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
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
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