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Turkey Unrest Troubles Arab Islamists

Published: 09/06/2013 04:18:34 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Long seen as a model of a moderate Islamic democracy, massive protests in Turkey against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are raising concerns among Islamist rulers in the Middle East.Islamist-led Egypt and Tuni (more)

CAIRO - Long seen as a model of a moderate Islamic democracy, massive protests in Turkey against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are raising concerns among Islamist rulers in the Middle East.

Islamist-led Egypt and Tunisia “must be worried about the problems faced by Erdogan's Turkey, a supposedly successful model” of political Islam, Antoine Basbous director of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab countries, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Protests have engulfed Turkey over the past two weeks against a redevelopment plan in Istanbul.

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Protestors say that the government plan for a replica Ottoman-era barracks housing shops and apartment in the square is part of plans to "Islamize" Turkey.

The protests, the worst to face Erdogan in his decade-long rule, have raised concerns among Islamist rulers in Arab Spring countries, who have praised Turkey as a good example of Islamic democracy.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders described the anti-Erdogan protests as aiming to undermine the Islamic project in Turkey.

Hussein Ibrahim, secretary general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, said the protests serve a purpose of fighting everything Islamic, even if Turkey “has made unprecedented strides with regards to developments rates and the improvement of citizens' incomes”.

The Brotherhood, from which incumbent President Mohamed Morsi comes, has long praised Turkey as a good example of Islamic democracy.

Last year, Morsi addressed the congress of Erdogan's Justice and Development party, lauding his Islamist-rooted party as a “source of inspiration”.

The ruling Ennahda party in Tunisia has also openly expressed its admiration for the “Turkish model”.

In power for more than a decade, Erdogan's party has increased its share of the vote in each of the last three elections.

Turkey has boomed economically and its influence has increased dramatically in the Middle East and on the global scale.

But many Turks, including some former supporters, accuse Erdogan of growing increasingly authoritarian, muzzling the media, tightening his party's grip on the state and putting religion at the center of politics in violation of Turkey's secular constitution.

No Revolution

But Arab Islamists have played down speculations that Turkish protests were turning into an Arab-like revolution against Erdogan.

"Some parties intentionally want to make it seem that what is going on in Turkey is a revolution,” Mourad Ali, a spokesman for the FJP, told al-Masry al-Youm:

“[Those] are exaggerated and have nothing to do with what is happening on the ground.”

A year in power since Morsi's election last year, the Muslim Brotherhood has been facing growing unrest in Egypt, amid rising economic difficulties in the country.

Liberal groups are planning massive protests on June 30 to demand early presidential elections.

But Brotherhood members say that any parallel between anti-Erdogan protests and the planned rallies on June 30 is only aimed at pulling the rug from under the Islamist regimes.

"What is going on in Turkey has nothing to do with daily or economic needs,” Ali said.

“It is intended to promote the idea that Islamic regimes, which have made economic achievements and proved to the world that they can stand in the face of all external challenges, have failed."

But analysts opine that the Turkish protests give at least moral support to secularist forces.

“There are attempts to export what's happening in Turkey to Tunisia,” political analyst Sami Brahem told AFP.

“It may not inspire a major protest movement, but [the situation in Turkey] can be a moral support to secularists.”

Basbous, the director of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab countries, argues that the Turkish protests are serving to remind liberals and secularists in the Arab world “that they were the motor of change” during the 2011 uprisings.

He, however, opines that that will not necessarily translate into change on the ground because the secular opposition in the Arab Spring countries remains weak and poorly organized.

Some see the protests in Turkey as part of a region-wide discontent with Islamist groups.“At the end of the day, what matters is not the soundness of the analogy, but public perceptions of it and its ability to capture the imagination, which it seems to be doing right now,” said Hesham Salam, Washington-based political analyst at Georgetown University.

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net




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