The Deputy Chair of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) told reporters he believes President Recep Tayip Erdogan has implemented “Wahhabi-Salafi policies” reflected in recent comments in defense of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
“He tried to justify the execution of scholar. Whenever a Shiite scholar is executed in the world, it becomes an ‘internal matter’ [to Erdoğan],” Deputy Chair Ümit Özdağ told reporters this week, according to Hurriyet. Erdogan had described the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr under Saudi Arabia’s terrorism laws over the new year as “an internal legal matter” earlier this week, a defense of Saudi Arabia that appeared at odds with the rest of the Turkish government’s statements in opposition to “political executions.”
Özdağ claimed there is a “difference between the government and Erdogan” and that Erdogan himself had pursued “Wahabi-Salafi policies” during his tenure as president.
This is not the first time that Özdağ, a professor when not serving as a Turkish legislator, has accused Erdogan of having radical Islamic tendencies. “There is an ideological motivation behind his words that shows Turkey will become the center for the Egyptian opposition, and especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in the coming period,” he said in 2014, warning that Erdogan may make of Turkey a safe haven for the Muslim Brotherhood following their ouster in Egypt.
“Looked at rationally, it’s obvious that Turkey is isolated in the region. But the architects of Turkey’s current policies refer to this as ‘precious isolation’ and believe supporting Salafists and the Brotherhood is the correct thing to do,” he told Al Monitor at the time.
Wahhabism is an extremist interpretation of Islam. As defined by the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, “’Wahhabism’ generally refers to a movement that seeks to purify the Islamic religion of any innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.” Saudi Arabia has been a known exporter of Wahhabi ideology for generations.
Erdogan, a Sunni Muslim, is the head of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and has a checkered history of Islamist statements. “He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously and his hatred is spreading,” Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy said of the then-Prime Minister in 2009. “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it,” he once said, taking offense to the use of “moderate” as a subversive term. Erdogan has also bizarrely claimed that Muslims were the first Eurasians to settle the Americas, and that Christopher Columbus saw Muslims in the Americas when he arrived. Scholars have since attributed this error to a diary entry Columbus wrote in which he describes a natural land formation of having the rounded appearance of a mosque.
Aside from Erdogan’s statements, the Turkish government has strived to maintain a neutral stance between Saudi Arabia and Iran in this current diplomatic dispute. Following al-Nimr’s execution, Iranians firebombed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, apparently with little resistance from Iranian law enforcement. Since then, more than ten countries have either reduced or cut off entirely their diplomatic ties with Iran.
“Turkey calls for an end to threats, and a return to diplomatic language, and urges mutual caution,” an initial statement from the foreign ministry said, later punctuated by a statement from Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus. “We would like for both countries to immediately end this tension,” he said. “The region is already like a powder keg; this region does not have the strength to bear even greater tensions.”
Erdogan has been the lone deviating voice in the Turkish government, condemning Iran for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in veiled language. “The same people who keep silent during mass killings are now trying to stir up the world over the execution of one person… You prove all kinds of aid is being sent there. To whom? To the murderer, Assad. You can never justify yourselves,” Erdogan said this week.
Iranian state media outlets subsequently pilloried Erdogan, prompting Turkey to summon the Iranian ambassador to Ankara for a rebuke of critical stories of Erdogan. The Turkish government claims the stories were not condemning Erdogan’s statements, but a diplomatic visit to Riyadh recently made. “We strongly condemn the linking of our president’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia to the executions sentenced in the country in stories published on media outlets linked to Iranian official bodies,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
The Iranian ambassador has denied that he was summoned.”The IRNA news agency quoted him as saying on his Facebook account that his visit to the Turkish ministry had been planned before,” Iranian state-run PressTV reported today.