Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group warned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan on Wednesday that his country should not seek to dominate the Middle
East despite his enthusiastic welcome at the start of a regional
After his widely praised call for democracy in the Arab world,
Erdogan was given a more reserved reception by officials of the Muslim
Brotherhood, whose old guard was put off by the Turkish leader’s calls for Egypt
to adopt a secular constitution.
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Appearing on Egyptian television,
Erdogan said, “a secular state does not mean that the people are atheists, it
means respect for all religions and each individual has the freedom to practice
his own religion.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the population in Turkey are
Muslims. There are Christians, Jews and minorities, but the state treats
them equally. This is recognized by Islam and has been true throughout Islamic
history,” he said.
Anat Lapidot-Firilla – director of the Forum for the
Study of Turkey at The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute – said Erdogan’s comments
must be put in their proper context. “He can’t speak against secularism, because
it’s built into the Turkish constitution,” said Lapidot- Firilla, who also
teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Second, when he speaks of a
secular state he’s primarily talking about a pluralistic one – one that allows
everyone to live within the same structure. It doesn’t mean a state devoid of
all signs of religion. In his eyes, the Kemalist concept of
secularization was radical and extreme – a religion in its own
Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom
and Justice party said in response to Erdogan’s remarks, “We welcome Turkey and
we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader but we do not think that he or his
country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future.”
added: “Arab states do not need outside projects ... This has to come from the
new internal systems of the Arab countries which after the revolutions ... will
be democratic ones,” Erian said, confirming that Erdogan had met with Freedom
and Justice representatives.
Lapidot-Firilla said the Turkish leader may
have let the raucous reception he received Tuesday go to his head. “I think he
neither understands the Arab world nor the limits of his own power. If he
thought he could come to the Arab world and say, ‘We know what’s best for you,’
then he’s naive,” she said.
“His supporters come from the Islamic
movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, so the moment he started talking
about secularism, it was all over.”
Erdogan’s party, with its Islamist
roots and election success, has become a model for younger elements of the
Brotherhood and other Islamic groups as they prepare for the first free vote
since Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule was ended in February.
premier has won plaudits from many Arabs for his belligerent line against Israel
and support of the Palestinians.
“He has successfully invested in the
Arab and Muslim world’s central case, which is the Palestinian case,” the
Brotherhood’s Erian said.
“When it comes to Israel, he has a lot of
criticism for the State of Israel and for Zionism, but he himself isn’t talking
about Israel’s destruction.
Rather, he talks about a two-state solution,”
Lapidot-Firilla said. “He believes that over time Israel won’t survive unless it
accepts the guardianship of the regional hegemon – namely, Turkey ... He tends
to look at the peoples of the entire area – both Israel and the Palestinians –
as not quite mature. There’s something very paternalistic in his speech, but
also angry, when he talks about Israel as the region’s ‘spoiled child.’” A
senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Erdogan had only offered Egypt
help if requested. “We are not saying we will come and teach you what to do, we
are saying we can help if you want,” the official said.
Minister Essam Sharaf said they sought to boost annual trade between the two
states to $5 billion from $3 billion, as well as to increase Turkish investment
in Egypt to $5 billion from $1.5 billion in the future.
Erdogan urged the United States not to block a plan by Palestinians to seek
recognition for a statehood at the United Nations, and praised the overthrow of
Arab autocrats across the region.
“The freedom message spreading from
Tahrir Square has become a light of hope for all the oppressed through Tripoli,
Damascus and Sanaa,” Erdogan said, receiving several standing ovations.
“Democracy and freedom is as basic a right as bread and water for you, my
brothers.”Reuters contributed to this report.