Turkey has reached a crisis over radical Islam, as their recent elections have created a precarious position for the tradtionally secular democracy. Abdullah Gul, the candidate for the leading party, will become Turkey’s next president despite his history of supporting Islamists. The army has announced its intention to defend secularism, a most decidedly blunt warning to the Parliament not to elect Gul. The situation looks ripe for a civil war or a coup d’etat.
Today, though, Turks have rallied in force to express their own support for secularism:
Hundreds of thousands of people are rallying in Istanbul in support of secularism in Turkey, amid a row over a vote for the country’s next president.
The protesters are concerned that the ruling party’s candidate for the post remains loyal to his Islamic roots.
The candidate, Abdullah Gul, earlier said he would not quit despite growing criticism from opponents and the army.
Mr Gul failed to win election in a first round vote in parliament as opposition MPs boycotted the vote.
Gul would replace another Islamist, Tayyip Erdogan, who won the presidency on a promise to remain secular in his approach to leadership. Gul, on the other hand, appears more tied to Islamist thinking. His wife would be the first to wear a hijab. Gul’s party would also control parliament, the presidency, and the governments, and Gul could act as a Trojan horse to impose a more Islamist rule over Turkey.
That has many Turks worried and upset, and today they have gathered by the hundreds of thousands to express their concern. They do not want a coup, although the army appears poised to conduct one. Turks want a free, open, and secular democracy, where mosque and state stay separated. Islamists believe in shari’a and the Qur’an teachings that make Islam the basic form of temporal government. It is a conflict that many Arab nations either have or will approach in the near future, but the Turks had thought this conflict settled long ago.
The army conducted its last coup in 1997, to remove Islamist president Necmettin Erkaban from power. Its statement shook up the Turks, who see it as a message to the Turkish constitutional court to dissolve parliament and declare the elections invalid. The army sees itself as the defender of the legacy of Mustafa Kemal, the man who established the modern state of Turkey after World War I as a relentlessly secular democracy, and they will not allow Gul to move them backwards towards Islamist theocracy. The court has until Wednesday to stop the second round of voting, and the army’s readiness to overrule them will certainly be part of their considerations.