The challenge to Erdogan’s AKP

The Turkish military establishment is trying to regain lost ground after a string of defeats by the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) via a request by state prosecutors to close down the ruling party and to ban a number of its officials, including the prime minister and president, from politics. The excuse this time around is the headscarf ban. To a Westerner, the prosecutor’s proposal seems preposterous but EU-aspirant Turkey has a history of military and judiciary coups. In 2002 the AKP was elected to government, but its hold on power was not firm. The security establishment did not intervene because this was a tense sociopolitical time brought on by the financial crisis of 2001. Following the rise of political Islam in the government, Turkish politics seemed to split between it and the Kemalists, who endured Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration with the hope that it would end up as just a footnote in the country’s history. Their hopes were dashed by the AKP’s leap from 34 percent of the vote in 2002 to 47 percent on July 22, 2007, Abdullah Gul’s election to the presidency and the rejection of constitutional reforms. Erdogan’s position was clearly strengthened and developments in the country have rendered him a force for democratic reform. The war of attrition and the political machinations of the moderate Islamists enhanced rather than threatened their position and they succeeded in proving that the debate is not about maintaining or eroding the secular state, as the military charges. The question is whether Turkey will remain stuck in the post-Kemal era or whether it will be emancipated from the hold of the army chiefs. Erdogan’s government boasts a number of accomplishments: It boosted economic development and helped the working class. It raised the EU banner and has used it in order to push through a string of reforms and to politically neutralize the military establishment. Add to these the moderate stance it has shown, and the AKP has succeeded in convincing a large part of the middle class and the business world that not only is it no threat to the secular state, but that it can play a crucial role in the state’s modernization and Europeanization. The generals have made threats, but they have not launched any coup. Their arguments are weak. Turkey is in a much better place today than it was in 2002. All the Kemalists have left are accusations that Erdogan is trying to undermine the secular state. Thus the fuss about the headscarf ban. But this charge is not convincing either. In other words, a military coup cannot look like an intervention that will bring improvements or national unity, as the General Staff likes to believe it can.

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