Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Does Erdogan Want?

By Abdullah Iskandar

The Turkish prime minister achieved a certain victory over the military, by forcing its pro-Ataturk leaders to resign. He took the country to a new phase, whose aspects have begun to become clear, even though the debate thus far has refrained from targeting the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Islamist-based party.

The issue of the promotion of officers, on the eve of a Higher Military Council meeting to tackle this mission, might have accelerated this confrontation. However, Erdogan amassed a number of winning cards before undertaking the challenge of facing these groups.

But the AKP, as the party is called, emerged victorious in an electoral battle that gave it a parliamentary majority freeing itself of having to compromise with those of nationalist, secular orientations. The opposition People's Republican Party, which is the civilian cover for the military, has been unable to improve its performance and parliamentary representation, ever since the AKP came to office nine years ago.

Prior to the elections, Erdogan was able to wage a successful battle against the judiciary, the other pillar along with the pro-Ataturk army. In parallel with excluding pro-Ataturk judges, a generation of military leaders has arisen, and they were promoted under Erdogan's rule. This means that the AKP, technically, holds winning cards in the judiciary and the military. This permits the party's insistence on trying officers accused of taking part in the Sledgehammer conspiracy to launch a coup d’├ętat, even if the resigned chief of staff, General Isik Kosaner, says the charges are baseless.

Following the judiciary, the military's surrender to the politicians, represented by Erdogan's government, is affirmed by the fact that Kosaner declared he was unable to help his officers, because of the confusion within the top leadership and the pressure it faced from all sides.

The political excuse being offered by Erdogan and his party for the submission of the military, following the judiciary, to the political authorities is connected to the meaning of exercising democracy, and Turkey's readiness to enter the European Union. Here, the Turkish military has lost a strategic ally, represented by the United States throughout the Cold War. Washington, and particularly under the current administration, is very happy with the success of Turkey's Islamist political experiment and considers it a model for Muslim countries. Moreover, Washington is one of the most enthusiastic parties about Turkey's EU membership, and thus supports Erdogan's moves that facilitate this process, such as reining in the aspirations of the Turkish military.

Thus, there are winning cards in the hands of Erdogan, who has exploited the prevailing, suitable circumstances to stand up to the military, which he believes has always been negative about introducing any amendments to the Constitution. This is what makes the military think that Erdogan wants to ditch the civil and secular character of the Turkish state.

This raises the question of Erdogan's true intentions. In his public speeches, the Turkish leader has only discussed reforms and amendments of the Constitution and laws, to bolster democracy and subject the institutions of the Republic to the state's management. During the era of Ataturk, they were completely independent, as secular protectors of the state under the pretext that any blow to this independence would harm this secularism.

It is believed that Erdogan is fluctuating between two projects: one is personal, and one is Islamic.

The person project involves turning the system of rule into a republican form, with the president of the Republic, after expanding his prerogatives, handling the tasks of the government and the leadership of the state, as in the United States. Many people believe that Erdogan seeks to win with a large, two-thirds majority in the coming parliamentary polls, and then amend the Constitution accordingly. He will then become president, to become the second, after Ataturk, who will have wide prerogatives that allow him to rid himself of the historical weight of state institutions.

However, others believe that the course Erdogan seeks to take, when he becomes president with wide prerogatives, is aimed at removing the state's secular character and re-Islamize laws. This will conform to the dream and the roots that were nurtured by this spiritual "Muslim Brotherhood" father and leader of the banned Rafah party, the late Necmettin Erbakan.

-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 31/07/2011
-Abdullah Iskandar is the managing editor of al-Hayat in London

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