Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkish Case Revives Secular vs. Islam Debate

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkish Case Revives Secular vs. Islam Debate

Article excerpt

- Turkey's highest court decided unanimously to hear a closure case this week against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for "anti-secular activities," heralding months of political uncertainty and casting more doubt on Turkey's chances to join the European Union.

Scorned by critics as a "judicial coup" aimed at damaging a party with Islamist roots that won a landslide victory in polls last summer, the Constitutional Court decided this week also to rule on a ban of 71 AKP members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

Analysts say the dramatic steps yield multiple interpretations. They expose the weaknesses of Turkish democracy, which in turn weaken the country's bid for EU membership. They are also the latest chapter in the battle between a hard-line secular elite that consider Turkey's tradition of fierce secularism under threat and the popular AKP that has been making religious changes in the name of increasing freedoms. And raised anew are existential questions about the role of Islam in modern Turkey.

The AKP is fighting back with a series of constitutional changes to make party closure more difficult, after recent steps that have included controversially ending the decade-old ban on head scarves for women at universities.

"It may look like it's about democracy versus an establishment, but in fact it is about two groups fighting over who can take control of the state," says Fadi Hakura, an analyst at Chatham House in London. "It is a power struggle, tinged with a religious ideology in the background."

Whatever the result, the court's decision "has already hurt chances of Turkey's entry into the EU," says Mr. Hakura, "because it indicates very clearly to the skeptics of Turkish accession [in Europe] that Turkey is incapable of adapting to European standards, European norms of democracy and human rights, and that its politics are more akin to those of the Middle East than those of Europe."

The AKP effort to make Mr. Gul president a year ago prompted a series of massive anti-AKP rallies. Then came a warning from the Turkish military, which, as the country's historic "guarantor of secularism," has mounted a string of coups since the 1960s and is meant to give itself over to civilian rule in line with EU requirement. …

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