Thursday, August 11, 2011

AKP and Syria's Muslim Brotherhood

When Hafez al-Assad cracked down on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980's, its members fled to Turkey, where a new generation has come of age. Piotr Zalewski looks at the Turkish influence on them:
"As Syrians continue to risk their lives to call for an end to the Assad regime, however, the impact of the Turkish experience on the Brotherhood's political evolution is coming into clearer focus. In 2002, under the leadership of Ali al-Bayanouni, the Brotherhood publicly disavowed violence and embraced parliamentary democracy. In the years that followed, it called for free elections in Syria and announced its support for women's rights. This April, during the early days of the Syrian uprising, Brotherhood leaders held a news conference in Istanbul in which they denounced the Assad regime. And then in June, at a Syrian opposition conference held in the Turkish city of Antalya, Brotherhood members put their signatures on a declaration that called for 'the freedom of belief, expression and practice of religion, under a civil state.'

"Bayanouni, who headed the group from 1996 to 2010, continues to strike notes that place him more in line with today's pious Turkish politicians than the hard-edged Brotherhood leaders of days past. 'Firstly, we believe that the state in Islam is a civil state, not a state ruled by any religious leaders or clerics,' he told me, speaking from London. 'Secondly, we cannot impose any particular way of dressing on citizens.... We do call for and encourage [women] to wear the hijab and to follow Islamic behavior and action, but individuals must be free to choose what they want.'

"Although the Brotherhood isn't new to parliamentary democracy, said Bayanouni, citing the group's participation in Syria's 1961 elections, the AKP has provided it with a blueprint for reform. 'The AKP is neutral in the area of religion -- neither does it impose religion upon Turkish citizens nor does it seek to fight religion,' Bayanouni noted, 'and for this reason we find [it] to be an excellent model.'"

Some Turks, of course, do see the AKP as imposing religion on society, though the AKP would say they are simply liberating faith from secularist persecution. The main Islamist currents in Turkey, however, relate to Said Nursi and Fethullah Gulen. If their thought started making inroads in the Arab world, that would be an excellent thing.

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