The key candidate of the main opposition for the presidency in Turkey speaks to Independent Balkan News Agency
By Manolis Kostidis – Ankara
The nomination 70-year-old Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who is considered among the leading intellectuals of the Islamic world, for the presidency of the country has certainly caused some heads to turn.
The two major opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), have chosen Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who has great appeal to the voters of the ruling party,as their common candidate.
He was for many years the Head of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Ihsanoglu, whose mother comes from Rhodes, is considered an Islamist in certain circles, but neither his wife nor his daughter wear thehijab (Islamic headscarf). He believes that Islam is misunderstood and that some wrongfully interpret the status of women in the Muslim world, which in his view should be improved.
Mr Ihsanoglu, many mention your name among the most important persons for the analysis of Islam and you have a significant academic and diplomatic career. Amidst all this, how did the idea of your candidacy for the presidency of the Republic of Turkey take form?
When discussions began I had already returned to my country after 9 years tenure as Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference. When the approach for my candidacy took place, I believed that in the great Turkey of 76 million inhabitants, because it is a glorious country, there were already important politicians, scientists, artists and diplomats. But nevertheless, there was an unprecedented insistence in my person. Within those who insisted were individuals who are founding members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are still active members. I realized the importance of historical unity and felt that my candidacy is my duty to the homeland. During my tour, I realized how important my decision was. The support of the people and the increasing support from political parties, showed that the country needs reconciliation. Parties such as CHP, MHP, DSP, LDP, DP, BTP, BBP, DHP, TIP announced their support in my candidacy. These parties cover the whole spectrum of society: conservatives, liberals, democrats, nationalists, leftists. So we have nine parties involved in the great reconciliation.
You are consider a person who can make some of the best analyzes on Islam. Some consider you an Islamist. Even from within the CHP there were objections for your candidacy. What is the difference between you and Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Why should the Turkish voters vote for you?
I come from a religious family. Mostly my mother was religious.
That is why I grew up with experience regarding religious conditions. I studied as a man who knows perfectly the Arabic language with its literature, its science and its history. I have experienced the culture of the people. I have assimilated our values with the global values and opened up to the world. And I did the same in my career. After my service in the UN I became the first elected secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and stayed in that position for nine years. I tried to build bridges between different cultures, religions, nations and societies. I am not an Islamist politician. I am in favor of the separation of religion and politics.
My scientific training and my diplomatic missions were factors that helped to keep equal distances. The law passed from the logic, and the logic from the law. These two terms are complementary. Ideologies such as left, right perform important work on obtaining the sensitivities of people under one roof, but can cause us to see events unilaterally. My Ideology is unity, coexistence and reconciliation. This ideology is on par with the culture of Anatolia that has been around for thousands of years. So is our society and our people know it.
The president who will be elected today will be elected under the current Constitution, which defines his duties. He will be sworn in accordance with this Constitution. The president is the leader of the state. He should be the representative of the people to ensure the unity of the nation. He should also monitor the implementation of the terms of the Constitution and the smooth functioning of government services. The President of the Republic must not have a political agenda, he should provide guidance. The president should not be an autopilot, neither on approvals nor in vetos. He needs to function with logic and conscience. The president should be a good “father” of the nation and an instrument that unites and brings tranquility. The president is the security of the state.
You are known in the Islamic world, but until recently the majority of the people in Turkey did not know you, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the ability to influence large crowds. Can you close this gap in a short time?
We can talk about the difficulties of the electoral campaign. According to the law, in the country of 76 million inhabitants, campaigning must be done within one month. One month is not enough to move house! That is why the people reacted. But our campaign is going well. We see great interest in all parts of the country. There is a part of the people who demand change. With the support of the people I think we will get the result.
Your slogan is:” “for bread … Ekmeleddin”. How can the president of the country deal with the bread of the people?
Bread is the symbol of our campaign as is a slogan for action. We want to plant again the seeds of love in this country. We want to maintain and grow our bread. We want to share our bread with more. Every day we all go to work for our bread. Our bread is sacred, as is the flag and the Koran. The positive reactions from the people show that our promises appeal to them.
The Prime Minister accuses you as a person of the “status quo”. The pro-government newspapers have even gone as far as to comment that you wear shoes in your house. What is your answer. Are you part of the “status quo”?
It is not fair for a party, which has been in power for 12 years to talk about status quo. Our current president, who has been elected by the Parliament, is a man of the status quo. I am not a member of any political party. The President of the Republic is not a political leader, he is the leader of the state.
For 12 years Turkey has been governed by a government, which is considered pro-Islamist. Mr. Erdogan has spoken many times about the people’s lifestyle. He has recommended to families to have three children, he has said that he “tolerates” couples that sit hand in hand on the benches. Tell me, what is the Islamic way of life. Everyone must live in the same way? If you are elected president what kind of attitude will you keep towards different classes of society? How can one apply Islamic ethics in a secular state?
Religion is one thing, politics another. State policy should not be exercised on religious, ethnic and sectarian matters. Every person is free to live according to ones faith and each state has to create an environment in which a person can live in the way one wants. Dogmas are our wealth. We must avoid statements that could cause doctrinal divisions.
The wife of the Prime Minister and his daughters wear the hijab and this is considered an Islamic way of life. You are considered to be among the people who know Islam and were Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, but your wife does not wear a hijab, nor does your daughter. Can you explain this to our readers? What is the Islamic way of life? Who determines it?
The position of women in the Islamic world is regrettable. I tell you as a man who has dealt with these issues and has made many steps to improve. This situation is the result of underdevelopment. That has nothing to do with religion. Consider the time of our Prophet, when women were active in society, trade and wars. Fourteen centuries later, however, the women who in that time lifted many burdens, now in the 21st century, do not even have the right to drive a car! That has nothing to do with religion; some who come from the gulfs of religion express certain opinions and argue that this is religion…
In our society, from the last years of the Ottoman Empire the woman was involved everywhere. After the founding of the Turkish Republic that went even further. The prophet has told about women that “they are the other half of the men”. The Islam that started as such and at the time gave important rights for women cannot now be interpreted in a different way. We must pursue these rights in accordance with modern values. In Turkey steps have been taken for the better, but there is still violence against women, marriages of underage girls, etc. The wife of the president must deal with these issues. She must be the guide of the society.