Democracy in Turkey Called "More Important Than Secularism"

By Jones, Lucy | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Democracy in Turkey Called "More Important Than Secularism"


Jones, Lucy, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"DEMOCRACY IS MORE important than secularism," argued Britain's The Economist on May 3, after Turkey's Islamist governing party's candidate, Abdullah Gul, failed in his bid for the country's presidency, amid a row pitting secularists against the ruling party.

"However desirable it may be to preserve Ataturk's secular legacy," the magazine elaborated, "that cannot come at the expense of overriding the normal process of democracy-even if that process produces bad, ineffective, corrupt or mildly Islamist governments.

"Algeria, where 150,000 people died in a civil war after an election which Islamists won was annulled in 1992, holds a sharp lesson about what can happen when soldiers suppress popular will," it continued. "Of course, Turkey is not Algeria; but armies everywhere should beware of subverting elections. It is up to voters, not soldiers, to punish governments-and they will now have the opportunity to do so in Turkey."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic conservative AKP had been successful during its four and a half years in power, Germany's Spiegel Online of May 7 pointed out. "Europeans are envious of Turkey's 6 percent economic growth... Foreign investment is booming and exports are at record levels. The AKP has pushed through hundreds of reforms and has led Turkey into negotiations for EU membership," the writers, Annette Grossbongardt and Bernhard Zand, said.

"Nevertheless," they continued, "the AKP has failed to defuse a smoldering suspicion among secularists that the party has a hidden Islamist agenda."

But, echoing The Economist, they said that military intervention against Gul "would find no popular support today."

On Iraq Anniversary, U.S. Said to Be "More Modest" in its Aims

On the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, few European newspapers saw much to celebrate. "What an unhappy anniversary," lamented The Independent on March 20. "The more time passes, the more this military adventure looks a disaster for everyone concerned." The newspaper quoted a recent poll conducted on behalf of the BBC which found that half of Iraqis questioned felt life is worse now than under Saddam.

"Bush and Blair are in a state of denial, only offering us more of the same," weighed in London-based academic Sami Ramadani, writing in The Guardian the same day. "They allegedly launched the war at first to save the world from Saddam's WMD, then to establish democracy, then to fight al-Qaida's terrorism, and now to prevent civil war and Iranian or Syrian intervention.

"Four years after declaring 'mission accomplished,'" Ramadani pointed out, "the U.S. government is sending more combat troops to add to the bloodbath-all in an effort to impose its imperial will on the Iraqi people, and in the process plunging its own country into its deepest political-moral crisis since Vietnam."

According to The Sunday Times of March 18, however, the current American troop surge "appears to have been a considerable success in reducing levels of violence." The Times editorial pointed to a poll which it said "shows a country which is far more optimistic than anyone would have expected." "By two to one, Iraqis say that life is better under the present system," the newspaper continued. "There is something else significant in the poll," it added. "Only a quarter of Iraqis think their country is in civil war."

But Spain's El Periodico de Catalunya of March 20 said: "Four years on, the invasion has turned into the worst fiasco the U.S. has faced since Vietnam. President George W. Bush can keep predicting that the Americans will win this fight, but that has little bearing on reality.

"Stabilizing Iraq and withdrawing troops will only be possible once a regional solution has been found to the conflict in the Middle East," the newspaper continued. "For this to happen, negotiations need to start with countries such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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