A question worth scrutiny is who promoted the idea of a Turkish model to be followed by Arab Spring countries? Was it Western diplomats yearning to see coexistence between Islam and democracy in the Middle East and wishing that Arab Islamists could learn lessons from the Turkish experience and spare themselves the time and effort wasted in searching for another alternative?
In any case, Arab Islamists found an excellent cover for their insatiable lust for power, welcoming the term and using it as a catapult.
In 1924, a prominent military commander named Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Sultanate, relieving it of a heavy legacy and commitments to its southern Arab neighbors. Ataturk laid the foundation for a modern Turkey, one based on a national, rather than Islamic identity.
His reform movement included unification of education, adoption of the new Turkish alphabet, introduction of penal law and civil law modeled after European codes, banning religious costumes and finally including the principle of laïcité (secularism) in the constitution. Four year later, Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian Islamic scholar, founded the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire left a political and cultural vacuum in the Arab World – at a time where Pan Arabism was not yet fully crystallized. Banna found in Islam an ideology solid and influential enough to unite Muslims across the globe against Western influences.
This reflects the difference between a society looking forward to Europe and quoting its experience within a national framework and on the other hand a society reviving its own historic roots and looking forward to exporting its model to the rest of the Muslim Umma.
HAVING SAID that, one has to understand that Turkey relies on a long legacy of secularism, fairly democratic institutions and pluralistic political system. AKP practices politics in a secular democratic climate, albeit with its own Islamic reference.
AKP reached power after a history of equivocal trials and errors of its predecessors, the National Order Party and National Salvation Party, both of which were banned for violating the country’s secularity.
AKP leaders deeply understand that secularism is the shield that protects nations against religious fanaticism and yet allows each and every individual to practice his beliefs freely.
In that sense AKP is surely more secular than any Arab party that deems itself secular. It is ironic to find Egyptian secular parties defending the second article of the constitution that stipulates that principles of Sharia are the major source for legislation.
Arab secularists are playing the religion card not only to gain support of electoral bases but also to avoid criticism.
In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood had emerged in a different socio-political framework. Since its inception, it succeeded in immunizing itself against the government’s systematic attacks. The brotherhood brilliantly managed to survive underground and concealed itself from security harassment for 80 years. The brotherhood is a self-centric movement which developed in an exclusionist environment.
Thus, the exclusionist attitude is what characterizes their thinking. Any opponent is deemed an adversary who must be silenced. That explains the rage expressed at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement urging Islamists to draft a secular constitution during his visit to Cairo in September, 2011. It even explains their monopoly over all the authorities in Cairo.
The brotherhood includes within its broad Islamic ideology a variety of trends ranging from jihadism to peaceful involvement in democracy. However, it is worth noting that the brotherhood is the mother organization of almost all jihadi movements.
Among members of the Muslim Brotherhood who sought to reach power through violence were those who murdered Egyptian prime minister “El-Nokrashy Pasha” (1948), fired shots at Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954), killed Egyptian intellectual “Farag Foda” and attempted to kill Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1993).
In 2005, Egyptian and international newspapers published photos of a military-style parade held by students from the brotherhood on Al- Azhar University campus.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the Brotherhood will remain committed to democracy or that this violent trend has disappeared.
As for the military hegemony, some analysts alleged that the Egyptian army could be the guarantor of the civilian state in case it was threatened by the Islamists. However, the reality is the other way around. On August 12, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi carried out his coup against the army, dismissing its generals and concentrating all power in his hands.
The same cannot be said of the AKP’s move to amend the constitution and render the army subject to the civilian government, the aim of which was ultimately to gain more ground with their European counterparts, who for so long had criticized the army’s supremacy. Bear in mind that the founding principles of the Turkish constitution (secularism, democracy, equality before the law) are immovable, while the Egyptian constitution is being tailored to suit the needs of the brotherhood.
Even in the social context, they stand at odds. The representation of women in the Turkish parliament is 14.3 percent. AKP’s share is 46 female MPs. In Egypt, representation of women in the dissolved parliament stood at 2%. The share of the brotherhood is four MPs.
What about the AKP attempt to lift the ban on head scarves? AKP is addressing the issue from human rights perspective, not a religious one. It would be regarded as a moderation of the extreme anti-religious secularism. On the other hand, one should wonder if the brotherhood would ever field a female candidate who doesn’t cover her hair.
Another important element which is occasionally overlooked is the Salafi factor. In Egypt and Tunisia , FJP and Ennahda represent the center- right while Salafis stand at the far right. Thus, FJP and Ennahda will lean from time to time to the far right and will have to offer concessions to secure popularity among the Salafis. Such an element is absent from the Turkish political equation.
The AKP, en route to power, presented a tangible economic program and vowed to finalize the democratic transition. The brotherhood ascendancy is surrounded by question marks regarding electoral bribes, manipulation of religion, receipt of external funds, negative campaigning against liberals, exploitation of illiteracy and a fake renaissance project.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that the AKP is under fierce criticism over violations of freedom of expression, as hundreds of activists and journalists have been imprisoned.
Turkey ranks 148 out of 178 on the press freedom index. The AKP currently appoints its loyal judges to the supreme court. It is crystal clear that the AKP is getting increasingly authoritarian, so why is it a model to be followed?
The author is an Egyptian diplomat and a member of the Egyptian delegation to the Arab League as well as a master’s student in anthropology at Cairo University.