Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Turkey's creeping coup d’etat"

* neocon hack Amir Taheri (in full, arab news) (there's a shorter version in the NYSun, titled "TURKEY'S CREEPING COUP D'ETAT"):
"Latest Crisis in Turkey

The only surprising thing about the latest political crisis in Turkey is that it has come so late.

Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won control of the Parliament and government four years ago, its opponents have warned that the crypto-Islamist outfit was pursuing a hidden agenda to destroy the nation’s 83-year old secular and republican political system.

Ironically, AKP won power largely thanks to a peculiar electoral system designed to prevent it from winning a majority. And, had the secularist parties remained united in the 2003 general election, AKP would have ended up with less than a third of the seats in the Grand National Assembly (Parliament). Instead, the splintering of the secularist electorate allowed AKP to bag two-thirds of the seats with 34 percent of the votes.

AKP leaders, especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, knew that they had benefited from a historic accident. This is why they devised a strategy aimed at building a lasting power base for themselves.

This they did with a number of measures. First, they played the European Union card against the Turkish secularist system by insisting on an actual separation of mosque and state.

What is generally known as secularism in Turkey is, in fact, a peculiar beast. In Western secularism, such as in the United States or France, church and state are genuinely kept apart. In Turkey, however, the state controls the mosque. The Turkish state owns some 80,000 mosques, appoints all preachers, and approves all sermons. It also controls the flow of pilgrims to Makkah and supervises the content of all religious literature distributed.

Through a special department, the Turkish state also manages the vast portfolio of endowments. This includes major businesses in banking, insurance, transport, real estate, and tourism, among others. The assets are bequeathed by pious Muslims who wish to devote part of their heritage to charitable purposes. In most Muslim countries, such assets are managed by private foundations. In Turkey, the state is in control.

The Turkish state also caters to the religious needs of citizens abroad. Wherever there is a Turkish community, the government in Ankara sets up a mosque and appoints an imam to run it.

What AKP has tried to do with the help of the European Union is to script the Turkish state out of religion.

On the surface that looks like a step toward genuine secularism. But, things are never that simple in complicated Turkey.

AKP wants to wrest control of mosques, religious shrines, and endowment businesses from the state, and transfer it to private foundations controlled by Islamists. If such a scheme succeeds, AKP would secure a permanent base from which to challenge the state when other parties are in power.

Aware of the Europeans’ illusions about secularism, AKP has managed to persuade the EU that all it wants for Turkey is a Western-style democratic system based on separation of mosque and state. Most Turks, including AKP leaders, know that the prospect of Turkish membership of the EU is an iffy at best. At least five EU members, including France and Germany, are opposed to Turkish membership under any conditions. In the best-case scenario, Turkey could not join the EU for at least another 15 years.

Thus, it costs AKP nothing in real political terms to champion the cause of EU membership. At the same time, EU rules and culture could be used to end control of the mosques by the state, diminish the army’s influence in politics, and lift restrictions imposed on religious propaganda and ceremonies in the name of a Western-style respect for freedom of conscience.

AKP has also played the European card in an effort to reduce the secularists’ influence in the judiciary. Most special tribunals have been abolished and some of the religious activities regarded as anti-state decriminalized. In the process, AKP has replaced hundreds of secularist judges with crypto-Islamist jurists. Even the Supreme Court now has two pro-AKP members.

Also claiming EU legitimacy, the AKP government carried out a massive reform of the state-dominated Turkish economy. Scores of government-owned businesses have been privatized, providing businessmen close to AKP with new sources of wealth, economic influence and, ultimately political power.

All this produced the paradox in which the Islamists appear to be the genuine secularists and free-marketers in Turkey.

AKP’s next target was the presidency of the republic. The post is mostly ceremonial with little executive power. Nevertheless, a president could use his bully pulpit to curb the excesses of government. He could also delay legislation by refusing his assent to bills passed by the Parliament.

At first, Erdogan, AKP’s founder and uncontested leader, wanted the presidency for himself. The post would have given him and AKP a place at the center of power in Ankara for seven years regardless of his party’s performance in the next general election scheduled for November. (He has now brought the date forward to June 23.)

Once Erdogan had to drop out of the presidential contest, he nominated his closest ally, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for the post. Gul is certainly less of an ideologue than Erdogan, and would probably be more cooperative as president when, and if, secularist parties return to power.

The problem, however, is that most Turks regard Gul as nothing but an Erdogan understudy. “Gul is Erdogan when Erdogan wants to hide,” former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem liked to say.

Many Turks, including the million-strong anti-Islamist protestors in Ankara the other day, would be horrified to have Mrs. Gul as their first lady.

This is not because Mrs. Gul wears the hijab, which she does. The reason for their dismay is that Mrs. Gul wears a political form of hijab, close to the one made fashionable by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and not the traditional headgear of Anatolian peasant women.

For the past three years, AKP has been engaged in a creeping coup d’etat, designed to destroy the Kemalist republic, which it hates, and replace it with an Islamist entity dressed in European Union colors.

The Europeans seem to have fallen for the scam. Next month’s election will show whether a majority of the Turks have also bought this bill of goods."
I have no idea how accurate or otherwise this view is, but I suspect we'll see more of it in the msm.

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