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Analysis: Turkey Searches its Secular Soul

Council on Foreign Relations

May 2, 2007
Prepared by: Lee Hudson Teslik

In the debate over the coexistence of democracy and Islam in the Middle East, Turkey is commonly cited as a tantalizing model of stability, a sound balance of Islam and secular order. Massive protests (Turkish Daily News) this week in response to the Turkish parliament’s support of a moderate Islamist presidential candidate underscore the delicateness of this balance. The demonstrators object (BBC) to an April 27 parliament vote in which a majority of parliamentarians supported Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s foreign minister, to be the country’s next president. Gul's opponents—including the country’s powerful military leadership—consider him to be an Islamist, antithetical to Turkey’s secularist constitution and the legacy of its iconic first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Tensions between Turkey’s secularists and moderate Islamists are nothing new, but the vote seems to have touched a raw nerve. The protests, which broke out almost immediately after the poll, resulted in a police crackdown and over seven hundred arrests (NPR). Following a decision by Turkey’s highest court to annul the parliamentary vote, the current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who supports Gul, said he would seek to overhaul (FT) the country’s electoral system and press for early general elections.

The irony is that neither Gul nor his dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP) is particularly Islamist, says Morton I. Abramowitz, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, in an interview with CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman.

Read the rest of this article on the cfr.org website.

Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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