Turkey's Military Tries Political Moves to Squelch Premier's Islamic Ambition Erbakan Commits to Generals' 20-Point Plan but Throws Them a Curve Series: Reluctant to Buck Democracy by Using Force, Turkish Generals Are Using Politics to Check Islam. Here, Two Top Generals Confer on Erbakan's Moves. PHOTOS BY FATIH SARIBAS/REUTERS

By Sami Kohen, | The Christian Science Monitor, March 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Military Tries Political Moves to Squelch Premier's Islamic Ambition Erbakan Commits to Generals' 20-Point Plan but Throws Them a Curve Series: Reluctant to Buck Democracy by Using Force, Turkish Generals Are Using Politics to Check Islam. Here, Two Top Generals Confer on Erbakan's Moves. PHOTOS BY FATIH SARIBAS/REUTERS


Sami Kohen,, The Christian Science Monitor


The rise of a staunchly Islamic prime minister in Turkey has repeatedly forced the nation's powerful and shadowy generals into a wrenching choice. On the one hand, they want to defend long-secular Turkey against the Islamic fundamentalism that is growing so quickly in this region. On the other, any overtly militaristic moves - including a coup - would alienate Turkey, a key NATO ally, from the democratic, Western nations the generals seek to grow closer to.

This week, the generals scampered out of the jaws of this dilemma by playing politics. They pressured Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan into agreeing to a 20-point agenda for suppressing Islamic activism.

But in a shrewd countermove, the premier says the 20-point plan will have to be approved by parliament, thus pitting the military against the legislature. "This is a dangerous game," says one observer. It is particularly dangerous because of Turkey's desperate attempt to join the European Union's trade bloc, which could help solve the country's economic woes. A crucial condition for EU membership, however, is a fully functioning democracy - something that doesn't exist if the military is meddling in the affairs of state. But in the short term, the generals got what they wanted. The 20-point plan includes tightening the ban on religious sects, stopping recruitment of fundamentalists for government posts, and preventing members of Mr. Erbakan's pro-Islamic Welfare Party from buying more rifles - which they apparently have been doing with impunity during Erbakan's eight months in power. The plan also includes keeping tight restrictions on religious dress. The founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, went so far as to put fez-wearing Turks to death for sporting the brimless, Islamic-oriented hat. So the generals aren't about to approve of Erbakan allowing women to wear Muslim headscarves in government offices and state-sponsored schools. Despite accepting the plan, Erbakan and his party have been, as ever, defiant throughout the showdown with the military. It began when the generals called an extraordinary meeting of the joint political-military National Security Council (NSC), which Erbakan sits on as premier. In a nine-hour meeting Feb. 28, the generals laid out the 20-point plan. After the meeting, a chastened Erbakan said he was "in full harmony" with the commanders. But two days later he challenged them, invoking democracy in his defense. …

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Turkey's Military Tries Political Moves to Squelch Premier's Islamic Ambition Erbakan Commits to Generals' 20-Point Plan but Throws Them a Curve Series: Reluctant to Buck Democracy by Using Force, Turkish Generals Are Using Politics to Check Islam. Here, Two Top Generals Confer on Erbakan's Moves. PHOTOS BY FATIH SARIBAS/REUTERS
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