CAIRO – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sparked a controversy in Egypt by calling for adopting a secular constitution for the Arab world’s most populous state.
“A secular state respects all religions,” Erdogan said in an interview with Egyptian private satellite TV channel Dream prior to his visit to Egypt.
He stressed that the Egyptian people have the right to choose whether or not to be religious.
He added that he is a Muslim prime minister for a secular state.
“Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt.”
Secularism was first introduced in Turkey with the 1928 amendment of the Constitution of 1924, which removed the provision declaring that the "Religion of the State is Islam".
Reforms were later introduced to set the administrative and political requirements to create a modern, democratic and secular state in Turkey.
Turkey’s current constitution neither recognizes an official religion nor promotes any. This includes Islam, to which at least nominally more than 99% of its citizens embrace.
Erdogan started a two-day visit to Egypt on Monday as part of an Arab tour that will also take him to Tunisia and Libya.
His visit to Egypt, the first in 15 years, is seen as part of Turkey’s efforts to enhance its influence in the Middle East.
Erdogan received a hero welcome as his plane touched down in Cairo, with hundreds of Egyptians lining the streets, waving Egyptian and Turkish flags in celebration.
The Turkish premier said Egypt needs to meet some requirements for establishing a modern state, including better management of human resources, more attention to education, improved management of financial resources and eliminating corruption.
But Erdogan’s remarks drew fire from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best-organized political group.
The group’s spokesman Dr Mahmoud Ghuzlan said Erdogan’s comments were interference in Egypt’s local affairs, according to Al-Arabiya website.
He said that the experiments of other countries should not be cloned.
“Turkey’s conditions imposed on it to deal with the secular concept,” he said.
Egypt’s new constitution has been a bone of contention between Islamists and liberals, who were once united against the despotic regime of president Hosni Mubarak.
Under the roadmap set by the ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak in February, and endorsed by more than 77% of voters in a March referendum, parliamentary elections will be held, and then 100 MPs would be elected to form a constitutional assembly.
The assembly will write Egypt's new constitution within six months. Another referendum will be then held to approve or reject the document.
However, liberal groups have campaigned for drafting supra-constitutional principles to govern the work of the constitutional assembly in order to limit the potential impacts of an electoral victory by Islamist groups.The military council has said it would adopt a “declaration of basic principles” to govern the drafting of the new constitution, sparking outcry from Islamist groups.
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