 speech the theme of democracy was the main point, while this theme was left aside in favor of strong references to Islamic values in his 2012 speech. Democracy was mentioned only once.
Erdoğan’s speech delivered on Nov. 17, 2012 in Cairo University’s conference hall remains an important text to this day because of its features shedding light on understanding his vision of life, how he views the course of history, the future of the region, and the determining role of Islamic values within this entire vision.
The key aspect in the speech is a quote from the Quran. The prime minister read the 139th verse of the Quran, the Surat Ali Imran: “So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers.” He went on as follows: “In Egypt, in Turkey, in this entire geography, we need to feel this key principle every moment, carry it in our heart, in our mind and remember it each moment … We, the people of this geography are believers, then we are superior … We will continue on our path with full self-confidence and we will all together make history regain its course.”
“History regaining its course” is one of the most important themes of this speech. What is it that will make history regain the course it has diverted from? Erdoğan explained this as “meeting the fundamentals of our civilization.” You can translate that as “returning to the basics of Islam.” Erdoğan actually sees the Arab awakening as “history taking its own course.”
Islamic civilization, in his vision, in this context, contains the solutions to all the issues of today, including democracy. Erdoğan’s words, “The essence of the mentality of coexistence with diversities that constitutes the soul of democracy, again, finds its roots in our civilization,” can be evaluated within this framework.
Actually, there is a serious challenge to the West in these words of the prime minister: “We are not countries that are in need of looking for models anywhere else. Our own history, our own civilization, immeasurably provide with us the required lesson and the experience on coexistence.”
What is interesting here is that when the prime minister mentions history returning to its own course, he adds the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) experience to the change in Egypt. In his return speeches from this trip, Erdoğan said that he almost met with the Turkey of the year 2002 in Egypt. In this context, we can say Erdoğan considers himself in complete identification with the Muslin Brotherhood.
In this mutual identification mood, Erdoğan offered all his available means during the transition to democracy in Egypt for the success of Mohamad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. This ranged from political support to Morsi and his party to economic loans, as well as the key role that Erdoğan’s campaign professionals played in election campaigns in Egypt.
Behind this effort, no doubt, lay motives such as realizing the target of being the regional leader through taking Egypt as a strategic partner by his side, under the common denominator of Sunnism. However, there was another target beyond all this. Erdoğan believed, in his inner world, that, with the synergy he would create together with Morsi, they would be able to shape the flow of history in the region and in the Islamic world. He believed they would be able to change the river bed.
Probably, today, Erdoğan is thinking that the coup in Egypt has constructed a barrier to the historic opportunity that appeared before him. We can also see here, to some extent, the reason for the intensity of his reaction to the coup and his perception of it as if it was organized against himself.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on July 18. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.