Saturday, 14 June 2008

News from Turkey

Beyond the veil
Jun 12th 2008 | ANKARA
From The Economist print edition

The secular and the pious march towards a new collision, with unforeseeable
consequences for democracy and Turkey's chances in Europe
WHEN Adnan Menderes, a right-wing politician who spoke up for pious
Anatolians, swept to power as prime minister after Turkey's first free parliamentary
election 58 years ago, a group of officers began plotting a military coup within
weeks. Ten years later, with the support of the secular intelligentsia and politicians,
they overthrew the government, by then in its third term. A year later, in September
1961, Menderes was hanged.
Yildiray Ogur, a young activist, sees worrying parallels between the 1960
coup and today's campaign, spearheaded by Turkey's generals and judges,
to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

the prime minister, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkey has
been in upheaval ever since the constitutional court began considering a
case brought by the chief prosecutor to ban the AKP and to bar 71 named
individuals, including Mr Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, from politics,
on thinly documented charges that they are seeking to impose sharia law.

The stakes were raised on June 5th, when the court overturned a law passed
by a big majority in parliament to let young women wear the Islamic-style
headscarf at universities. By voting 9-2 to quash the law the court sent a
clear signal that it would vote to shut down the AKP. A verdict is expected
by the autumn.

To many the case is like a judicial coup: a last-ditch attempt to cling to
power by an elite that refuses to share wealth and social space with a
rising class of pious Turks, symbolised by the AKP. It may also further
discredit the constitutional court. Above all, says Mr Ogur, the case
reveals "an army that believes it should have the final say, not elected

A defiant Mr Erdogan vows to fight back. In a fiery speech in parliament
this week, he declared that the court had exceeded its jurisdiction and
would "need to explain itself to the people." There is talk of changing the
rules for appointing judges and limiting their ability to ban political
parties. Some AKP officials dream of unleashing millions of supporters on to
the streets. But they know that doing so would risk provoking a real
military coup. "We are like lambs being taken to slaughter, we are resigned
to our fate," sighs one AKP deputy.

A few hardy souls pin their hopes on Western support. The European Union has
hinted that it would suspend membership talks if the AKP were banned. But
thanks to the growing opposition to Turkish accession in countries such as
France and Austria, few Turks believe they will ever get in anyway. "With no
carrots left to offer, the EU has no stick to wield," opines Cengiz Aktar,
who follows EU affairs.

The biggest deterrent to overthrowing the AKP may be Turkey's wobbly
economy. After six years of steady growth the economy is slowing down,
inflation has crept back to double digits and this year's current-account
deficit is expected to rise to 7% of GDP. Faik Oztrak, a former treasury
under-secretary and opposition parliamentarian, reckons that Turkey will
need at least $135 billion in foreign inflows to plug the gap. As he asks
pointedly, "where will it come from?"

Investor confidence has been rattled by the government's indecision over
extending an IMF deal that expired in May. "With financial markets remaining
jittery, Turkey is walking on a tightrope, making policy errors potentially
costly. In particular, new initiatives that jeopardise the achievement of
the announced fiscal targets, such as the planned reform of municipal
finances, could tilt the balance of policies and should be avoided," Lorenzo
Giorgianni, the IMF's mission chief for Turkey, says. He is referring to the
government's plans to boost local spending.

Yet in Istanbul many financiers seem unfazed. They see no reason for alarm,
even if the AKP is banned. A chastened, wiser AKP would simply regroup under
a different name and it will be business as usual, the argument goes.
Certainly, when a party is banned (they tend to be either pro-Kurdish or
pro-Islamic) its members usually come together under a new banner. But
Islamic parties often come back even stronger. The AKP itself is an offshoot
of Virtue, a party that was banned in 2001. It romped to power in 2002 and
won a second term last year with a bigger share of the vote.

Even if it were disbanded, the AKP's surviving parliamentarians would remain
as independents in sufficient numbers to be able to force another snap
election. Indeed, the million-dollar question, as one European diplomat puts
it, is "whether those who are perpetrating this strategy against the AKP
will let them come back even stronger. They are stuck between a coup and a
hard place."

Not everyone thinks that the AKP will emerge unscathed. Even his allies
agree that Mr Erdogan made a strategic blunder by passing the headscarf law
instead of blending it into a package of broader reforms embodied in a new
constitution. Instead of appeasing secular fears, some AKP members crowed
that the headscarf would soon be allowed in government offices as well. Many
say the void left by Mr Gul, who moved up from foreign minister to become
president last August, is partly to blame for Mr Erdogan's mistakes. As
number two in the AKP, Mr Gul had often curbed Mr Erdogan's rasher

Meanwhile, support in the Kurdish south-east, where the AKP made big gains
last year, has been waning ever since Mr Erdogan yielded to army pressure
and authorised cross-border attacks on PKK terrorists in northern Iraq.
also snubbed members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic People's Party (DTP) in
parliament. Police brutality and mass arrests during a May 1st demonstration
in Istanbul have not helped his image.

Yet, for all his and the party's failings, recent opinion polls suggest that
the AKP retains a big lead over its rivals. "You may criticise us for going
slow on reforms, but the truth is that we made more changes than Turkey was
able to absorb," says Abdurrahman Kurt, an AKP member from Diyarbakir. By
giving pious Turks a political voice, the AKP has also bolstered their faith
in democracy.

By overturning the headscarf law, says Mazhar Bagli, a sociologist at
Diyarbakir's Dicle university, the court is running the risk that "radical
groups will now seek their rights through illegal means." In other words,
the threat of radical Islam in Turkey may have increased thanks to the
secularists' attack on the AKP.


European Report
June 10, 2008

France says that it does not want to block Turkey's accession talks
during its EU Presidency. "Negotiations will go on," French officials
confirm, indicating that two or three chapters could be opened in
the second half of the year. However, they immediately add that only
those negotiating areas which are not "directly related to accession"
will receive a green light under the six-month French Presidency.

If Paris succeeds, five new chapters, covering financial and
institutional matters, could be officially added to the list of areas
which are currently blocked due to Ankara's failure to fully comply
with certain obligations towards Cyprus
. One of these five areas has
already been frozen due to the French veto. Last year, Paris said that
talks on economic and monetary policy should commence only after the
EU defines its future borders.

Ankara strongly protests, underlining more vocally than ever
its significant and still growing "contribution to Europe's
stability". Speaking recently in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee
in the European Parliament, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan
emphasised his country's strong involvement in the Middle East peace
process (mediatory role in talks between Syria and Israel), in the
dialogue with Iran and Lebanon, as well as its active engagement in
the stabilisation process of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also underlined
Turkey's strong involvement in the EU ESDP missions and its willingness
to become a member of the European Defence Agency.

Paris, however, seems to remain unconvinced by Ankara's
arguments. According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkey -
a predominantly Muslim country - is not eligible for full membership
of the EU, as a majority of its territory is located in Asia rather
than in Europe. An enhanced or so called privileged' partnership is
therefore suggested by the Elysee Palace as the best form of future
relations between Turkey and the EU. Ankara clearly says, however,
that nothing less than full membership is acceptable.

To soften Paris' stance, Turkey is trying to play the Union for
the Mediterranean card. Without Ankara, which is perceived as a
key element of Sarkozy's proposal, the initiative is bound to lose
its political weight and structural consistency. Turkey is aware of
this and is trying to use the situation to its own benefit. It has
not yet given Paris a clear answer on whether it would take part at
all in the project, saying it is still "assessing" the contents of
the proposal. Some possible retaliatory economic moves, like keeping
Gaz de France out of the consortium of the Nabucco pipeline project
designed to bring Caspian gas to Europe, have also been taken by Turkey
against France. On top of this, Ankara is creating some difficulties
about the use of Turkish air space for French warplanes on mission in
Afghanistan. In the meantime, deteriorating military relations with
Turkey, a member of NATO, pose a threat to Paris' plans to reinforce
relations between the alliance and the EU.

To counterbalance France's opposition and to win over other member
states, Ankara has recently made some positive moves towards Cyprus
and Armenia. It gave the green light for the relaunch of talks between
the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on reunification and has
said it "is ready for a dialogue with Armenia".

[but what is the substance supporting this change?}


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