Tag Archives: secularism

Turkey’s Troubled Path To The European Union

President Barack Obama on his visit to Turkey came out strongly in support of that nation’s entrance into the European Union, but his views were not necessarily those of Europeans. The Council of Europe on Tuesday urged more constitutional reform in Turkey that would meet the concerns of secularists. The ongoing crisis between secularists who fear the Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Erdogan seeks to undermine Constitutional guarantees that Turkey is a secularist state. The Council of Europe took note that “many reforms announced by the government are perceived from the outset as attempts to erode the founding principles of the Turkish Republic.”

The Council of Europe is still not pleased at failure on the part of Turkey to ensure torture is not used in prisons as well as greater evidence the rights of minorities is protected. If Turkey is able to address these issues the question of entrance to the EU might well be resolved.

European Commission Insists Turkey Reform

The European Commission praised Turkey’s efforts to work for peace in the Caucasus and its attempt to mediate the Israel-Syrian dispute, but it also raised questions about lack of progress in dealing with issues such as gender equality, enforcing civilian control over the military and ending corruption. Oli Rehn of the EU Enlargement Commission, made clear, “I expect Turkey to re-energize its reform efforts.” He also made clear the EU wants Turkey to work to end the current division of Cyprus and to carry out a program of political reform. The Commission acknowledged the current slow down stemmed from a decision by Turkey’s Constitutional Court to ban women wearing the headscarf in universities and threats to close down the ruling Justice and Development Party because of its deep religious roots.

A concern of the EU is the role played by Turkey’s army which regards itself as the defender of secularism and the role of the judiciary which also assumes a role of protecting secular rights. On one hand, Turkish secular supporters want to enter the EU, but on the other hand, institutions which defend secular rights in Turkey go against EU equal rights. EU leaders worry about the polarization within Turkey because of inability to resolve secular and religious goals.

Coup Thwarted In Turkey

Turkey’s police detained twenty people who are suspected of organizing a coup which would overthrow the existing moderate Muslim led government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and replace it with a staunchly secularist government. Among the twenty arrested were three retired generals including Genereal Sener Eruygar, who is a member of Ergenekon which is behind the coup, and the secularist Atatukist thought Association(ADD) which was planning demonstrations to create chaos in the nation. The plan entailed holding rallies in 40 counties on July 7 which would demand an end to the AKP and support for a secular government. yesterday, there were rallies in Gaziantes and Istanbul which called for “Respect for the State of Law” and “Respect for an Independent Judiciary.” The rallies were intended to show support for the Public Prosecutor who is trying to close down the AKP and the Constitutional Court which soon will render a decision.

There is genuine fear and concern among many secularists about the long term goals of the AKP. Even the head of the Chamber of Commerce was part of the planned coup since it was his task to tell the public Turkey’s economy was collapsing. It is necessary for secularists who believe in democracy and those in the AKP who intend to respect secular rights, to come together and work out compromises on issues such as the right to wear a headscarf in college.

Turkish Opposition Asks Prime Minister To Admit Mistake

Main oppsition leader Deniz Baykal urged Prime Minister Erdogan to admit his party’s mistke in attempting to impose Islamic law on the secular nation of Turkey. He insisted the move to have Turkey’s hgh court close down the Justice and Development Party on grounds it violates the nation’s law by seeking to end the secular nature of Turkey would be avoided if the AKP admitted it was wrong to move in this direction and promise not to impose Shariah law on the people of Turkey. Baykal said: “Tensions were ignited by the AKP under Erdogan’s leadership. We need to overcome this problem. We need a fresh start.” The current crisis arose when chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya asked the Constitutional Court to close down the AkP and ban its leaders from engaging in politics for five years.

Many members of the oppostion are still angry that Abduallah Gul was elected president of Turkey since he was one of the founders of the Muslim oriented AKP. They believe the presence of a known supporter of Islam as leader of their nation was a provocative action which was bound to divide the country into pro Islamic forces and those fighting for maintaining the secular nature of the nation.

The reality is that the only action taken by the AKP was to lift the ban on the wearing of headscarf that was imposed on Muslim women attending universities. Perhaps, it is time for President Gul to be more forceful by ensuring secularists of his desire to maintain secular institutions.

Turkish Headscarf Debate Goes On

The controversy over being allowed to wear a headscarf in college began in the 1960s when Hatice Babacan was expelled from Ankara University because she insisted on wearing the veil. The controversy became mor intense in the 1980s when political Islam began to become more prominent in Turkish political life. Several center-right governments like that of Turgut Ozal, tried to allow legalize wearing of the headscarf in universities only to be over-ruled by the Constitutional Court which regarded itself as a bastion protecting secular rights. To date, the ban on headscarfs in universities is not based on a piece of legislation, but on a Constitutional Court decision. Secularists have made the headscarf an issue that is central to their beliefs that Turkey must remain a secular nation and not allow religious authorities to determine the daily lives of citizens. In 1998, the military drove out Prime Minister Necmeddin Erbakan because of his supposed Islamic views. Since then, the Higher education Board (YOK) has been a watchdog protecting secularism within universities.

As of this point, the Islamic Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul has carefully adhered to a strict policy of respecting secular rights. As secularists gain confidence their human rights will not be abridged, it might be possible to loosen somewhat the ban on headscarfs.

An Egyptian Middle Road?

Four of the largest secular parties have begun exploring the idea of a coalition which might constitute a third force in Egyptian politics. At present, the ruling National Democratic Party of President Mubarak represents corruption and inefficiency while at the other end of the continuum is the Muslim Brotherhood which recently shocked many people by announcing their desire for an Iranian style government dominated by clerics. Mubarak is growing old and there are rumors he is grooming his son to take over once he either dies or leaves office. His government has failed to develop a vibrant economy and is riddled with corruption. Thousands of young Egyptians migrate elsewhere in search of jobs that match their education or talents. Osama El Ghazeli Harb, an editor of al-Ahram, posed: “I think the coalition should attempt to answer the question: what should Egypt look like after Mubarak?”

George Bush has emphasized his anger at the clerical dominated Iranian government, but less attention has been focused on the corrupt and increasingly anti-democratic government of Mubarak. One result of the corruption is continued growth of a fanatical Muslim Brotherhood which has abandoned earlier statements about their desire for a non-clerical controlled government. It is now clear they desire a clerical group which will oversee legislation as is done in Iran. Egypt desperately needs a third force of secular democrats who can offer people an alternative between extremes.

Turkish General Vows To Protect Secularism

Turkish Cheif of Staff General Yasar Buyukant told members of the War Academies Command that the armed forces are guardians of secularism in Turkey and will defend it against any attempt to make changes leading to Islamization of the nation. Prime Minister Erdogan assured the military his government is committed to those principles. “The government and Parliament are safeguards of the secular and democratic republic.”

Prime Minister Erdogan most probably is sincere in his desire to maintain secularism in Turkey, but he does not help to achieve those goals by having a new constitution drafted behind closed doors without any consultation by members of parties opposing his Justice and Development Party. His party only obtained 47% of the popular vote and it would be helpful if it reached out to secular political parties to obtain their assistance in drafting a new constitution. His words say one thing, but his behavior says something else.