Ahmet al-Tayed, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, backed an army-sponsored roadmap on July 3 which removed former President Mohammed Morsi, suspended the constitution and called for early presidential and parliamentary elections.
The leader of Cairo's ancient seat of Sunni Muslim learning made a brief statement following an announcement by the head of the armed forces that deposed the elected president, endorsing the military coup.
Speaking at a university named after him in Rize, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a scholar is the one who doesn't compromise from his honor no matter what the consequences are, in an apparent reference to Al-Azhar Sheikh. He said if a politician like him tells a scholar something that is not true, the scholar should reject this.
Erdoğan said being silent in the face of events in Egypt means taking on a tremendous burden. He complained that scholars and universities failed to voice their opposition to the military coup in Egypt, despite expectations for the opposite. He provided the sheikh of Al-Azhar as an example, as he endorsed the Egypt coup.
Erdoğan said he was devastated when he saw Al-Azhar Sheikh endorsing the military in Egypt. “How can you ever do it?” he asked. “That scholar [Al Azhar Sheikh] is finished. History will curse men like him as history cursed similar scholars in Turkey before.”
Erdoğan also criticized the Western nations for not being able to say "stop" to the army-backed interim government that has killed or wounded 6,000 so far since the coup. “Can a coup be democratic?” he asked rhetorically to criticize those who defend the army intervention as a way to restore democracy. He noted that those who are silent on developments in Egypt will have no right to speak about injustice tomorrow.
The prime minister also slammed those who criticized Morsi for his mistakes in his one year in power. He said there are many in Turkey and abroad who are “comforting their conscience” by saying that besides the military, Morsi also made mistakes.
“The country is ruled by a dictatorship for 70 years. You can well tolerate this,” Erdoğan said, referring to anti-Morsi protesters whose gathering in Tahrir Square led to Morsi's ouster. “But you can't tolerate a one-year rule of an elected Morsi,” he lamented.
He said saying that Morsi had made mistakes amounts to an endorsement of the coup and that it is irrelevant to talk about the ousted president's mistakes while hundreds are being killed “left and right” in Egypt.
He spoke at length about the merits of the ballot box and elections and said he doesn't understand why those who supported the coup can't wait three more years, referring to the time left for Morsi's tenure to end. He said those elected officials who make mistakes should be removed only by elections.
Erdoğan reiterated his criticism of Israel for the third time for being behind the coup in Egypt, complaining that Israel is leading a campaign to downplay the importance of elections, citing a panel discussion on Feb. 3, 2011 in which a French Jewish intellectual says the Muslim Brotherhood can't remain in power even if they are elected.
Erdoğan also directed scathing criticism at the Egyptian army for being ruthless in its crackdown on the pro-Morsi protesters. He said the protesters don't have arms or petrol bombs and they only stand in front of tanks for their honor. “How can't you call this a coup?” he said, in remarks directed at the West.
“I call on the Egyptian army. Do you have any idea who you are killing? Are you fighting against those who invaded your country or firing at your brothers who cast votes?” he said.
The prime minister also criticized domestic opposition for calling him a “dictator,” noting that it would be impossible to call him one if the country were in fact ruled by a dictator.
“Those who hanged former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes also called him a dictator. Now they are calling me a dictator,” Erdoğan said. “If you want to see a dictator, go to Syria and Egypt. They would hang you there,” he said.