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Turkey at a crossroads

Ali Khan [Washburn University School of Law]: "A revolution is brewing in Turkey. Turkish generals do not believe that Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is sufficiently secular to become the next President of the Turkish Republic. The un-amendable provisions of the national Constitution require that Turkey forever remain secular. Impassioned secular crowds are chanting that Cankaya (the presidential palace) is no place for the Imam, implying that Gul is a man of the Sharia. This chant draws support from the fact that Gul's wife wears Islamic headcover (hijab) that secular laws have banned in government buildings and educational institutions. The sight of the first lady wearing hijab in Cankaya annoys the armed forces; and, it offends the anti-Islamic Kemalist ideology that replaced the Ottoman Empire with secular modernism.

In the presidential elections, Gul has failed to obtain the two-thirds majority in the Parliament, thanks to the boycott of secular parties. But Gul refuses to withdraw his candidacy. The secular establishment is asking for new general elections to remove the pro-Islamic government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who supports Gul's candidacy. The Turkish Constitutional Court has been petitioned to decide a parliamentary procedural matter at the heart of which rests the real question whether Gul's candidacy offends secular provisions of the constitution.

Courts can be wise or foolish. It is beyond the wisdom of the Turkish Constitutional Court to decide which way the nation must tilt. The Court may decide that Gul's candidacy does not threaten the secular constitution, but that would invite the wrath of the armed forces. And if the Court rules against Gul, Turkey may enter a period of utter political instability inviting the armed forces to intervene. The Court is bound to lose either way, if it undertakes to resolve this political question.

It appears that the nation is hopelessly fractured over the gravity of secularism. Turkey is a Muslim country and its people are not prepared to forget their Islamic history or ditch their faith in blind imitation of the secular European experience. On the other side, Westernized businesses, many intellectuals, and bureaucrats see a new Turkey made in the image of France and Germany. In this authentic and difficult struggle, the armed forces are the self-appointed guardians of secularism.

If the Turkish armed forces were far-sighted, they would abandon political paternalism and let the political process evolve toward a natural equilibrium. They should not forget that the secular establishment was opposed even to the election of their current Prime Minister and had predicted all sorts of chaos if he were elected to be the head of the government. The nation has done well under Erdogan. The secular Republic faces no danger if Gul were elected to be the head of the state. The other road is mighty unpredictable."

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