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Sunni-Shiite-secular 10 février 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Religion, Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) 10 February 2012, p. 15

Ali Bulaç

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members gave a lesson on secularism to a delegation from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) currently on a visit to Turkey, the Star daily reported on Jan. 28. The FJP came to power after receiving 47 percent of the vote in Egypt.

In a statement aired by Al Arabiyya TV, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said: “Turkey is opposed to any polarization based on ethnicity or sect. Turkey supports the models of secular administration.” If we consider the recent emphasis on secularism along with the remarks and recommendations by the prime minister in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, where he praised the secular administration and asked the respective governments to make a secular constitution, we will conclude that Turkey’s insistence on secularism is a geopolitical issue.

Since the beginning, secularism, as a peremptory rule, has always been a political issue in Turkey. Those who imposed secularism on us were aware that people did not kill each other out of sectarian or religious motives in Ottoman and Islamic history. The political and religious reasons and motives that called for the introduction of secularism in the West have never existed in our history. Still, the West forced the new Turkish state to adopt this notion. To this end, a number of reforms have been introduced, but despite these steps, secularism was included in the Constitution as late as 1937. Secularism was the assurance for two undertakings by the new Turkish state vis-à-vis the Western states: The new Turkey would not return to its Islamic past and it would never attempt to reunite with the Islamic world.

Today, the region is going through a huge transformation. It becomes evident that Turkey, as a member of the Western alliance, needs to play a regulatory role in the region. However, the region, unlike in the past, is not susceptible to the purely non-religious effects. In 1979, the Islamic revolution was staged in Iran, which attempted to present itself as the protector of Islam and Muslims by introducing Shariah law and defying the US and Israel. However, in transition from a monarchy to a republican regime, Iran introduced a strict rule in its constitution that the president to be elected should be Shiite. This inevitably made Iran an Islamic republic, which assumed a role via its Shiite identity. As such, the most plausible measure and method to stop Iran was referred to as introduction of an actor that would be able to unite the Sunni world and represent the Sunni Muslims. Up until recently, the idea that Turkey would unite the states in the region against Iran has been popular and widespread. This idea suggested that Turkey’s experience of merging Islam and secularism, and accommodating Islam and democracy was an extra asset.

Now it appears that this project is not so useful because the electoral victories of the Islamic parties in Tunisia and Egypt raised serious doubts and questions on this role attributed to Turkey. In other words, if Islam and democracy are to coexist, the Tunisians and Egyptians are able to do it; Islamist parties are able to come to power they have no objection to the multiparty system, rule of law and freedom of expression, etc.

As for Islam and secularism, the peoples of the Middle East and the new ruling parties are not so ambitious about that because even in times of authoritarian and repressive regimes, the state used to regulate social life — civil matters — in accordance with religious and sectarian rules. In this setting, the state did not interfere with the private law of the individual; in other words, the conditions that require the introduction of a secular regime are nonexistent. The problem was the lack of democratization in these regimes; now this problem is being fixed.

In this case, if there is need for a Sunni actor against Shiite Iran, this could be Egypt, the center of Sunnism, and not secular Turkey. Turkey’s main mission is not the promotion of the Sunni faith; its main mission is secularism. If the Wahhabi faith or strong the Salafism of Saudi Arabia fail to prevent the spread of Shiism, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and moderate Salafis could do this. In this new combination, secular Turkey serves as a third party. In other words, it could assume an initiative by promoting secularism. The region is being polarized into three camps: Shiite Iran, Sunni Egypt and secular Turkey. Turkey’s conservative political administration wants to hold the initiative by imposing secularism on Egypt and the Arabs. I think this is a waste and a redundant attempt. In addition, the partition of the region along three poles and camps — Shiite, Sunni and secular — is not good for Islam and Muslims.

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