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Islam and Democracy in Turkey and Egypt: Editorial by Osama Salama

September 22, 2011

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Alarabi, right, gives an Arab League gift to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the opening session of Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo, Egypt, 13 September 2011. Photo by KHALED ELFIQI

On September 17, the independent Ruz al-Yussuf newspaper carried an op-ed by Chief Editor Osama Salama entitled “Why is Islam pushing Turkey forward and dragging Egypt backward.” I’m not a great fan of Ruz al-Yussuf, but this editorial deserves reprinting in its entirety. The translation is not mine but that of some anonymous editor at Mideast Newswire (you can see it in the original Arabic here).  Clarifications in brackets are mine.

The headline of the article might be shocking. It would actually be more accurate to ask: Why are the Islamic parties in Turkey pushing their country forward, at a time when their counterparts in Egypt are dragging our country backward?

Certainly there is no Turkish Islam and another Egyptian Islam. Islam is one religion with the same principles, values and rules. The difference lies between the ideas, interests and tendencies of those belonging to Islam, and speaking in its name, knowing that none of them represents it.

The question imposed itself on me and forced me to tackle it after what happened last week between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Egyptian Islamic movements.

At the beginning of Erdogan’s visit to Cairo, there were celebrations and warm receptions. But by the end of it, the dispute emerged and the attack was launched against him. They received him as the caliph of the Muslims and bid him farewell as an apostate, although only a few hours separated the two positions.

Erdogan called for a secular state in Egypt, and the Islamic movements, at the head of which is the Muslim Brotherhood, perceived this statement as being a betrayal in support of the Egyptian movements, by calling for a real and not a fake civil state.  They also argued that the Turkish prime minister gave an opportunity to those opposing the religious state to acquire a new piece of evidence proving that Islam is not against the civil state and secularism, after they saw a man belonging to that Islamic movement calling for such a state.

Erdogan thus exposed the Islamic movements in Egypt, seeing how he relies on an Islamic reference but believes in the secularism of the state and the fact that it does not go against the values and principles of the holy religion.

The Islamic caliphate is the dream of the Islamic movements in Egypt, but the head of the Turkish Islamic party turned it into a nightmare when he responded to one of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood who asked him about the[Turkish]  Justice and Development Party as an Islamic Party by saying: “It is not an Islamic party. There is no democratic Islamic party. This is a wrong definition.”

The Egyptian Islamic movements did not understand the Turkish experience. Erdogan said: “Secularism is not against religion. It means the respect of all religions and granting each individual the freedom to practice his own…

This brings us back to our question: Why is the Islamic party pushing Turkey forward while the political Islamic groups are trying to drag Egypt backward?

Erdogan did not accuse his fellow citizens of treason as it was done by famous Salafi Yasser al-Barhami when he said: “The Christians are infidels…”

The Turkish Justice and Development Party did not say that tourism was prohibited and that it will close the resorts on the Bosporus shores as was done by a member in the Muslim Brotherhood who assured voters that he will ban tourism in Sharm al-Shaykh because it relies on nudity…

Since 2002, the Justice and Development Party has led Turkey under a secular umbrella, without preoccupying itself with questions such as: Should Muslims enter the bathroom with their right or the left foot…?

It did not fight the [interest-charging] banks and rather allowed them to operate alongside the Islamic banks. It did not waste its energy fighting the arts and prohibiting music, the theater and the cinema… Hence, let us understand true Islam, at the level of its content and not just its form. Only then will we find ourselves being pushed forward instead of being dragged backward by those who do not understand religion, although they claim to speak for it.

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