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July 22, 2013 8:32 am

Egypt vs. Turkey: Are All Islamists Autocratic?

avatar by Daniel Pipes

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Mohammed Morsi and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Anadolu Ajansi - Murat Kaynak.

Mohamed Morsi’s recent ejection as president of Egypt prompts a contrast-and-compare with his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Their careers at the top contain major dissimilarities:

  • Morsi’s stunning economic indifference vs. Erdoğan’s very impressive economic management.
  • Imposing Islamic ways too fast and broadly in on year vs. applying them slowly and piecemeal in a decade.
  • Inspiring the largest political protest in human history vs. winning three elections with successively larger percentages of the vote.
  • Antagonizing the deep state vs. patiently sidelining it.
  • Being removed from office by the military vs. removing the military from politics.
In brief, Morsi is as incompetent as Erdoğan is competent.
These differences aside, Erdoğan and Morsi, who are mutual admirers, share two key features: wanting to bring their countries in compliance with the Shari’a, the law of Islam, and displaying an autocratic streak, a characteristic which helped undo Morsi and could well wreck Erdoğan’s career.
Which leaves me wondering: Is their shared anti-democratic enraged sputtering at dissent just coincidence? Does it reflect the dictatorial quality of their political formations (Necmettin Erbakan’s various parties and the Muslim Brotherhood, respectively)? Or does it reveal something inherent about the Islamist program itself?

I am inclined to see it as inherent … except that some Islamists in Turkey, host of the world’s most sophisticated Islamist scene, appear to becoming less autocratic. The president, Abdullah Gül, and the leader of the chief Turkish Islamist organization, Fethullah Gülen, are apparently evolving away from the dictatorial mentality. Gül’s caution and democratic sensibility in response to the Gezi Park protests could lead to his becoming Erdoğan’s successor. How Gül and Gülen respond to an increasingly erratic Erdoğan has probably major implications for the future of the Islamist movement. Keep an eye on those two.

This article was originally published by National Review Online.

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