Muslim Brotherhood Rebukes Erdogan for Advocacy of Secularism

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s speech at at the Arab League on Monday and at the Cairo Opera House on Tuesday made waves in the West because of his denunciation of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and the warm public welcome he received among Egyptians.

Aljazeera Arabic reports:

But a controversy has broken out about a television interview Erdogan gave while in Cairo in which he said, , according to al-Sharq al-Awsat in Arabic, “Now, in this transitional phase in Egypt, as well as in what comes after it, I believe that the Egyptians will establish democracy very well, and they will see that a “secular state” does not mean “an irreligious state.” Rather it means respect for all the religions and giving all individuals the freedom to practice religion as they please.”

Erdogan’s remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Essam al-Arian, the number two man in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s sponsored political party. He said that Egyptians did not need to be taught about democracy by Turkey.

In an Arab context, Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is not seen as a truly Muslim-religious party, since it does not work for the implementation of sharia or Islam’s version of canon law. Turkey has a secular constitution, and attempting to overthrow it is quite illegal. Al-Arian and his faction of older Muslim Brothers do not want a separation of religion and state in Egypt, on the Turkish model, and so were alarmed that Erdogan was promoting it. Younger Muslim Brothers are said to be more positive toward Erdogan’s stance in this regard.

Erdogan’s party is cautious about challenging seuclarism in Turkey because it is illegal to do so and past Muslim parties have been removed from power or dismissed for taking that stance. Egypt has no similar recent tradition of imposed secularism from the top in the law, though on a de facto basis the old Hosmi Mubarak regime did sometimes put disabilities on the religious parties.

Al-Arian in past statements has underlined that his party would not seek to abolish pluralism in Egypt. But it is disturbing that he reacted so vigorously to Erdogan’s remark. If you weren’t trying to turn Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran, it is hard to see why you’d be so upset with what Erdogan said.

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29 Responses

  1. Hopefully Mr Erdogan will visit Libya and convey the same message, as they are fiddling with some sharia law to replace Gaddafi’s Green Book. I’m afraid that Libya is going from plague to cholera.

  2. I guess this leads to the question of what does Erdogan’s party, being “Islamic”, really mean? If his party has no intention of overthrowing the secular Kemalist constitution, and no intention of implementing Sharia law as the law of the state, then what does his party stand for? I do recall that they attempted some years ago to pass a law prohibiting adultery but the Europeans protested. That sounds to me like an attempt to impose Sharia law.

    • The proposed (and later withdrawn) Turkish parliamentary bill to make adultery a criminal offence sounds to me more like an appeal to conservative “family values.”

      On a similar basis, we’ve often seen attempts to legislate sexual behavior and morality by Christian conservatives in North America and Western Europe, by the Orthodox Church in Greece and by Orthodox Jews in Israel.

      I’m glad the Turkish government withdrew the bill to outlaw adultery. But had Turkey enacted such a law it would not have been alone, even in the non-Muslim world. Adultery remains a criminal offense in countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, India, and the Philippines. In the United States, the crime of adultery remains on the statute books in about two dozen states. While prosecutions are rare they do occur. As recently as 2001, Virginia successfully prosecuted an attorney for adultery, a case that ended in a guilty plea and a fine. A 1997 poll showed that 35% of Americans believe adultery should be a crime, and efforts to decriminalize adultery have met with opposition in states such as Illinois and Minnesota. In the U.S. Armed Forces, adultery is a potential court-martial offense. In Western Europe, adultery (quaintly named “criminal conservation”) remained a criminal offense in the Republic of Ireland until 1976. Even in those countries where adultery is no longer a criminal offense, adultery can still have serious legal and financial consequences in cases involving divorce, and disputes over custody and property settlements.

      Not every social conservative attempt to use legislation to enforce “family values” is necessarily a sign of the coming imposition of “Sharia” (whether in Turkey or in Oklahoma).

  3. Its my experience that most people don’t like foreigners telling them how to run their country; including, even especially, Americans. Egypt has a place in antiquity, whereas Turkey is a new kid on the block. Ptolemy & Cleopatra were Egyptians of Greek heritage, the Greeks are said to have invented democracy – so maybe the MB have a point :)

    On the subject of Turkey’s secularism; would that be the one that dictates what people can and can’t wear to University, at their desks or in their surgeries. I read that Erdogan & Gul would like to change law that so their daughters could attend Turkish colleges wearing head-scarves. Their daughters were/are attending US colleges, wearing head-scarves. Its not only head-scarves that are barred, men are barred from wearing the fez!

    How can a state be said to be secular, yet have a department of religious affairs (Diyanet) whose officials are public servants. It has a budget of US$1,000,000,000, it appoints and pays the Muftis & Imams. At one time it wrote the Friday prayer that was then recited in every mosque in the country, not sure if that’s still true, it was in the ’80’s. Its charter is “to execute the works concerning the beliefs, worship, and ethics of Islam, enlighten the public about their religion, and administer the sacred worshipping places”. But it is not to be compared with similar institutions in Saudi Arabia or Iran – in fact it’s quite enlightened, appoints women vice-mufti & imams, permits IVF & birth control; but bans the wearing of scarves & fez’s :roll:

    Secular seems to have different meanings depending on the country to which it’s applied; most Americans & many Brits seem to think that Turkish secularism is good, but French secularism is bad – weird.

    Nor am I sure that Turkey is “multi-cultural” at least as I understand the word; it’s meaning also varies depending on the country to which its applied. Ottoman Turkey might have been multi-cultural, but it was then spoken of as being “cosmopolitan”. These days you wont find many Greeks, Jews, Maronites, Armenians, Orthodox Syrians etc in towns such as Smyrna (now Izmir) – unless they’re tourists.

    • What Erdogan says is excellent (let’s hope there’s no hidden agenda!) He has struggled for Muslims in Turkey to have the same rights of religious expression which they used to have throughout Europe – until French bigots introduced their new law on veils. Erdogan’s current version of secularism supports rights of religious expression for all religions, rather than limiting religious expression for all religions, which is the style of secularism which the Turkish generals / Constitutional Court previously enforced.

  4. Secularism as thought through among others by Indians is different from the western world where anti-clericalism is the dominant feature whereas the eastern version the emphasis is on respect for all religions and in the modern world for people of no religion as well in other words peaceful co-existance.

  5. Is the disease of “conservative reactionaryism” going more viral across the planet than it already is? The “right wing” (should read “WRONG wing,” there’s nothing remotely “right” about that set any more) bloggers and chatterers and of course our “leading nights” in Republican-space have read, learned and inwardly digested the same reflexive, self-serving, cynical lizard-brain-stimulating Gingrichization handbook, but I guess it’s nothing new anywhere, any more than the breathless (as in “anoxic brain syndrome”) reporting that instantly flags, repeats and amplifies the effect of such tiny-isms.

    Not a big deal at the dorm or frat house or tailgate party level, before or during or after the Big Game, but when you scale it up to nation-size, we got a problem, don’t we? With no wise Deans or Provosts to tamp it down and counsel the offenders or expel them…

  6. Erdogan next stop is Tunisia. It will be interesting to see what would the position Ennahdha, the leading religious party, from Erdogan statements. Ennahdha attacked Tunisiains in the past who were advocating the same position. Ennahdha published their set of principles and program on September 14th the day Erdogan arrived in Tunisia. The program does not call for the implementation of Sharia law and advocates a parliamentary system and other measures to ward off against tyranny and concentration of power. I think Erdogan ‘s tour is very welcome at this critical juncture.

  7. I dont find it disturbing at all. I think it’s wise for a party in the position the MB finds itself in to concider that outsiders may have das that conflict with their own. What I have read does not seem to indicate that the MB rejects Erdogan’s ideas, only that they will take an Egypt first approach rather than take an outside model and use it in it’s entirety.

  8. Whatever Al-Arian wants, the majority of the people at least in Lower Egypt will want a secular state and they will eventually enforce it. Whatever one´s private religious beliefs are – secularism ins´t about that the other religions might after all be right, too – it´s about economy. Businessmen flourish in a state where law, rights and and crimes are concrete and definite. Ideologies, on the other hand, cripple economies and traders like nothing else, they bring on corruption and numerous opportunities to backstab the competition if you can´t beat it by worldy virtue alone. People know that, in Turkey as well as in Egypt. We´ve all known it here in Europe not too long ago, when the Catholic church still tried to define from offstage who was a good citizen worth your support and who was not. You can be a very religious person and still be glad that these times are over.

  9. Hmmm, does this mean that a range of opinion exists within political Islam? Were the Arab Spring really to take hold, might we all experience a truly healthy public debate in the Muslim world about the role of religion in a democracy?

    Gee, I dare say that we Americans might benefit from such a debate as well.

    Kudos to Erdogan for encouraging Egyptians to promote the open marketplace of free speech and, implicitly, for encouraging the military to get out of politics. Now what might it take to convince Washington politicians that this is a trend in the best interests of the U.S. to encourage?

  10. I am a proud Iranian “green” voter and activist. When I voted in June 2009, I wrote in Persian ABOVE the box on the ballot where I indicated my choice “Mir-Hossein Mousavi,” the following: “yek ya-Hossein-e ma’navi taa.” So, my actual ballot statement (which was stolen, i.e., not read, as we all know) said: “[We Iranians only need to say] an SPIRITUAL O’ Hossein [seeking the martyred Imam Hossain’s assistance and strenghth], till [we can have] Mir-Hossein Mousavi [as our President.]” Hence, The “green” Islam I believe in, desire, and struggle for CANNOT be imposed, because if it is (especially from above, and in the NAME of “Islam”, it would be called dictatorship, NOT Islam. Beware Islamic Brothers!

  11. If you weren’t trying to turn Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran, it is hard to see why you’d be so upset with what Erdogan said.

    And what if he is?

    What if Egypt has more voters who want a Sunni version of Iran than voters who think like Juan Cole? Even if there is no majority in support of that, why shouldn’t someone with a different idea of how a state should be run than Juan Cole be able to advocate for that position, to let the voters decide or even be swayed?

    Americans and other Westerners are reflexively anti-democratic, reflexively colonialistic, when it comes to the Middle East.

    We can see under Obama than we could under Bush that this tendency spans across very close to the entire US political spectrum.

    • what if most Westerners want to be “colonialistic”?

      would it be equally undemocratic for the Egyptian voters to oppose that?

      in the US, our government was crafted with an eye toward blunting bad and ugly ideas that might attract the support of a majority.

      for example, freedom of religion is something that Americans are guaranteed whether the majority of the citizens agree with it or not.

      in places such as Iran or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan there is no freedom of religion.

      in Egypt, religious freedom isn’t quite guaranteed and if the majority of Egyptians want to abolish it altogether and impose religious conformity, opposing that may well seem “undemocratic” but opposing their preference also seems like a real good idea.

      • Yes. Egyptians should not choose US leaders or US policies. For them to want to would be a colonialist impulse.

        Fortunately, Egyptians don’t have the colonialist tendencies Westerners do.

      • When Mr. Evans uses the word “oppose”, he means with economic sanctions, bombs, invasions, stuff the West can do to Egypt but not vice versa. So if it ceases to be democratic when one country has the power to violently coerce the other, we’re the ones who are undemocratic based on actual history. And you know we have always had double standards in what we choose to coercively oppose around the world, based on alliances, race, and economic power.

    • What if America has more voters who want an Evangelical version of Iran than voters who think like Thomas Jefferson? For that matter, what if Egypt has more voters who want a Sunni version of Iran than voters who think like the majority of the people who occupied Tahrir Square (that is, people who do do not support theocracy)?

      You’re asking a question that goes to the heart of what liberal democracy is about, and casting one side of that debate as colonialist only hides the real point.

      Americans and other Westerners are reflexively anti-democratic, reflexively colonialistic, when it comes to the Middle East.

      We can see under Obama than we could under Bush that this tendency spans across very close to the entire US political spectrum.

      Writing this in the aftermath of the Obama administration’s actions regarding Tunisia, then Egypt, and then Libya is just bizarre.

      • The US happens to have a majority that believes in a particular degree of government non-interference in religion, and has laws that reflect what the US majority believes.

        If Egypt has a majority that believes differently, then Egypt has a right to a different approach to government.

        Maybe the US should have gay marriage. Or should abolish the death penalty. Or should reform the prison system so that it is rehabilitative and not punative. But not over the heads of US voters. Until a majority of US society concludes that, that is not, and should not be US law. Non US parties based on principles they hold outside of the US rightly have no ability to shape US policy.

        If you respect democracy, it is the same for Egypt. What the majority of Egyptians say is right is what is right for Egypt. I don’t think you, Barack Obama or Juan Cole respect democracy in that sense. You feel entitled to impose what you describe as your values on Egypt.

        It’s actually worse than that though. The problem with Islamists isn’t that the you or the US are concerned women may be forced to wear veils or unable to build churches. The problem you, Cole and Obama have with political Islam is that it is more reliably hostile to Israel.

        You claim you’re concerned with Egyptian rights when Obama, like every recent president before him, fully supported Mubarak. Where is the concern from any US president or administration official for any kind of freedom in Saudi Arabia? This is not about suddenly valuing secularism. You’re not even being honest.

        Now what actions do you think Obama took regarding Tunisia, then Egypt then Libya?

        If governments eventually arise in any of them that are more accountable to their people than to the US embassy (unlike the previous and so-far current governments of Egypt and Tunisia) then that will be despite the actions of every US modern US president including Obama.

        • Arnold Evans says: “If you respect democracy, it is the same for Egypt. What the majority of Egyptians say is right is what is right for Egypt.”

          LOL, where did you find this definition of democracy?

          Democracy stops where it infringes on the democratic or human rights of others, including minorities.

          For example, Egyptian democracy cannot remove the right to a free press, or the right to criticize religion, or move to establish a despotic police state (Iran, Gaza, Hezbollah, KSA, Syria).

          Democracy cannot terminate itself, or terminate universal human rights.

          The problem you, Cole and Obama have with political Islam is that it is more reliably hostile to Israel.

          Some more one-dimensional reductionism of Arab/Muslim existence as favored by the increasingly unhinged “anti-imperialism” Left.

    • @ Arnold Evans – You can’t be serious, or are you??

      Democracy is NOT majoritarianism.

      A majority of 51% CANNOT take away my human rights, neither can 99%.

      My right to and from religion, my right as a kafar or apostate to be treated equally, my right to free expression including criticism of ideology & religion can NEVER be taken away.

      Pls. review the UN UDHR. It is NOT anti-democracy to ask Egypt to respect UDHR, even if a majority want to institute a religious theocracy. And this has NOTHING to do with colonialism, a red-scare tactic of the increasingly degenerate and unhinged “anti-imperialism” Left.

      Pls. review the Libyan Charter of Rights and Freedoms before so arrogantly telling Egyptians that they have to forfeit their rights: link to

  12. I dunno…

    Does refusing secularism necessarily equal to an Iranian-style divine/supreme leadership state?

    • Eventually yes, if you follow Shirin Ebadi and Samuel Pepys. Living in a non-secular state implies that jurisdiction has to be tailored to which God is the right one, what´s right and wrong for his followers (e.g. don´t eat pork, honor Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays). Law has to cover consequences for those who commit a “crime” in a religious sense. Laws around what´s wrong in the name of God are exclusively wishi-washi since He doesn´t talk to us himself. Therefore they are prone to abuse like nothing else is and legal trials on religious grounds alone eventually end up absurd.

      You could argue that this boils down to mere invonvenience like the copts being prohibited from keeping swine, but I´m concinved you always end up with way more serious interference that you expected (which is by the way nicely illustrated by the swine flu hysteria in Egypt, spring 2010! What a party for denunciation and scapegoating).

      Secular democracy is the only functioning bulwark against power-mad people and people with a serious mission. This is about people who can´t leave other people alone even in their bedrooms and their most private religious beliefs in the backs of their heads. They´ve always been there and they always will be and their interfering is more than an unfortunate side effect, it´s what they essentially are about. Luckily, they´re usually only a small minority. But since they KNEW from the first day of their lives that they were right, they of course also know that THEY have got God on their side. And as soon as God has a say in Legislation, they figure since only they know what God wants, it´s also high time for them to raise their voices.

  13. Fascinating.

    It was clear that in making his tour, Erdogan was likely to sketch Turkey’s position as a ME leader. Some of his positions–for example, opposition to Israeli policies–are predictable crowd pleasers. But in offering this rebuke to the MB, it is fair to wonder exactly what audience Erdogan was pitching.

    Cui bono would suggest the West. Erdogan’s speech could be understood as an answer (true or not) to the growing chorus of Western analysts and media who lately have been more aggressive in categorizing Turkey as Islamist, (true or not.)

    Much of this analysis has focused on the AK’s efforts to degrade secularism within the law; on Erdogan’s imprisonment of dissenting media; on Erdogan’s stepped up war against Kurdish separatists, the resignation of senior Turkish commanders, the packing of the Turkish Supreme Court, and various nationalist rhetorical interventions to the Turkish diaspora, especially in Europe.

    It should be understood that despite Turkey’s growing trade relations with other ME countries (and the financing of its short term deficits with Saudi money), Turkey cannot undo its half-century economic ties with the West, which still overpower its commerce with other Arab states. Nor can it afford to alienate its Western military suppliers, which still provide the bulk of Turkish arms and accouterments.

    This last item matters, because at bottom, Turkey still has problems that (it believes) are only amenable to military solutions (the Kurds.) And if Turkey intends to challenge Iran for regional hegemony (which may serve Western interests as well), it can’t afford to be one more mouth to feed in the nest of countries increasingly reliant on Russian and Chinese arms.

    • Wow, that sinister Erdogan undermined your Islam-bashing narrative by making those remarks, so you now have to accuse him of being a double-talking tyrant who steals aid from the West to act as its henchman against Iran.

      There just isn’t anything a Moslem can do to make you happy, is there? There will never be an end to the hoops you will erect, the insinuations you will make, the convoluted conspiracy theories you will sincerely profess. No, only a US-investing monarch or US-trained praetorian regime ashamed to not be white Christians can earn your trust.

      And you probably represent the upper 1% of American intellectual capacity. Thank Allah that the US is passing from the scene, along with the archaic prejudices it preserved in its splendid imperial isolation from reality, which the Tea Party and right-wing radio demagogues have amplified from the whispers of executive suites and churchgoers. I just had to argue with an old Tea Partier at Exxon who believes that all Moslems are out to convert us and enslave the world. He really believes that they all think like al Qaeda. Thanks, Mr. Miller, for your little contribution in making that kind of thinking the New Normal.

  14. I think it is necessary to clarify what a “secular” state means in Middle East terms. For example, most if not all states in the Middle East have personal status defined by the religious courts of the country which have the power to decide what the personal status of an individual is. This means that the person must marry within the rules of whatever religion they belong to, also it frequently involves burial priviledges. In Egypt, which defines itself as “secular” as I understand it, a Muslim may not convert to any other religion since Sharia law prohibits it and the state will not recognize such a converstion. Since Sharia allows non-Muslim women to marry a Muslim man, the state will recognize such a marriage, however since Sharia prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men, such a marriage would NOT be recognized by the state.
    Israel has personal status recognized in a similar way. Yet, Israel defines itself as a secular state as well. In Israel one may convert to another religion, including Jews converting out, even though it is called “the Jewish state”.
    Regarding public observance of religious law, my understanding is that, for instance during the Ramadan fasting month, non-Muslims may not open restaurants during the day time fasting hours, even though the Ramadan fast is not incumbent on them. There are at least some countries that enforce this (can anyone tell me which countries enforce this and which don’t….e.g. Syria is secular…what do they do there? or in secular Egypt?).
    In Israel religious law is not enforced on anyone, e.g. there is no dress code anywhere, but during the Passover holiday, for instance, there is a law that prohibits selling certain prohibited foods, although there is no law that says one can’t eat them, even in public, although religious law prohibits eating them during that period. On the Day of Atonement, no one drives even though there is no law enforcing this, it is simply a custom that caught on, whereas on the Sabbath (Saturday) when driving is also prohibited by religious law, but not by secular law, manyh people drive. Thus, we see that “secular” states seem to be a mixed bag. Can anyone clarify how the secular Muslim states of the Middle East deal with these things?

  15. In my opinion, all this talk about Islamism is nonsense. Most Arabs wouldn’t tolerate anything even close to Iranian-style theocracy, which really is quite crazy, more crazy than even Saudi Arabia.

    I suspect should there be a Sunni Islamist state, it might resemble a softer KSA. Maybe. I suspect, though, not much would be different than now. I really doubt there would be stoning or honor killings or whatever insanity the West is convinced would happen.

    (Pointing at Afghanistan or Iraq is not really a reasonable argument– destroy any country’s infrastructure, starve them for a decade and bomb them in proxy wars, and ANY population will go mad.)

    I don’t think there would be much visible difference. People have created this buzzword-cum-bogeyman out of Sunni Islamism, as though the Arab world would suddenly turn into scimitar-wielding demons, ravenous to conquer Vienna.

    The ‘danger’ to the Western world, should a Arab Sunni Islamist (a semi-bollocks term meaning someone who doesn’t believe in forgetting one’s history and culture) state arise is the fact that it would bridge the Islamic world at large–from Chechnya to Greater Turkestan, and Morocco to Iraq and beyond; not as a superstate, but a confederacy of nations with Islamic heritage and tri-or-quadri-lingual bonds– wherein an enormous stock of the world’s wealth would be located.

    Behold the Islamic bloc. Slaves no longer. You won’t be driving that Hummer for much longer…

    • @Mohammad – I see, you wish an Islamic superstate to evolve so you can extort the globe through monopoly and hoarding practices on energy supplies. (BTW this will not work, as Canada has 1.8 trillion barrels of oil in the form of bitumen).

      Not only this will be ethically a lowpoint for Arabs & Muslims, but it will result in massive impoverishment of the 3rd world, and the fattening of coffers of already rich sheiks & despots to invest those resources in non-productive endeavors such as luxury items and munitions/weapons.

      I suppose in this case the West & Asia will be justified to retaliate by increasing the price of medicine, computers, automobile, machine tools, food, services, etc. by a hundred fold, JUST for Arabs/Muslims in this superstate.

      The fact that this ethical irony does not come to your attention just makes me so pessimistic and discouraged of the people you claim to represent.

      BTW, Hamas (Gaza) is already a Sunni Islamist state that you have conveniently ommitted. I suppose utopia can be discovered in Gaza.

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