TURKEY'S CREEPING COUP D'ETAT
May 3, 2007 -- THE only surprising thing about the latest political crisis in Turkey is that it has come so late.
On Tuesday, the nation's highest court blocked Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from the ballot in the coming presidential election - a move that seems likely to trigger early parliamentary elections.
Though the ruling's basis was technical (the parliament lacked a quorom on the day it OK'd Gul's candidacy, the judges found), it will inevitably be viewed through the prism of politics.
Ever since the AKP won control of the parliament and government four years ago, its opponents have warned that the crypto-Islamist outfit is pursuing a hidden agenda to destroy the nation's 83-year-old secular and republican political system.
Ironically, AKP won power largely thanks to a peculiar electoral system designed to prevent it from winning a majority. Had the secularist parties remained united in the 2003 general election, AKP would've ended up with less than a third of the seats in the Grand National Assembly (parliament). Instead, the secularists splintered, allowing AKP to bag two-thirds of the seats with 34 percent of the vote.
AKP leaders, especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan, knew that they'd benefited from an accident. So they devised a strategy aimed at building a lasting power base.
First, they played the European Union card against the Turkish secularist system by insisting on an actual separation of mosque and state.
Secularism in Turkey is a peculiar beast. In Western secular republics, such as in the United States or France, church and state are genuinely kept apart. In Turkey, however, the state controls the mosque. It owns some 80,000 mosques, appoints all preachers and approves all sermons. It also controls the flow of pilgrims to Mecca and supervises the content of all religious literature distributed.