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The struggle for Turkey

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  • The struggle for Turkey

    Headscarf versus bikini is just one of the conflicts causing political turmoil in Turkey. Power and class count too, reports Peter Beaumont, Foreign Affairs Editor, in Istanbul:

    On busy Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul's Beyoglu district, the paradox of Turkey in the 21st century is played out. Two women - one in early middle age, one younger - emerge from a shop with a provocative lingerie window display. Both wear the headscarves and long skirts denoting them as conservative and observant followers of Islam.

    In the suburbs of featureless apartment houses that radiate for tens of kilometres out from the city centre, five-storey-high billboards depict models in underwear and bikinis. A steady stream of women with covered hair pass beneath the hoardings clutching shopping bags and children, oblivious to the half-naked women.

    On 22 July, when Turkey votes in early elections called to defuse the dangerous political and constitutional crisis that threatened last week to overwhelm the Turkish state, this contrast between the headscarf and the free, modern woman will again be pushed to the fore of the country's debate.

    And once again it will be deeply misleading. The confrontation of the past few weeks over whether Abdullah Gul - minister in the government of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - should be appointed President, touches on the country's deepest fault lines. And they are as much social as religious.

    It is a crisis where symbols like the headscarf and the billboard images matter as much as the reality of modern Turkish life. The recent crisis has pitted Turkey's secular opposition, which controls the judiciary, military, bureaucracy - and until now the presidency - against an AKP accused of allowing Islamisation of the state by the back door, with the question of who should be president as the key trigger.

    Turkey's powerful army threatened to intervene in that argument last weekend on the side of the opposition to block the entrance of Gul and his headscarfed wife into Ankara's presidential palace.

    Then, amid warnings of the risk of 'conflict' by the main opposition leader, Deniz Baykal of the Republican People's Party, the constitutional court intervened to annul Gul's appointment after the opposition boycotted parliament over the vote for Gul's selection.

    But the truth of what has happened is not so easily corralled. The conflict has been as much about political power and class as it has been about Islam. The simple version paints out inconvenient facts: Erdogan's avowed support for secularism, an AKP whose leadership rejects the label of Islamist, and a programme dedicated to gaining EU membership and attracting foreign investment.

    But underpinning this confrontation is something more mundane. It is the fear of the wealthy, highly educated and westernised elite that has traditionally run Turkey - and who are secular - of being pushed aside by a newly-powerful group made up of the urban poor and the lower-middle classes, a group that is conservative and religiously observant.

    An explanation of Turkey's confrontation can be discerned in the vast modern suburbs that in 40 years have vastly increased the footprint of Istanbul. Whole villages have moved from the country to occupy fast-build apartment blocks. In these blocks lives a new Turkey in competition with the old. It is the constituency of parties such as the AKP.

    'What we have seen over the past few weeks has been deeply undemocratic,' says Ihsan Dagi, a columnist on the Zaman newspaper, and a professor at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. 'We have seen the [secular] opposition say: "We cannot elect a President because the parliament is controlled by the AKP." And the Turkish establishment does not want that. So they boycotted the vote. They changed the rules of the game under the shadow of a military threat to intervene.

    'But the crisis has not gone away. The AKP is likely to increase its share of the vote from 30 to 35 or even 40 per cent in general election in July. That means there is a good chance they can achieve a quorum of 367 seats in the parliament and pick their own candidate for the presidency anyway.'

    Dagi is dubious that Turkey is undergoing the process of radical Islamisation. He believes the real issue is the 'visibility' of those once on the periphery of Turkish economic and political life, which is alarming the elites who identify most closely with the secularist ideals of modern Turkey's founder, Kemal Ataturk.

    'Islamic groups have become part of Turkey's political and social modernity, but the centre is still pushing hard to exclude them. Even the increased visibility of headscarves is indicative that Turkish women from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting better access to Turkey's social space. It is not a challenge to republicanism but a victory for it.' It is an argument supported by recent polling by the research institute Tesev, which showed 22 per cent of Turks polled felt secularism was in danger. Only 8 per cent declared themselves in favour of an Islamic state.

    The same research established that the more wealthy and educated the respondent, the greater was the fear of threat to secularism. Even staunch defenders of secularism such as Dr Nilufer Narli, who has made a study of Islamist movements and fears their influence in Turkey, concedes that there is something far more complex going on in issues such as the increased visibility of the headscarf.

    While Narli remains concerned by what she believes is the gradual encroachments of Islam into the state, she admits the transformation may be as much about social change as religion. 'What we have seen is a huge expansion in the diversity of the lower middle classes,' she says. 'We have seen a large influx of small and medium-size business owners into the cities from Anatolia - families that are religiously conservative. And they have been one of the main beneficiaries of the present buoyant economy [an economy averaging 7 per cent growth since the government was elected].' Narli has noted too a transformation in social habits of religiously observant women. 'It used to be that you would see headscarves being worn by women who were part of the urban or rural poor and they were a kind of uniform with the long coat that hid the body. Now you see many styles, women in headscarves wearing make-up and tightly fitted clothes. It is part of the increased social mobility that has occurred.'

    All of which leads to a critical question: whether Turkey is being Islamised or whether Muslims in Turkey from once poor and ill-educated families are being modernised.

    It is a conundrum that is reflected in the figure of Gul himself, a man whose background is in political Islam. Remarks he made to the Guardian in 1995 about wanting 'to end secularism' have been widely quoted by those opposing his presidency. But in 1997 Gul told the US paper the Christian Science Monitor he envisioned the 'Islamic head scarf and the miniskirt walking hand in hand'.

    But the AKP has not always conducted itself in a way calculated to reassure the secular. In 2005 there was an attempt to recriminalise adultery, seen off by democratic debate. There was also a botched appointment to the Central Bank of a man with an Islamic banking background, leading to suspicions the AKP was monopolising all the key posts - although nepotism is hardly unique in Turkish politics.

    But another question remains: whether an army that has intervened to oust governments four times since 1960, most recently in 1997, that has declared itself hostile to Islamisation and sees itself as Turkey's 'saviour' in times of strife, can refrain from intervening.

    'We Turks like the army in some circumstances and hate them in others,' says Salih Erturk, 25, a salesman in the Robinson Crusoe bookstore, who allies himself with the left. 'When there is a feeling it is interfering we don't like it. But still there is a general feeling too that the army is the one that saves us.'

    Secular history

    · Turkey's first President, in 1923, was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the republic from the Anatolian remnants of the defeated Ottoman empire, creating a democracy based on western ideals of governance.

    · The constitution forbids religious laws from dominating government and society and requires that the state and religion be separated.

    · St Nicholas, Santa Claus, was born in Demre, on the Mediterranean coast. Homer placed Troy in Turkey and Noah's Ark is said to have landed on Mt Ararat.

    · Turkey has been in Nato since 1952. Since 2005, it has been in accession negotiations with the EU.

    · Population is 71.5 million, 99 per cent of whom are Muslim, most of them Sunni.

  • #2
    May 6, 2007 -- During a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Minister for Foreign affairs, Abdullah Gùl officially withdrew from Turkey’s presidential election race.

    Abdullah Gùl's party failed to secure a quorum in parliament.

    Turkey has been rocked by the presidential poll standoff, an army threat to intervene and an anti-government rally of up to one million people.

    The army, which sees itself as the final guarantor of the secular state, has ousted four governments in the past 50 years, most recently in 1997 when it acted against a cabinet in which Gul served.


    • #3
      Turkey's foreign minister abandoned his bid to become president yesterday after an opposition boycott ensured that for the second time the vote in parliament fell short of the two-thirds a court has declared necessary for a quorum.

      The candidacy of Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist whose wife wears a headscarf, had sparked a crisis, with the army threatening to intervene and secularists staging one of their biggest demonstrations in Istanbul last Sunday.

      Turkey's constitutional court sided with the secularists, declaring a first presidential vote by the parliament, held on April 27, void after fewer than 367 deputies attended.

      Mr Gul, a last-minute compromise stand-in for his prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, always wanted the post of prime minister more than the largely ceremonial presidency. The failure of his bid nonetheless represents a victory for Turkey's secular establishment, which had claimed that Mr Gul's self-styled Muslim Democrat party planned to impose its conservative way of life on the country.

      But with general elections brought forward from November to July 22 after the decision of the constitutional court, ending Mr Gul's bid is unlikely to end the polarisation of Turkish society. The main opposition party has already vowed to block a government attempt to change the constitution to have the president to be elected directly by the people, rather than by MPs.

      The government came to power in 2002 and led arguably the most rapid period of liberal reform in Turkey's history. But as political debate focuses on the perceived menace to secularism, Turkey's ongoing European Union accession process has been all but forgotten.

      It is an atmosphere suited more to the extremes than the centre, analysts argue. Two centre-right parties joined up on Saturday to increase their chances of getting the 10% of votes necessary to qualify for parliament.

      It remains to be seen whether Turkey's notoriously fractious left will do the same. Calls for a leftwing coalition were widespread on Saturday when more than 10,000 secularists gathered for protests in the western Turkish towns of Canakkale and Manisa.


      • #4
        ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey's Islamic-rooted government, whose presidential candidate dropped his bid in the face of protests from pro-secular lawmakers, pushed on Monday for a constitutional amendment that allows the president to be elected in a popular vote rather than in a parliamentary poll.

        The withdrawal of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's candidacy for the presidency on Sunday was a new defeat for the government, which had to call for early general elections in a standoff that has exposed a deepening divide between the government and its opponents. Secularism is enshrined in the Constitution and fiercely guarded by the judiciary and the powerful military.

        Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to overcome the deadlock in Parliament with a constitutional amendment that would require a popular vote for president. Parliament began debating the proposal and could hold the first round of voting on the measure on Monday.

        "Parliament is deadlocked. The correct thing now is for the people to elect'' the new president themselves, Gul said as he dropped his candidacy on Sunday.

        Parliament needed two-thirds quorum to vote on Gul, the only candidate in the running. The vote was a repeat of a first round that the Constitutional Court - siding with the secular opposition - invalidated last week because Parliament failed to reach quorum.

        But legislators from the secular party, which also boycotted the first round vote, stayed away Sunday as well, and Parliament was short of the 367 legislators needed to press ahead with the poll.

        A small conservative party has declared support for the government's proposal to allow a popular vote for president - a post that carries the veto power over legislation.

        The proposed amendment includes reducing the presidential term from seven years to five, allowing the president to stand for re-election, holding general elections every four years instead of five and reducing the number of lawmakers for a quorum to 184 for a vote on any legislation in Parliament.

        Legislators from Erdogan's party have said if the amendment is passed this week, Turkey could hold both general and presidential elections on July 22.

        However, the current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer has the power to veto the amendment and could even call for a referendum on the measure.

        Sezer has publicly shared his concerns over the government's attempts to raise the profile of Islam in daily life in the country. The military also stepped into the debate, threatening to intervene to ensure that secularism is enforced.

        Erdogan's party is an advocate of European Union membership that has done more than many other governments to introduce Western reforms to Turkey. It denies the label "Islamist.''

        "We have worked harder than any party in Turkey's history to make Turkey a member of the EU,'' Gul told Newsweek magazine in the May 14 issue. "Why would we do this if we are trying to Islamize Turkey?''

        Secularists fear that if a president with Islamist leanings is elected to the prestigious post, that would allow the ruling party to expand its control and impose religion on society.

        Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Turkish cities in recent weeks to protest the government for nominating a politician with Islamic leanings as president. Another large demonstration was scheduled for Sunday in the western city of Izmir.


        • #5
          To be honest, if it results in a law change whereby the president gets a popular mandate from the people rather than a mandate just from Parliament, then that's probably a good thing. And as long as the army don't intervene, those protestors are also well within their rights.



          • #6
            ANKARA, May 7 (KUNA) -- The Turkish Parliament started on Monday discussions on a proposal by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on amending the constitution to have the country's president elected directly by voters and not by legislators. AKP candidate for president, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, has failed Sunday for the second time to win the "president" as a quorum of 367 legislators did not attend since the opposition parties' boycotted the parliamentary vote. Gul opted for withdrawal.

            Gul said that he had withdrawn as there was no use carrying on especially as the opposition parties insisted on boycotting the vote. He criticized them for their absence, an act not fit for democracy not decent politics.

            He added that he abandoned the candidacy for president and that it would be up to the people to decide.

            Gul's nomination for the post had triggered a political crisis in Turkey between liberals and the Islamic parties due to the fear that an "Islamist" would be at the helm.

            However, Gul's withdrawal is not the end, but the start of a wider conflict as the political parties have prepared themselves to compete with the AK Party which enjoys highest rates of popularity.

            The AKP believes that amending the constitution would help their candidate to be the President due to Party's popularity among Islamists and moderates.

            Analysts believe Gul has realized a victory through withdrawal because it will make him gain more popularity together with his party in the forthcoming early elections. To them he has been exposed to prejudice just because he is a Muslim and his wife wears a Hijab.


            • #7
              It is a great thing to see a country is divided in its opinion whether their government should be secular or not.

              It is the greatness of democracy that so many people are free to express their opinion openly for and against it.
              Without interference of the govt. and peacefully.

              I wish such a freedom is made available in all Islamic countries as well.
              What will happen then..?


              • #8
                Victoria Brittain:

                The use of military action to curtail the growth of political Islam has only brought catastrophe:

                May 8, 2007 -- Fifteen years ago a struggle for power between new forces of political Islam and a military establishment took place in Algeria, paralleling to an alarming degree what is happening in Turkey. This struggle ended in a military coup that plunged Algeria into a cycle of violence; so far 200,000 people have been killed, tens of thousands jailed, a million internally displaced, and tens of thousands exiled.

                How could such a catastrophe have overtaken a country and political leaders whose prestige reached across the third world in the 1960s and 70s? Algeria is a warning to Turkey that even the towering legacy of Ataturk cannot protect it for ever.

                Algeria's war for independence from France, under the iconic leadership of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), became a reference point for African and Palestinian anti-colonial struggles. Under President Houari Boumédienne the country was the political and intellectual centre of a confident, secular, socialist third world movement that collapsed with the end of the cold war.

                But the FLN did not provide the solid political framework for building a country that was equally cursed with great poverty and great oil and gas wealth. The post-Boumédienne years of the 80s were marked by corruption and repression at home, while young Algerians drawn to the CIA-funded jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan would return home with an ideology very different to the FLN's.

                When the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) won local elections in Algeria in June 1990 it was a political earthquake. The regime had simply not anticipated such a challenge to 30 years of hegemony, and responded by gerrymandering to reduce the urban share of the vote, and arresting the two main FIS leaders. However, the FLN received another drubbing in the parliamentary elections of December 1991, and the following month the military seized power with extreme violence, deposing the president and banning the FIS. Demonstrations were crushed; FIS leaders and organisers disappeared into prisons in the Sahara.

                Having lived in Algiers in the mid-70s in the heyday of Boumédienne's personal ascetic socialism and the FLN's historic prestige, I was one of those observers who made the mistake of believing that this coup was justified in the cause of preserving the FLN and secular democracy.

                The banal joke that circulated against the FIS was that they encouraged people to vote - just once, to end democracy. The sophisticated political Islam that has developed in Turkey in the past decade, for instance, was never seen as a possible evolution in Algeria. In fact, it was the Algerian generals - many trained in the French army - who ended any chance of democracy. Armed resistance to the coup was fought with the same violence, and every mechanism of manipulation, division, torture and disinformation that the French had used against the FLN.

                It has taken 15 years for Algerian civil society to build a movement that confronts the military establishment with a politics that is a radical departure from the past. Over the years many FLN officials defected from military and civilian positions of authority if not of power, but mostly kept quiet. Exiles who published stunning exposés of the security service methods rarely escaped misgivings over their credibility. Given the fear of the long reach of Algiers into Europe, the deep mutual suspicion between the Islamists and the fractured secular opposition, and the very real confusion about the true responsibility for the appalling massacres in the country, few of those in exile were prepared to commit themselves to working for a political future at home.

                After the attacks of September 11 and the launch of the US war on terror, the regime in Algeria became a significant ally of the west, with an American listening post set up in the south of the country, a joint US/French intelligence centre in Algiers, and exercises carried out with the Israeli army in Greece. It was a disaster for the opposition.

                The Rachad Movement that was launched in London last month got wide coverage in the Arab media, partly because of the intellectual calibre of the leadership, but also due to its unique bridge between the secular/military and political Islam. Rachad is not a political party and will not be visible in next week's local elections. But the movement has been building for two years, against a climate of considerable popular unrest, and most of the funding and support is coming from inside the country. Mass street rallies have changed the political scene in countries as different as Lebanon, Georgia and the Philippines. Could it finally happen in Algeria too?


                • #9
                  "The use of military action to curtail the growth of political Islam has only brought catastrophe"

                  Political Islam..? New coinage of words.
                  It must mean use of Islam in politics..politicizing Islam.


                  • #10
                    No, it doesn't. It refers to parties with a programme for a religious state.

                    All high profile politicians in Turkey (secular or not) would define themselves as Muslim. When writers like that one refer to "political Islam" they are referring to a specific political project, not simply Muslims in politics.

                    Not that I'd necessarily expect Victoria Brittain to get the distinction, as it goes.



                    • #11
                      Voltaire, I get the difference, all right.

                      The difference between "Using Islam to gain political power in a secular state" and
                      "using Islam to establish a non-secular Islamic state"


                      • #12
                        For Americans, whose view of Islam and Islamic politics is, to put the matter politely, less than complex, it's worth being reminded of just how complex, how unexpected, politics (religious or otherwise) can turn out to be anywhere on this planet. With that in mind, Dilip Hiro, Tomdispatch regular and author most recently of Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources, turns to a country that Tomdispatch has (to my regret) seldom focused on – Turkey – and a situation, balanced between democracy and autocracy, in which secularists and Islamists don't come down in the obvious, comfortable places.

                        Once before in memory – in Algeria – generals ended democratic development in the name of saving secularism and democracy from political Islam. The results were horrific indeed – for democracy and for the Algerian people. Turkey, where, as Hiro reminds us, a soft "coup" against political Islam has just taken place, is open to many destabilizing possibilities, only made worse by the catastrophe of Iraq, and the conundrum of Iraqi Kurdistan, just across the border:

                        How secularists and generals tried to take down Turkish democracy

                        Recently Turkey came close to experiencing a soft military coup. In late April, faced with the prospect of the moderate Islamist Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul becoming president, the country's top generals threatened to overthrow the elected government under the guise of protecting "secularism." When the minority secularist parliamentarians boycotted the poll for president, the Constitutional Court, powerfully influenced by the military's threat, invalidated the parliament's vote for Gul on the technical grounds that it lacked a two-thirds quorum – something that had never been an issue before.

                        This demonstrated vividly that secularists are not invariably the good guys engaged in a struggle with the irredeemably bad guys from the Islamic camp. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkýnma Partisi or AKP) called the Court's verdict "a bullet fired at the heart of democracy." Other critics pointed out that earlier presidents had been elected without the presence of two-thirds of the 550-member Parliament.

                        Here was an example of the complex interplay between secularism and Islam in a Muslim country. The Turkish secular elite, fearing a further loss of power, raised the cry of "Secularism in danger!" and got their way – for now – even though a recent poll showed that only 22% of Turks agreed with this assessment.

                        During its nearly five years in office, the AKP government, led by the charismatic, incorruptible Erdogan, has kept religion separate from its politics – the sort of behavior the American Constitutional system used to emphasize – while expanding democratic, human, and minority (that is, Kurdish) rights through the most thorough overhaul of Turkish laws in recent memory. The AKP has also been vigorously pursuing Turkey's full membership of the European Union (EU).

                        "The primary reason behind the intervention of the secular establishment was not the fear that Turkey would become Islamic," noted Suat Kiniklioglu, director of the German Marshall Find of the United States' Ankara Office, in an International Herald Tribune op-ed. "Their fear was that the democratization drive, led in part by hopes of entering the European Union, will erode their power."

                        The present confrontation between the AKP and the secularist establishment, with the military at its core (originating with the founding of the Republic in 1923), is rooted as much in political power and class differences as it is in Islam.

                        On one side is an affluent, university-educated, westernized elite, popularly known as "the White Turks," which dominates the military, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the Education Ministry; on the other, a coalition of the urban underclass and a rising group of prospering entrepreneurs from (Asian) Anatolia, which covers 97% of Turkey. Both groups are devoutly Muslim and socially conservative. Both have come to value democratic rights and governance.....


                        • #13

                          Torn from landlords, hooked to pious politicians

                          The urban underprivileged and the energetic entrepreneurs have, in fact, been the primary beneficiaries of the Erdogan administration's adroit management of the economy, which has expanded by an annual average of 7% for five years. During that period per capita income has, astoundingly, almost doubled, to $5,500. And foreign investment since 2003 has soared to an unprecedented $50bn.

                          The alliance of these classes has occurred against the background of a multi-faceted socio-economic change: the fast diminishing size of the Turkish peasantry as villagers abandon agriculture for better paying jobs in urban centers; a staggering rise in the literacy rate to over 90%; and the gradual loss of the traditional working- and lower-middle class awe of the White Turks.

                          Ever since the prosperous mid-1980s, an increasing number of Turks have benefited from an unprecedented extension of access to information. They have also gained personal mobility through car ownership. Television, telephones, and cars have become part of everyday life for many Turks. Collectively, they have helped the previously underprivileged to think for themselves.

                          This is particularly true of the rural migrants into cities such as Istanbul, the capital Ankara, and Konya, which together account for a quarter of the national population of 71 million. In an unfamiliar, impersonal urban environment, they have found their moral and ethical moorings in Islam. And they seek solace in the mosque and a caring political institution like the Justice and Development Party and its two antecedents – the Islamist Welfare and the Virtue parties.

                          Over time, they have also come to realize the power of the ballot – how the principle of one-person one-vote, if applied fully, can help to right socio-economic wrongs. It was their backing which initially placed the Welfare Party in the town halls, inter alia, of Istanbul, Ankara, and Konya, and then transformed it into the largest single party in Parliament in late 1995 under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan.

                          Unlike their counterparts in the secular camp, Welfare Party leaders, who derived their moral and ethical values from Islam, were not corrupt. This mattered a lot to voters, growing increasingly disenchanted with the corruption and factiousness of secular politicians

                          Breaking with past party practices, Welfare Party leaders set up social networks at the grassroots. Their regular attendance at local mosques – popular with traditionally pious rural migrants as well as local traders and artisans – helped strengthen the networks. The success of such a strategy can be judged by the fact that two-thirds of 2.5 million first-time voters favored the AKP in the November 2002 general election, when the year-old party won 363 seats.

                          By contrast, such secular factions as the Republican Peoples Party (RPP) – whose boycott of the presidential poll in late April made the Parliament inquorate – are stuck in the old, elitist mode of politics. "You talk to the AKP people and they try to persuade you," remarked Ali Caroglu, a political science professor in Istanbul. "But the RPP is very judgmental. They don't want to talk to the people they don't approve of."

                          On being elected mayors in the early 1990s, Welfare leaders drastically reduced corruption in town halls and delivered municipal services efficiently. As Istanbul's mayor, Erdogan was instrumental in furnishing the metropolis with a sorely needed subway system and tramway, as well as providing bread at a subsidized price to residents.

                          The difference wrought by the Islamist parties was summed up aptly by Omar Karatas, leader of the AKP's youth section in Istanbul. "Before, the state was up here and the people down there," he said. "Now, there's a harmonization between these two groups."


                          • #14

                            A tortuous road to democratic power

                            The road to "harmony" has, however, been tortuous. The progenitor of the Islamic factions was the National Salvation Party (NSP), formed by Necmettin Erbakan in 1972, which propagated pristine Islamic ideas brazenly. It was dissolved, along with other political parties, following a military coup in 1980.

                            With the introduction of a new constitution in 1983, political life slowly revived. The pre-coup NSP re-emerged as the Welfare Party under Erbakan. In mid-1996, as leader of the senior partner in a coalition, he became the prime minister. (His cabinet included Abdullah Gul, the AKP's presidential candidate in the recent crisis.)

                            Within a decade of its founding, the transformation of the Welfare Party – treated as a pariah by the White Turks – into the senior constituent of a governing coalition was a symptom of democracy striking firm roots in Turkey. It invalidated the view – held by most Western commentators – that democracy and political Islam are incompatible. In Turkey, it was the secular elite, backing military coups against Islamists, that failed the test of democracy,

                            Five senior generals tried to forestall Erbakan's premiership. In early 1996, as he was trying to form a coalition government, defense sources leaked the contents of a secret military cooperation agreement Turkey had signed with Israel a decade earlier. The generals figured that such a revelation would so embarrass Erbakan, and alienate him from his Islamist base, that he would abandon his prime ministerial ambitions. But, to their chagrin, he persisted.

                            As it had done in 1960, 1971, and 1980, the military hierarchy seriously considered staging a coup. Yet it could not overlook the drastically changed international scene following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In earlier years, in the midst of the Cold War, Washington had looked the other way when the Turkish generals sent tanks into city squares and arrested all politicians. Now, with NATO on the verge of opening its doors to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the Clinton administration was emphasizing the importance of civilian control over the armed forces to their leaders. A coup by the Turkish generals in such circumstances would have made a mockery of this freshly stressed NATO principle.

                            To leave nothing to chance, however, following several private warnings to the Turkish generals, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly urged them "not to exceed the armed forces' authority within the democratic system." (In the current crisis, an equivalent role was played by Olli Rehn, the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement, who warned the military to stop meddling in the presidential poll. Were the generals to seize power in Ankara, he indicated, it would destroy Turkey's chance of becoming an EU member.)

                            Instead, the Turkish generals orchestrated a war of attrition against Erbakan by briefing the judiciary, the media, and businessmen on the evils of Islamic fundamentalism, while pursuing their own regional foreign policy centered on forging a military alliance with Israel. The generals' offensive came on the heels of high inflation and unemployment as well as a chronic Kurdish insurgency that Erbakan had inherited. He resigned in June 1997.

                            Thus, the generals achieved their aim by mounting a "soft" coup, a novel strategy.

                            Seven months later, the Constitutional Court banned Erbakan's party and barred him from public life. Yet Islamists remained a political force committed to parliamentary democracy. Erbakan managed to play an important role in creating the Virtue Party which emerged as the main opposition party in the 1999 general election. Not for long, though.

                            In June 2001, the Constitutional Court outlawed the Virtue Party, describing it as "a focal point of anti-secular activities" – which meant being at the center of protests against a ban on the wearing of women's head scarves in government offices and educational institutions.

                            Head-scarf politics

                            Over the past decade, the battle between secularists and Islamists has become focused on the symbolic politics surrounding the head scarf, which almost invariably is worn in public together with a long coat. The two garments constitute a modest dress for women according to pious Muslims. In Islam, the importance of women donning such dress is attributed to a verse in the Qur'an which enjoins believing women to "cast their veils over their bosoms, and reveal not their adornment (zinah), except to their husbands" and other blood-related males, as well as female relatives, and children.

                            In 1998, the Turkish authorities extended the head-scarf ban to universities. Protests in response lasted two years. The issue reached a fever pitch in May 1999 when Merve Kavakci – an America-trained computer engineer and freshly elected Virtue Party member of Parliament, holding a dual nationality – appeared there in a head scarf. She argued that nothing in the statute books barred her from doing so. When it was discovered that she had not secured permission from the authorities to contest a parliamentary seat – as someone with a dual nationality is required to do – she was quickly deprived of her Turkish citizenship.

                            Her case illustrates the difference between secularism as practiced in Turkey and in the United States. The American version guarantees individual religious rights, whereas the Turkish version invests the state with the power to suppress religious practices in any way it wishes.

                            With the general election due on July 22, secularists are trying to push the head-scarf issue to the top of their campaign. It is easier and more effective for them to stress that Gul's wife, Hayrunisa, wears a head scarf than to remind the public that he was a member of Islamist Erbakan's government a decade earlier.

                            "People think that if the First Lady wears a head scarf, then many things will change, threatening the whole secular system, forcing all women to wear head scarves," said Nilufer Naril, a sociology professor in Istanbul. She seemed oblivious to the finding of the Turkish Economic & Social Studies Foundation that nearly two-thirds of women in Turkey already wear a head scarf.

                            By contrast, the AKP is set to contest the upcoming election on its record of providing a strong, uncorrupt government which has produced impressive economic growth and implemented political reform. In desperation, leaders of the Republican People's Party, the only secular group represented in the Parliament, have decided to coalesce with a smaller secularist faction, to mount a strong challenge to the formidable AKP.

                            As yet, though, neither secularist party is showing any sign of abandoning its present strategy of building its program around its distrust of the AKP and Erdogan. But then, negative thinking seems to have inspired the early proponents of secularism in Turkey too.

                            "Influenced by the European anti-religious movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Turkish secularist elite views religion as a pre-modern myth, one that must be extinguished for modernity to blossom," notes Mustafa Akyol, deputy editor of the Turkish Daily News. "The outcome of this mindset is an authoritarian strategy: Political power is to remain in the hands of the secularist elite. Thus the 'secular republic' equals the 'republic of seculars' – not the republic of all citizens."

                            Little wonder that secular fundamentalists in Turkey get along famously with the military.


                            • #15
                              Al Khial!

                              I do not have the time & patience to raed your elaborate treatise.

                              But I am sure of one thing.

                              That the question of Turkey being able to keep a secular, Democratic governmet or not,
                              will have a profound impact on other Islamic countries. as well as treatment of these countries by the reminder of the world.


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