“A devout Muslim can successfully govern a secular state,” Erdoğan said. Erdoğan’s messages on secularism, which are likely to spark a debate on the issue in the Arab world, are mostly seen as having been meant for Turkish and Western public opinion, which have long been suspicious of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) secular credentials.
Yeni Şafak’s Yasin Aktay thinks the only thing Arab Spring nations that show interest in the Turkish model will not take from Turkey is secularism, whether it is in the Western or Turkish sense. “There is nothing that secularism can promise to the Arab nations. If the matter is freedom of faith and expression, they think much more than that is guaranteed under Islamic law,” says Aktay. Considering this, he thinks Erdoğan’s messages on secularism were actually meant for Turkey and the West with the goal of refuting Western claims about Erdoğan’s government being Islamist and anti-secular.
Sabah’s Hasan Bülent Kahraman says the messages on secularism Erdoğan gave in Egypt are likely to spur a debate about the definition of secularism in Arabic because this term was not correctly translated. He says secularism in Erdoğan’s speech was translated as “ılmaniyye,” which means “atheism” in Arabic, according to experts on the language. Kahraman says this issue, which Erdoğan also noticed, will spark a debate among Egyptian intellectuals about the definition of secularism and what word will be used for it in Arabic.
Questioning the motivation behind Erdoğan’s encouraging remarks about secular regimes during his Arab Spring tour, Yeni Şafak’s Hilal Kaplan also interprets Erdoğan’s comments on secularism as messages meant for public opinion in Turkey and the West, which have long had suspicions about the secular credentials of Erdoğan’s AK Party. “I do not think that these countries will adopt secularism and write their new constitutions accordingly, putting their internal dynamics aside, just because Erdoğan proposed this model. I am sure that Prime Minister Erdoğan is also aware that the level of his influence in the region will not lead to a quick transition to secularism,” says Kaplan.