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Interview with Turkey's Abdullah Gul: Egypt should embrace secularism

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Gardels: In a speech earlier this year in Cairo, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Muslim Brotherhood and others contending for power in their new democracy that they “should not fear secularism,” which has been the foundation of Turkey’s rapid economic development.

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?

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.

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