Even in periods when religious oppression was unbearable, Islam was held as indispensable by Turks. Religion has played and is still playing a leading role in economic, political and cultural changes in Turkey.
The Middle East is undergoing a political earthquake and we need to analyze how this change is happening in Turkey and the role played by religion.
The Republic of Turkey was established following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and its founders banned religious sects and communities, which they considered to be obstacles hindering Westernization and development. An effort was made to exclude religion from daily life and limit its domain only to mosques. People whose piety was obvious were discouraged from working in government agencies.
During the time when such oppression was extreme, some religious scholars started raising an “intellectual” generation. While raising this generation, they did not get involved in a struggle with the state. They never legitimized using violence and they believed the struggle should not take place in the streets.
They adhered to religious values but they did not impose religion on anyone by force. They got involved in all kinds of scientific developments and followed technology closely. They tried to keep up with the age. They loved human beings simply because they respected humanity. They did not ostracize anyone and termed no one an enemy. They carefully explained themselves to people from different ideological backgrounds and listened to these people. They empathized with them.
Representing all good features of Islam, from hygiene to honesty, from diligence to tolerance, they became friendly with communities. They proved that one can serve as a model not only through one’s words but also one’s behavior.
In time the number of these people grew into thousands, then millions, and a process of change started in Turkey. By the arrival of the 1990s, it had started to become clear that the rulers of Turkey lagged far behind the public.
With the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) rise to power, which happened as a result of this pressure for change from the public, Turkey started to undertake swift development in many fields.
While Turgut Özal, who had at least as much insight on this issue as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, could not complete the project of change as he did not have capable people supporting him, Erdoğan paved the way for people from all fields to help bring the government in line with the people and has started to bring Turkey up to date.
Although the success of Turkey in its economy, foreign policy and other fields is seen as the success story of Erdoğan and the AK Party, in the background those capable people were the driving force.
Being active in all fields from media to education, from trade to health, from sports to art, these people, who have no political goals, facilitate the government’s work in developing the nation politically and economically. Traveling to all countries from Africa to the South Pacific, from Siberia to Latin America, these people are at the forefront of developing Turkey’s international relations.
It is a simple matter for Egypt, one of the world’s most ancient societies, to catch up with the wave of change that transformed the entire political and economic system as well as political culture in Turkey in 90 years.
For sure, Egypt’s youthful population and abundance of intellectuals make it less likely that the country needs a model to follow. However, we can say that Turkey is the most similar country to Egypt in the world. This is because the countries have similarities across almost all fields, from traditions to culture, from people’s physical appearance to their entertainment preferences, from religious structure to geographical position.
And that is what requires analyzing Turkey’s 90-year struggle for a truly representative democracy as an example. Around the world there are many countries that serve as examples of achievement in the economic and political spheres. South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil can be listed as the most important examples. However, none of these countries have much in common with Egypt.
If we can analyze the case of Turkey and use it as a model, at least the mistakes that were made before will not be made again. From politics to NGOs, from the economy to diplomacy, Turkey models a historical success that is worth examining.
The main groups that should analyze the example of Turkey are religious groups and communities in Egypt. Unlike what some of these groups allege, Turkey isn’t that different from Egypt. Of course, countries may experience different dynamics but there are many commonalities. These commonalities are the basis on which Egypt can look to Turkey as a historical model of economic, political and cultural development.