What is the primary religion of Cairo

Riots in Egypt and Turkey : Does political Islam fit in with democracy?

Almost two weeks ago a military coup against the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi emerged in Egypt from the millions of people's indignation. A month earlier, Turkey had dominated the international headlines when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul stood up to their authoritarian, rumbling head of government, who cursed them as hooligans and terrorists. The people in Iran, on the other hand, had something to cheer for for the first time in eight years. Three weeks ago, of all people, they heaved a 64-year-old bearded clergyman into the presidency just because he dared to criticize the stifling security atmosphere in the country and promise citizens a charter of private liberties during the election campaign.

In Turkey, Egypt and Iran - the conflicts go back to religion

As different as the conflicts in the three largest nations of the Middle East appear at first glance, they all have similar roots. Millions of people there are tired of being patronized by pious regulations right into their private lives. In Turkey, the people no longer want to put up with the authoritarian restrictions of their pious rulers. Iran's political clerical caste can only keep the young, frustrated population in check with an unprecedented police state. And in Egypt, after the election of Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown by force, the rifts opened up so deep that it looked as if secular and pious citizens could no longer coexist in one nation.

Turkey, Iran and Egypt - all three nations know what it means to be ruled under the banner of political Islam. But how stately and democratic is political Islam - the old one in Ali Khamenei's Islamic Republic, the middle one in Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey and the youngest in Mohammed Morsi's Egypt? How tolerant and plural can an Islamic leadership act that feels obliged to Allah's revealed truths in politics, culture and private life? And who guarantees those who think differently and those of different faiths the space for their lifestyles, images of women and family ideals?

Political Islam has yet to prove that it creates open societies

The balance sheet is bleak. Nowhere in the world has political Islam proven that it can ensure open societies and stable democratic conditions. Nowhere are more journalists in jail than in Turkey and Iran, not even in the much-scolded China. Nowhere is there productive coexistence between Islamist rulers and secular civil society.

Because in the Islamists' understanding of the state, the boundaries between government responsibility and the religious agenda are fluid. State and religion are merged and politicized, the citizens experience this as a permanent invasion of their public existence and personal life. Islamist heads of state feel authorized to tell their fellow believers what to do in life. The list of Erdogan's instructions is correspondingly long: do not eat white bread, drink ayran or raki, have at least three children, no alcohol advertising and no nightly sales of schnapps. Iran's Khamenei even determines what real art should be and what its citizens get to see on the Internet, that all women have to wear headscarves and how long their skirts have to be. The Egyptian brother-in-faith, Morsi, immediately let the judiciary take action against alleged blasphemers. He considers dancing to be un-Islamic and sees it as a violation of article two of the Egyptian constitution, which stipulates the Sharia as the main source of law: "Because we all know that in dance, the dancer with his body influences the audience in a negative way", the pious engineer decreed in a television interview, whose cultural experience, according to his own admission, is limited to films such as “Planet of the Apes” and “Gone with the Wind”.

Diversity of cultures and narrow-mindedness in the name of religion - that's how contradicting the Near and Middle East is

Religiously, the Near and Middle East is one of the most creative regions in the world in human history. Today people of almost all Muslim, Christian and Jewish beliefs live here together. A fascinating network of cultures has developed over the millennia. At the same time, however, the Orient is also the root cause of unprecedented fanaticism, narrow-mindedness and violence in the name of religion - a polarization that continues to grow. Because for some, diversity in faith is a wealth, for others it is a grievance. "What is spring without its diversity and blaze of colors - and what is this blaze of colors compared to the gray veils of fog of winter", wrote the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, who has been kidnapped by kidnappers in the Aleppo region in Syria since April. Diversity is an asset. Monochrome uniformity, on the other hand, is a time bomb that will eventually kill its owner.

The Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al Issa, on the other hand, has nothing to do with anything like that. Saudi Arabia does not allow the establishment of non-Muslim places of worship and will not do so in the future, he confirmed recently in Brussels at a meeting with the EU Commission. Similar in Turkey - here too, Christians are discriminated against, church building and the training of priests are hindered.

The distinction between "clean" and "unclean" is a source of religious violence

The reason for this is a premodern understanding of tolerance. The practice of foreign beliefs on one's own soil is understood as a pollution, as a disruption between the human and divine spheres, as a provocation from Allah that could conjure down misfortune or punishment on the orthodox. Strict clerics even argue that people of different faiths should not be allowed to enter the Arabian Peninsula at all. Osama bin Laden had once accused the Saudi royal family of desecrating the country by stationing US troops in the Kuwait war against Saddam Hussein. One can draw this line even further - from premodern tolerance to murderous intolerance.

As is well known, the distinction between “clean” and “impure” is one of the fundamental categories in the world of religions. But today it is a primary source of religious violence. Terrorist groups declare themselves empowered to cleanse the world of false believers, unbelievers and apostates in the name of God. And they target everyone in their murderous acts, moderate Muslims, Christians and seculars alike.

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