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You believed Erdogan when he was an Islamist | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Many people objected to what I wrote in my previous article “Erdogan of Arabia…but” [14/09/2011] and rushed to defend the Turkish prime minister, especially when I said that he was trying to use the “leadership trump card” in our region [the Palestinian Cause]. However thanks to God, who facilitates matter, the wedding guests were shocked on the wedding-night, when it was the Arabs and Islamists themselves who first began to attack Erdogan!

This was after Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood-like Prime Minister of Turkey, announced that the establishment of a secular state was the best option for the future of Egypt. Erdogan said that “now during this transitional period in Egypt and beyond, I believe that the Egyptians will closely assess the issue of democracy, and they will see that a secular state does not mean that the people are atheists, it means respect for all regions and granting each individual the freedom to practice his own religion.” He added that “the Egyptians shouldn’t worry about this issue, and those who have been assigned to write a new constitution in Egypt should clarify that the State maintains the same distance from all religion, and guarantees that every individual is able to exercise his religion.”

One of the impacts of Erdogan’s statement in this regard was that the welcome that he had received from the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Salafists turned into criticism and protest. The Muslim Brotherhood announced its rejection of any interference in Egypt’s internal affairs, even if this was by Mr. Erdogan himself, who the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Salafists had warmly received at Cairo Airport with welcoming slogans like “Erdogan Erdogan…the Muslim Brotherhood welcomes you” and “Egypt and Turkey – we want an Islamic Caliphate.” My God! The praise turned to mockery, and joy turned to shock, and this was all while Mr. Erdogan was still in Cairo. Indeed this was on the same day that some people chided me for writing that the Turkish Prime Minister wanted – through his Arab League speech – to ride the raging bull through the Arab region. Following this, we saw Mr. Erdogan’s friends being unable to handle the first public advice he gave them, indeed they were the first to attack him!

The fact of the matter is that what Mr. Erdogan advised is in the interest of the Egyptian state, and its future. A secularist state in Egypt would not marginalize religion or be anti-faith; rather it would protect and guarantee all religions. What is required in Egypt is not the exclusion of religion; rather what Egypt – and indeed the rest of the Arab world – must understand is that what is required is separation of religion from government, not separation of religion and state. Here we see that the US, despite its secularist nature, is a country that respects all religions, whilst its leaders do not absent themselves from [attending] church. This is despite the fact that the US rigidly implements a system based upon separation of church and state, in the interests of the people.

Therefore, what Erdogan said about the necessity of establishing a secular state in Egypt is something that deserves further discussions by the people of Egypt themselves, as well as between the Muslim Brotherhood intellectuals and the organization’s youth, who desire renewal and change. Indeed all other Egyptian political forces, particularly the youth, must also take part in such discussion, whether this is via the Egyptian media, internet forums, universities, or even in coffee-shops. The Egyptian people must closely monitor the results of such discussion, particularly the discussions between the Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Salafists. This is because these discussions will reveal much of the hidden motives and desires of Egypt’s Islamists regarding the future of the country.

Therefore it is up to everybody in Egypt today, particularly the civilian political forces and the youth, to exploit the ripples from the huge rock thrown by Erdogan into the still Egyptian waters, for they believed him when he was an Islamist.