Unwelcome pope

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey tomorrow has sparked protests among nationalist groups that claim to defend the secular legacy of Kemal Ataturk. The reactions, however, should not be exaggerated. Images of the heated protests have already been broadcast around the globe but they will have little political impact on Turkey. It will cause some embarrassment among some Western-minded politicians meeting with foreign envoys or businessmen, but there is nothing too uncommon about this. On a political level, the NATO alliance summit in Riga will save the pretexts for the Islamic-leaning government. A meeting between the pontiff and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been ruled out as there was no available date. Benedict turned down a dinner invitation by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul so all the weight will fall on Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin. The bad news for Turkey is that the pope’s visit takes place two weeks ahead of the European Council meeting, amid pressure on Ankara to meet its commitments. These do not just concern Turkey’s relations with Cyprus but also the respect for religious freedoms, the restoration of ties with the Patriarchate and the reopening of the Halki seminary. The EU gates have finally opened – but in theory only. The illusions of the Turkish establishment have been shed as the European demands will undermine the foundations of the security establishment. Ankara failed to meet the relatively painless EU demand over the Patriarchate either because it failed to adapt or because it is worried that even the slightest compromise will take its toll on the unity of the state. In any case, any pope delivering a speech taken as an insult to Islam, as Benedict did, would never find a warm welcome by Turkish nationalists or Muslim militants.

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