Islam can exist with democracy, Turkish PM Erdogan tells Tunisians

September 15, 2011

(Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Tunis September 15, 2011/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s new political order will show that Islam and democracy can co-exist just as they have in Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday. Erdogan, in Tunis on the second stop of a North African tour aimed at asserting Ankara’s growing regional influence, said secularity should guarantee that people of all beliefs, as well as atheists, were treated fairly.

He said there was nothing to stop a Muslim from governing a secular state.

Tunisia plans to hold elections on Oct. 23 to select an assembly to rewrite the constitution, nine months after the revolt that swept away President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings around the Arab world. The Islamist party Ennahda, banned for two decades under Ben Ali, is expected to poll strongly, unnerving Tunisian secularists.

Erdogan said the country should have nothing to fear from the influence of Islam in politics. “The most important thing of all and Tunisia will prove this; Islam and democracy can exist side by side,” he told a joint news conference with Tunisian caretaker Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi.

“Turkey, as a country which is 99 percent Muslim, does this comfortably, we do not have any difficulty. There is no need to hinder this by putting forward different approaches. In the broadest sense, consultation will put forward the will of the people,” he said.

“On the subject of secularism, this is not a secularism in the Anglo Saxon or Western sense, a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdogan said. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way.”

Read the full story by Mohamed Argoubi and Sylvia Westall here.

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