The Corner

Must Islamists Be Autocratic?

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

‐ Being removed from office by the military vs. removing the military from politics.

In brief, Morsi is as incompetent as Erdogan is competent.

These differences aside, Erdogan and Morsi, who are mutual admirers, share two key features: wanting to bring their countries in compliance with sharia, the law of Islam; and displaying an autocratic streak, a characteristic which helped undo Morsi and could well wreck Erdogan’s career.

Which leaves me wondering: Is it just a coinicidence that they share an anti-democratic, enraged sputtering at dissent? 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 be becoming less autocratic. The president, Abdullah Gul, and the leader of the chief Turkish Islamist organization, Fethullah Gulen, are apparently evolving away from the dictatorial mentality. Gul’s caution and democratic sensibility in response to the Gezi Park protests could lead to his becoming Erdogan’s successor. How Gul and Gulen respond to an increasingly erratic Erdogan has probably major implications for the future of the Islamist movement. Keep an eye on those two.

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