The Turkish prime minister has gone too far in his criticism of Egypt, for he did not content himself with the political stance he took up against the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. Rather, he has issued defamatory statements assailing Al-Azhar and its grand sheikh, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb. This time, Erdoğan’s statements cannot be viewed as a purely political position.
Erdoğan’s insult of Al-Azhar cannot be separated from the entire Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to cast doubt on state institutions and leaderships. Ever since its foundation, the Brotherhood’s discourse endeavored to demolish political institutions, aiming at undermining political stability and tearing down religious institutions in order to undermine the state’s religious legitimacy. The Muslim Brotherhood did so in Egypt even when it was in power, for it sought to distort the images of the judiciary, the army and the media, and of course Al-Azhar and its leadership. The aim was clear: to mobilize public opinion in order for the Brotherhood to be able to dominate society by taking control of its institutions. The Brotherhood did not content itself with doing so in Egypt only, for it sought to do so in the entire region. It tended to portray moderate regimes that disagree with it as agents of the West, although it was the Brotherhood that sought assistance from abroad to stay in power.
The Brotherhood acted similarly with other Islamic groups that were carried away by their discourse, in a way that reflects their political shortcomings. The Brotherhood used those groups, whether peaceful or violent, to prompt people to say that the Brotherhood alone was moderate and that other groups were hardliners. This happened in Egypt—we must here bear in mind the terrorism prevalent in the Sinai, and we must also remember the number of terrorists who were released by presidential pardon.
This is also happening today in Tunisia at the hands of the ruling Ennahda party, who are Brotherhood adherents. The Brotherhood is doing all of this in order to distort the image of whomever disagrees with it and enable the Brotherhood affiliates to impose their own views and appoint their own men in institutions by exploiting the slogan “Islam is the Solution.”
Therefore, Erdoğan’s insult of Al-Azhar and its grand sheikh comes as part of the endeavor to defame whoever disagrees with the Brotherhood. When Erdoğan sensed that his criticism of the Egyptian army was not working, he sought to assail Al-Azhar and its grand sheikh. He understood that the new Egypt is seeking to increase Al-Azhar’s stature after the Brotherhood strove to diminish it, which is a very wise endeavor, particularly after Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that “Al-Azhar is the sole religious institution in Egypt and terrorism cannot be confronted unless Al-Azhar is held in high esteem.”
Erdoğan thus became mindful of how religion and politics are the cornerstones in Egypt. The religious part has been undertaken by Al-Azhar, whereas the political one has been systematized by the army. Therefore, Erdoğan sought to defame Al-Azhar after the military’s steadfastness had been affirmed. Erdoğan’s insult of Al-Azhar comes as part of the core of the Brotherhood’s course, which aims at undermining religious and political legitimacy in Egypt and elsewhere. Therefore, we see that, for example, religious zealots in Saudi Arabia never miss the opportunity to assail the Council of Senior Religious Scholars.
In summary, Erdoğan’s insult of Al-Azhar and its grand sheikh is not a slip of the tongue, but is at the core of the Brotherhood’s plot of demolishing our institutions and distorting their image.