It is easy to understand, but not agree with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s strongly worded criticism of the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and why he said what he did. However, the Egyptian media, as well as the transitional government was furious.
Prime Minister Erdogan must go to sleep every night worrying about the Turkish Army, given its past propensity to staging coups after all, on two occasions a coup has taken place when the elected Turkish government challenged the army’s militant secularism.
What’s more, Erdogan must be concerned about ill-feeling towards him within the ranks of the officer corps after a Turkish court recently sentenced a number of generals to prison for plotting to stage a coup against his government.
However, the two countries political and military histories are not the same. Turkey’s armed forces were moulded by Kamal Atatürk after World War I with the central institution committed to militant secularism.
This is not the case with the Egyptian armed forces. Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Free Officer coup d’état, that overthrew the monarchy, was in a tactical alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood during the first two years of the Revolution. When the alliance collapsed and Nasser denounced and repressed the MB, it did not move against traditional Islamic institutions.
Egyptian media cannot help but ask: what has happened to Erdogan?Abdallah Schleifer
Immediately after a humiliating defeat in the 1967 War with Israel, Nasser approved the addition of Islamic content in the army’s morale building program. Nasser’s successor, fellow Free Officer Anwar Sadat, described himself as “the Believer President” whose program was shaped “by science and faith.”
Then Erdogan took it a step further by saying that Israel had instigated the July 3rd coup against Mursi. This was an insult, not just to the armed forces but to the many millions of Egyptians who have no love for Israel and turned out on June 30th to demand that Mursi step down. Indeed Tamarod, the extraordinary youth movement that stimulated the massive demonstrations with its grass roots appeal, accused Mursi of being an Israeli and an American puppet (which is as outlandish as Erdogon’s counter-accusation).
But when Erdogan lashed out at Egypt’s Sheikh al Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb he used even stronger language than the MB, which had tried to undermine the Grand Sheikh during Mursi’s year in office in a veiled manner due to the stature of al-Azhar.
However, Erdogan was brutally direct. Referring to the televised appearance of Sheikh Ahmed (along with the Coptic Patriarch and the leader of the most important Salifi party) alongside General al Sisi when he announced that Mursi had been deposed and his constitution suspended, he said he was devastated. “How can you (Sheikh al-Azhar) ever do it?” he asked. “That scholar (the Grand Sheikh) is finished! History will curse men like him.”
The attack was particularly shocking, not least because al-Azhar is the leading institution of Sunni Islam, training future imams from everywhere in the world but also because Sheikh Ahmed has walked a narrow but moral path. He attempted to mediate between Mursi and his opposition months before the coup and, lending legitimacy both to the army and to the new transitional government that has replaced Mursi, yet he disowned the brutality with which the pro-Mursi sit ins were dispersed by the Egyptian security forces. However, he eventually called upon all parties, including the MB to enter into reconciliation talks which the MB refused unless Mursi was reinstated.
There is popular anger, echoed by dozens of political as well as religious leaders. It has been headlined by the Egyptian media which has published statements by the transitional President and the Prime Minister, by the Foreign Minister, Amb. Nabil Fahmy, by former Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gouma and the present Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, by both the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Catholic Church as well as other Christian clergy. Al Azhar, describing itself as “indignant,” denounced this “sacrilege” against the Imam.
Along with repeating, for the third time, that Israel was behind the coup against Mursi, Erodogan asked, in the same speech: “Can a coup be democratic?” without any reference to the authoritarian and violent sectarian direction employed by Mursi and the MB when they were leading the country.
Hitler finished off German democracy less than a year after his party won a free and fair election. However, there are many differences that separate the two men: Hitler was the absolute leader of his party, Mursi was not; Hitler was a brilliant public speaker, Mursi was not; attacks on Jewish houses of worship and Jewish-owned shops began as soon as Hitler assumed power, in Mursi’s case Muslim Brotherhood attacks against the Copts began immediately after he lost power. Most importantly of all Hitler had the tolerant if not necessarily enthusiastic support on the path to dictatorship of his country’s armed forces, Mursi did not.
It is difficult to remember now that several years ago Erdogan would insist that his party was not Islamist, that it resembled the German Christian Democrats, whose goal was not to create a Christian theocratic state, thereby implying that his model was not the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian media cannot help but ask: what has happened to Erdogan?
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspondent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for just over a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”