There have been indications that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is facing difficulties repeating the successful experience of the Islamists in Turkey. In the best of cases, perhaps the Brotherhood will not succeed in Egypt until it undergoes the same prolonged and harsh course that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan endured. If we drew a quick comparison between the two cases, we would find similarities and differences.
The similarities are that the Islamists in both countries came to power through the door of genuine democracy, in a state where the military is highly influential, and the liberal trend dominates over the economy, security, and the media.
As for the differences—which are of particular concern to the Brotherhood in Egypt—the Islamists in Turkey, unlike those in Egypt, adopted a slow but effective progression. In this endeavor, they sought to serve the public through municipal institutions in mid-level departments for over ten years. Shortly afterwards, the Islamists gained control of Istanbul municipality, the largest in Turkey, and other areas followed. They left the secular presidential position until a later stage, by which time the Turkish people were convinced that the Islamists deserved to be in power. This is to say that they let their actions, rather than words, win over the people, and so they eventually acquired what they wanted. Having been extremely successful in administering Turkish municipalities and having been in direct contact with ordinary Turkish citizens, a positive public perception of the Islamists was generated through what the Turks saw with their own eyes. It was such a successful experience that many of the Turks were stunned. The Islamists had dispelled the myths promoted by their secular opponents, portraying them as a handful of “dervishes” who belonged in the mosque pulpits and madrassas, and who did not understand politics or government administration.
This success of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey became an inspiration to other political Islam movements, to the extent that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt almost replicated the name with its own Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), while Abdelilah Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (PJD) currently heads the Moroccan parliament. However, the Brotherhood has neglected the differences between its own experience and that of Erdoğan’s, particularly in terms of gradual progression. The Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP in Egypt, which was formed immediately after the Egyptian popular revolution, entered politics from the top, rather than starting from the grass roots. This is a key difference, and mistake, when compared to Erdoğan’s experience.
The other considerable difference lies in the fact that the Turkish AKP emerged from the Welfare Party, after a difficult period of self-criticism and reassessment within the Islamic movement itself, and particularly with regards to the party’s leader, Professor Necmettin Erbakan. Erbakan’s rhetoric and theories were subjected to earnest revisions, regardless of the man’s stature or leadership. With complete transparency and courage, a reformative process was undertaken by the young generation within the Islamist movement; Erdoğan and his right hand man Abdullah Gül.
This sincere and transparent process of self-criticism, no matter how right or wrong, is non-existent whether in the Brotherhood in Egypt or in their offshoots across the Arab world. Brotherhood members still seem to treat their leaders with exaggerated degrees of respect and blind obedience to their orders and opinions. As a result, there is little scope for change and progress. The Brotherhood will not be able to rule Egypt effectively until it undergoes a critical re-evaluation.