Interview with Turkey's Abdullah Gul: Egypt should embrace secularism
In an interview, Turkey's President Abdullah Gul says that Egypt should embrace secularism based on a 'respect for all faiths;' that Russia's role in ending violence in Syria is key and Moscow needs to be engaged to act constructively; and that economic power in the world is shifting.
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Is Turkey’s system, in which a Muslim-oriented party governs within a secular framework, a template for Egypt and the other liberated Arab states as they put together their constitutions?Skip to next paragraph
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Gul: What is unfortunate for the Arab and Maghreb countries is that their interpretation of secularism has been based on the French model, which is a “Jacobin” model of imposing a kind of irreligiousness.
When you speak of secularism to Muslim communities of the region, it is misunderstood because of this French implication. In practice, the implementation of secularism in the Arab and Maghreb countries has meant fighting against Islam in the name of secularism. So, we have to understand this sensitivity.
On the other hand, if you use the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of secularism, as practiced in the United States or the United Kingdom, it is something that people should feel comfortable with. All it means is a separation of the state and religion, of the state maintaining the same distance from all religions and acting as the custodian for all beliefs. It is based on respect for all faiths and the coexistence of plural beliefs.
I can tell you from my conversations with the leaders in Egypt or Tunisia, including those with a religious identity, that they are very open-minded and comfortable with this Anglo-Saxon sense of secular government.
They understand that what we are doing in Turkey is focusing on fundamental freedoms. Freedom to practice one’s own religion is one of the most fundamental of freedoms. We are lifting the barriers, that’s all.
Gardels: It is ironic [that] one of the demands of the European Union, when Turkey was on a trajectory toward EU membership, was subordinating the military to civilian rule. Now, many criticize the widespread prosecution of the generals of the “deep state” that guaranteed Turkish secularism as a veiled attack on secularism itself.
How do you respond?
Gul: What the public prosecutors are saying is that they have strong evidence to bring these cases before the courts. They allege that these individuals were engaged in an effort to organize a coup against the civilian government.
As you know, modern Turkish history has seen coup d’états by the military roughly once every 10 years. Given this fact, one can’t disregard what the public prosecutors are alleging.
In any event, these cases are pending now, and I am not in a position to say who is guilty or innocent. I only hope the cases will be resolved sooner rather than later.
Gardels: Turkey has helped mediate between Iran and the West. Now, tough sanctions have been implemented, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran is more willing to open up for inspections.
Are you optimistic?
Gul: First of all, let me say that the only solution to this problem is through diplomatic means, not military action that would inflame a region already exhausted by wars. The sooner this happens, the better, because it will release immense pressures on the Middle East.