Egypt's most powerful Islamist group warned Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that his country should not seek to dominate the Middle East despite his enthusiastic welcome at the start of a regional tour. Erdogan was also criticized for his calls for a secular Egypt.
After his widely praised call for democracy in the Arab world, Erdogan was given a more reserved reception by officials of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose old guard do not share the admiration of the group's younger generation for the Turkish leader.
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Earlier this week, and prior to his visit in Cairo, the Turkish prime minister said, “A secular state respects all religions. Do not be wary of secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt.”
He stressed that people have the right to choose whether or not to be religious, adding that he is a Muslim prime minister for a secular state.
According to a report by Al-Arabiya, Dr. Mahmoud Ghuzlan, the spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, considered Erdogan’s comments as interference in Egypt’s local affairs.
He was quoted by an Egyptian newspaper as saying that the experiments of other countries should not be cloned.
“Turkey’s conditions imposed on it to deal with the secular concept,” he said.
The Turkish leader was also criticized for his leadership ambitions in the Middle East. "We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future," said Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party.
The Brotherhood's cautious comments contrast with the rapturous reception Erdogan has had so far, including cheering and flag-waving crowds, on the first stop of a tour of three Arab states that is aimed at bolstering Turkey's regional role.
"Democracy and freedom is as basic a right as bread and water for you, my brothers," Erdogan told an enthusiastic audience in Cairo on Tuesday.
Erdogan's party, with its Islamist roots and election success, has become a model for much of the Brotherhood and other political groups as they prepare for the first free vote since Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule was ended in February.
But the Brotherhood and other groups are wary of outside involvement in a home-grown uprising. A senior Turkish official said Turkey did not want to dictate but offer help.
"Arab states do not need outside projects ... This has to come from the new internal systems of the Arab countries which after the revolutions ... will be democratic ones," said Erian, who was jailed under Mubarak.
Erian, however, praised Erdogan's political success at home in free elections and his achievement in building a strong economy and supporting Arab causes.
"He has successfully invested in the Arab and Muslim world's central case which is the Palestinian case," he said.
Erian said Erdogan had met members of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party.
A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Erdogan had offered help if requested. "We are not saying we will come and teach you what to do, we are saying we can help if you want," he said.