An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Volume IX, Issue # 22, February 4, 2007
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor
Government Committed to & Acting in Accord with Conservative Principles
Ensures a Nation's Strength, Progress, & Prosperity
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By Dr. Michael Rubin

FULL STORY:   While the campaigns have not officially begun, election season in Turkey is heating up. This Spring, the Grand National Assembly -- the Turkish Parliament -- will select a president to replace current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, whose seven-year term ends on May 16, 2007. On or before November 4, 2007, Turks will head to the polls to choose a new parliament. Not only does this year mark the first since 1973 -- and 1950 before that -- in which Turks will inaugurate a new president and parliament in the same year, but this year's polls will also impact the future of Turkey more than perhaps any election in the past half century. If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins the Presidency and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, also known as AKP) retains its parliamentary majority, Islamists would control all Turkish offices and be positioned to erode secularism and redefine state and society.

If Erdogan ascends to Çankaya Palace -- the Turkish White House -- Turks face the prospect of an Islamist president and a first lady who wears a Saudi-style headscarf. Such a prospect has fueled speculation about intervention by the Turkish military, which traditionally serves as the guardian of secularism and the Turkish Constitution. In December, 2006, for example, Newsweek published an essay entitled "The Coming Coup d'Etat?" predicting a 50 percent chance of the military seizing control in Turkey this year. [1]

While concern about the future of Turkish secularism is warranted, alarmism about military intervention is not. There will be no more military coups in Turkey. Erdogan may be prepared to spark a constitutional crisis in pursuit of personal ambition and ideological agenda, but Turkey's civilian institutions are strong enough to confront the challenge. The greatest danger to Turkish democracy will not be Turkish military intervention, but rather well-meaning but naïve interference by U.S. diplomats seeking stability and downplaying the Islamist threat.

Why should U.S. or European officials worry about Turkey's future under the AKP? The AKP eschews the Islamist label and describes itself as a Conservative or Center-Right party. Its roots, however, are religious. On November 21, 1994, while Mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan said "Thank God almighty, I am a servant of Shari‘a [Islamic law]." He later described himself at "the Imam of Istanbul." [2]

The AKP grew out of Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), an Islamist party founded in 1993. On June 28, 1996, Erbakan became Turkey's first Islamist Prime Minister, but, because his party held just 158 of a total 550 seats in parliament, he had only limited power to implement his agenda. Still, he pushed too far. Pressured by a military establishment upset with his outreach to Libya and Iran and by his support for religious schools, Erbakan resigned after just less than a year. There would be no Refah comeback. On January 16, 1998, Turkey's Constitutional Court (Anayasa Mahkemesi) banned the party, a decision subsequently upheld by the European Court of Human Rights. [3]

Refah members, including Erdogan, regrouped under the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) banner. Many retained their jobs, but judicial action soon forced Erdogan to resign the Mayoralty. On April 21, 1998, a security court in the city of Diyarbakir sentenced Erdogan to ten months' imprisonment for inciting religious hatred at a December 5, 1997, rally. After he exhausted his appeals, he served four months in prison.

Fazilet fared no better than Refah. Its platform and operations contravened the Constitution. On June 22, 2001, the Constitutional Court banned the party, citing its antisecular activities. Its members went in two directions: on July 20, 2001, Erbakan founded the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) to provide a haven for trenchant Islamists willing to compete within the political system, but unwilling to compromise their public platform. Erdogan founded the AKP on August 14, 2001, to provide a base for more flexible alumni of the Refah and Fazilet.

It proved an astute move. While many Turks did not share the religious agenda of Refah or Fazilet, they still sought alternatives untainted by the corruption scandals plaguing mainstream parties. Erdogan's toned-down rhetoric was attractive. The AKP dominated the November 3, 2002, parliamentary elections. Against a backdrop of economic malaise, the electorate punished the five incumbent parties, none of which surpassed the 10 percent threshold necessary to take seats in parliament. The AKP won 34.3 percent of the vote, and the Center-Left Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, also known as CHP), Turkey's oldest political party which had not been represented in the previous parliament, won 19.4 percent. Because no other party surpassed the 10 percent threshold necessary to enter parliament, the AKP took two-thirds of the seats, enough to overcome presidential vetoes, and the largest block in parliament since the inauguration of multiparty democracy in Turkey. [4]

Erdogan could not initially share in his party's success. Because his 1998 conviction made him ineligible for a seat, his close aide Abdullah Gül assumed the Premiership. The AKP used its supermajority both to amend the Law on the Election of Deputies and to overturn a subsequent presidential veto in order to enable Erdogan to run in a March 9, 2003, by-election in the southeastern town of Siirt -- ironically the site of the 1997 rally which led to his imprisonment. He won a landslide victory and, five days later, became Prime Minister.

The AKP had a lengthy honeymoon. While, in the five years prior to the AKP's inauguration, Turkey's currency depreciated from 200,000 to 1.7 million Turkish lira to the dollar, under Erdogan's administration, the currency stabilized and even appreciated a bit. Stabilization enabled the government to reissue its currency, dropping six zeros and boosting the economic psyche of a country long beset by runaway inflation. Whereas the AKP might claim 25 percent of Turkey's population as ideological constituents, it won 42 percent of the vote in the March 28, 2004, municipal elections. [5] Four of Turkey's five largest cities -- Istanbul, Ankara, Konya, and Bursa -- now have AKP Mayors.

AKP financial stewardship may be less than meets the eye. Rather than base reform on sound, longterm policies, the Erdogan administration has turned more toward shortterm sleight of hand. Turkish businessmen are worried. [6] Two problems underlie the AKP's management of the economy: debt and an opaque influx of Islamist capital.

Islamist investment has grown concurrent with the AKP's rise. On November 7, 2005, Kürsad Tüzmen, the State Minister for Foreign Trade, announced that Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan, ruler of the United Arab Emirates, would invest $100 billion in Turkish companies. [7] On October 9, 2006, Muhammad al-Hussaini, the Saudi Ambassador to Ankara, said that trade between Saudi Arabia and Turkey would double, and might even triple, over the coming year. [8]

Investment is healthy and should be welcome. The problem, which Turkish commentators refer to as Yesil Sermaye ("Green Money"), is the opacity of Islamic investment. While Turkish politicians, journalists, and even banking officials acknowledge the influx of capital, it remains largely in the informal economy, subsidizing party coffers, slush funds, and perhaps political allies. The opacity -- and the fact that the money appears linked to AKP stewardship -- also raises questions about conditionality: is investment in Turkey contingent upon AKP efforts to draw the country away from its Western orientation and more into the Islamic sphere?

Not all money enters the economy legally. According to Ilhan Kesici, a former under secretary at the State Planning Organization, much enters "in suitcases" and remains outside regulation. [9] Under the AKP administration, the unofficial economy has grown exponentially. In Erdogan's first year of stewardship, the net error in balance of payments rose from $118 million to $4.9 billion. As the AKP approaches elections, the influx of unexplained cash has again approached record levels, [10] raising the possibility that the AKP is using outside capital both to buy popularity and to stave off recession prior to elections. Green Money which now circulates in Turkey surpasses $13 billion, [11] more than the annual gross domestic product of Estonia, Bosnia, Bahrain, Jordan, and Azerbaijan. [12]

AKP officials dismiss speculation about their involvement with Green Money. They counter that persistent net error in balance of payments during their administration derives from private remittances from Germany, where two-thirds of expatriate Turkish workers reside. This explanation is inadequate. Remittances from Turkish workers peaked at $5 billion in 1998, but declined to less than $1 billion in 2004, after a prominent holding company's collapse and subsequent judicial lien. [13]

Central Bank statistics may be only the tip of the iceberg, as it is possible that the AKP has influenced data collection. Take compilation of tourism revenue, for example. Ankara bases its statistics upon visitor exit interviews. Kesici believes that selective sampling might enable a $2 billion overestimation of tourism revenue, mitigating what would otherwise be an even greater spike in net error. [14]

Senior officials are well-placed to shield the influx of Green Money. Between 1983 and 1991, Gül worked as a specialist at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is intolerant toward oversight. Prior to the AKP's election, he criticized state scrutiny of Islamist enterprises. [15] Other AKP advisors are involved with Islamist capital. Korkut Özal, for example, is the leading Turkish shareholder in al-Baraka Türk, perhaps Turkey's leading Islamic bank, as well as Faisal Finans, a bank with roots in Saudi Arabia. Erkan Mumcu, a former AKP tourism minister who, on February 15, 2005, defected to lead the Center-Right Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi), accused the AKP in June, 2006, of illicit interference in Central Bank operation. [16]

Erdogan has placed Islamist bankers in key economic positions. He appointed Kemal Unakitan, a former board member at both al-Baraka and Eski Finans, as Finance Minister, and placed at least seven other al-Baraka officials in key positions within Turkey's Savings Deposit Insurance Fund, a body which has used its authorities to harass secular bankers and businessmen. Ahmet Ertürk, one such appointee, was an imam at an illegal anti-Leftist commando camp in Malatya. [17] In March 2006, Erdogan brought financial policy to a standstill when he tried to appoint an Islamist to govern the Central Bank in the face of a presidential veto. [18]

Excessive borrowing has accompanied the Green Money influx. Turkey's current account deficit, for example, increased to a record $13.7 billion in the first half of 2005, a jump of 38.3 percent over the first half of 2004. While Ali Çoskun, the AKP's Minister of Industry and Trade, dismisses domestic concern over the deficit, [19] financial industry analysts are less sanguine. [20] In 2006, Turkey's current account deficit jumped more than 50 percent to a record $34.8 billion for the year. [21] CHP leader Deniz Baykal calculated that the state debt accrued by the AKP in its first three years in power surpassed Turkey's total accumulated debt between 1970 and 2000, and, when private debt is included, could cost Turkey a total of $200 billion. [22] If it were not for the Green Money influx, Turkey might soon face another devaluation of the scale of the 2001 currency crisis that led to the ouster of every incumbent party from office.

While Erdogan has said his views have evolved from his days in Refah, [23] his tactics have changed more than his agenda. He has used the AKP supermajority to erode the institutions and mechanisms at the heart of Turkish secularism.

His actions often contradict his rhetoric. He has endorsed, for example, the dream of Turkey's secular elite to enter the European Union, [24] but only so far as to enact reforms demanded by Brussels to dilute the role of the military, which traditionally serves as guardian of the Turkish Constitution.

Erdogan is less tolerant of European influence when it counters attempts to forward an Islamist social agenda. After the European Court of Human Rights upheld a decision backing the ban on headscarves in public schools, he complained, "It is wrong that those who have no connection to this field [of religion] make such a decision . . . without consulting Islamic scholars." [25] In May, 2006, his chief negotiator for European Union accession talks ordered state officials to remove a position paper reference defining Turkey's educational system as secular. [26]

Education is a hot-button issue. Traditionally, Turkish students had three choices for their secondary education: they could enroll at socalled Imam Hatip religious schools and enter the clergy; they could enter vocational schools to study a trade; or they could matriculate at secular high schools, enter university, and then move into either the public or private sectors. Erdogan changed the system: by equating Imam Hatip degrees with high school degrees, he enabled Islamist students to enter university and qualify for government jobs, despite never having mastered Western fundamentals. [27]

Whereas Turkey once regulated supplemental Koranic schools -- where students can augment their study of Islam beyond what is taught in public schools -- to avoid indoctrination of young children by Saudi-funded scholars, the AKP-dominated Parliament has not only loosened limits on age and permissible hours of attendance, but also eviscerated the penalties. [28] One Turkish newspaper even ran an exposé showing illegal Koran schools advertising openly in local newspapers. [29] The number of Koran schools in Turkey now exceeds 60,000, ten times the number in 1995. [30]

Erdogan has undermined the system in other ways. After the Higher Education Board, composed of university rectors, rejected attempts to make Turkish universities more welcoming of political Islam, Turkish police twice arrested Erdogan's chief opponent, the rector of Yüzüncü Yil University in the eastern city of Van, on spurious grounds. The courts dismissed him in both cases. Then, over the objections of Turkey's President, the AKP-dominated Parliament proposed a bill to found fifteen new universities, a move which would allow Erdogan to handpick new rectors. [31]

An equally great a threat to Turkish secularism has been Erdogan's interference in the judiciary. Just as U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once tried to stack the U.S. Supreme Court by augmenting his power of appointment, so too has the Turkish Prime Minister. At Erdogan's insistence and over the objections of many Turkish liberals [constitutionalists], the AKP passed legislation to lower the mandatory retirement age of technocrats, enabling the Prime Minister, in theory, to replace nearly 4,000 out of 9,000 judges. [32]

The AKP's willingness to run roughshod over the judiciary is real. In May, 2005, Parliamentary Speaker Bülent Arinç warned that the AKP might abolish the Constitutional Court if its judges continued to hamper his legislation. [33] More than a year later, Nuri Ok, the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor, chided the AKP for its attempts to interfere in the judiciary. [34] Erdogan's refusal to implement Supreme Court decisions levied against the government underlines his contempt for rule of law. [35]

In the past year, the AKP has moved more boldly to impose an anti-Western agenda. AKP-run municipalities have begun to ban alcohol in conformity with Islamic precepts. [36] The Ministry of Health surveyed employees about their religious beliefs, [37] and Turkish Airlines recently surveyed employees about their attitudes toward the Koran. [38]

Corruption has eroded the AKP's support since its March, 2004, peak. In the U.S. government, even mid-level employees must declare their assets. Leading politicians often make their tax returns accessible to journalists. In Turkey, Prime Ministers do the same; but Erdogan initially refused, saying his wealth was his own and not a matter of public concern. [39]

When Erdogan eventually relented, his declaration showed he was a multimillionaire. This raised further and, as yet, unresolved questions. Court documents show him to have only $330,000 in assets prior to assuming the Premiership. He has not explained the source of his wealth. His accounting was also problematic. His declaration neither itemized his assets nor did it include gifts or property registered under others' names. [40] There remain questions, for example, about the arrangements under which Erdogan occupies a house in Ankara and a multimillion dollar villa in Istanbul. The latter appears to be provided by Erdogan's brother, whose own wealth has grown in proportion to Erdogan's career. The two have a curious financial relationship. Prior to assuming the Premiership, Erdogan transferred shares of companies in which he had interest to his brother's stewardship. Such stocks did not appear among Erdogan's assets, although he appears to benefit from them. Erdogan failed to vacate all interests upon taking office. He remained a major shareholder in three major companies, all of which did business with or distribution for the confectionary giant Ülker, a company which enjoyed close ties to the Refah government and also purchased Faisal Finans. Ülker has thrived under Erdogan. Only a sustained press outcry forced Erdogan to announce divestment of shares.

More recently, Erdogan has allowed business associates to pay his son's Harvard University tuition. While on a state visit to Moscow, his wife accepted a necklace worth over $10,000 as a personal gift, and only returned it after a press uproar. In each of these cases, Erdogan's willingness to conflate business and favor with politics raises questions about conflicts of interest. Still, Erdogan will enjoy immunity until he leaves office, but when he does, he may have a busy court schedule: he faces more than a dozen court actions for financial impropriety, corruption, and illicit AKP fundraising during and subsequent to his tenure as Mayor. [41]

The AKP's corruption problem goes beyond Erdogan. Allegations also surround Finance Minister Unakitan, who first used parliamentary immunity to escape tax evasion charges and then legislated amnesty for such "financial crimes." [42] His subsequent sleight-of-hand, though, sparked calls for impeachment. On February 15, 2006, the Turkish Parliament debated a censure motion for Unakitan's alleged violation of banking laws and alleged manipulation of a tender for a cruise-ship facility in Istanbul. He also faced court action for erecting a luxury villa in a posh Istanbul neighborhood without permits. To protect Unakitan from censure, Erdogan instructed the AKP to maintain solidarity. The AKP did, and Unakitan survived three censure motions. Such action transformed the AKP's image from a party fighting corruption into one condoning it.

Fissures developed within the party. Turhan Çömez, an AKP deputy from Balikesir, a town in western Turkey's Marmara region, sent a five-page letter to Unakitan calling on him to resign. His letter elaborated on internal AKP unease about further impropriety and abuse of office. [43] In one instance, the Finance Ministry reduced taxes on imported corn for a short period of time, during which his son's food-processing company imported 4,400 tons of corn. Unakitan's son then unveiled a line of pasteurized egg products just after the Turkish government culled farmers' chickens in the wake of the avian flu scare. When questioned about the coincidence, the Finance Minister quipped: "What do you want? Shall they starve?" [44]

While AKP corruption might normally be more a matter for the Turkish electorate than a U.S. concern, AKP impropriety has impacted U.S. national security. Cuneyd Zapsu, Erdogan's chief advisor, has donated money to Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman identified by both the U.S. Treasury Department and the United Nations as an al-Qa'ida financier. [45] While Zapsu initially denied the charges -- and even threatened to sue those repeating them [46] -- Council of Financial Crime Investigations files leaked to the press confirmed that Zapsu had donated $60,000 to a foundation run by al-Qadi in 1997. Two years later, his mother transferred another $250,000. [47]

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the government of Erdogan's predecessor froze al-Qadi's assets. But, with his business partner serving as advisor to the Prime Minister, al-Qadi appealed on technical grounds. Erdogan endorsed the appeal, vouching for al-Qadi and even calling him a philanthropist in a Turkish television interview. [48] The Prime Minister acknowledged knowing al-Qadi personally, which raises an important question: how Did Zapsu introduce his business partner to the Prime Minister, and, if he really did so, why? Only subsequent court intervention forced Erdogan to keep al-Qadi's assets frozen. [49] The questionable company chosen by Zapsu has become the rule rather than the exception: on March 27, 2006, Erdogan traveled to Khartoum for a two-day Arab League Summit. While there, he skipped an official dinner to meet instead with Fatih al-Hassanein, a Sudanese financier with ties to al-Qa'ida and arms smuggling. [50] Erdogan has yet to explain the purpose of this meeting.

Corruption and attacks on secularism have taken a toll on the AKP's popularity. In the first six months of 2006, support for the AKP declined from 43 percent to 30 percent. [51] A September, 2006, Sonar poll showed the AKP winning only 25.5 percent of the vote. This may represent a plurality, but it suggests the party has lost the Centrist support which propelled it to victory in 2002. Where did these Centrists go? The same poll suggests the CHP has 20.05 percent support, and, devastating for the AKP's ability to retain power, it indicated two other parties will surpass the 10 percent threshold: the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi, also kown as DYP) with 13.1 percent, and the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi) with 12.2 percent. Accordingly, even if the AKP were to come in first, it could expect to lose at least half its parliamentary bloc. Mehmet Agar, DYP Chairman, sees AKP core support to be vulnerable. He now courts religious Conservatives.

Erdogan is an astute politician. He wants to be President, [52] but recognizes that he does not have the popular support for a direct election, [53] nor would a new parliament select him. His drive for the Presidency may be motivated by more than ambition. While the AKP remains loyal to Erdogan, current discord within his party is high. Gül waits in the wings, playing the part of Gordon Brown to Tony Blair. The maneuvering between the two is severe and extends down among their respective proxies within the party. Whether Erdogan can count on another five years of party support is questionable.

Erdogan's motivations may be more personal than partisan. Should he leave government, he will face months in court and potentially a lengthy prison sentence. His allies and associates will have their finances scrutinized. Any subsequent government may requisition documents and open a Pandora's box of investigations.

This creates a crisis in which Erdogan refuses to step aside, regardless of the risks of instability, leading to speculation about coups. Given Erdogan's religious agenda, many Turks are loathe to see him ascend to the Presidency. It is not just a struggle over the headscarf or other such symbolism. The Turkish President has power. He cannot only determine which party leaders form the new government -- enabling a perspective President Erdogan to augment the AKP in any coalition -- but he also has powers of appointment. He chooses Under Secretaries and General Directors throughout the bureaucracy and can approve other nominees forwarded by the Parliament. As President, Erdogan could cover his tracks. He could approve a new head for the Turkish Court of Accounts (Sayistay), the body which audits the government.

The President also selects the Higher Education Board, appoints one-fourth of the justices on the Constitutional Court, nominates the Chief Public Prosecutor, and officially confirms the Commanding General of the Supreme Military Council (Yüksek Askeri Sura).

Underlying the President's power is the fact that Sezer, as President, vetoed more than 3,000 AKP appointments. [54] Had he not, Erdogan might already have transformed Turkey. Reviewing the schedule of vacancies, a retired Turkish diplomat said that a president, supported by a large parliamentary bloc, could use his power of appointment, in theory, to alter fundamentally the system in just nineteen months. [55]

In addition, the President can veto legislation once, and should Parliament return it to him, he can direct the dispute to the Constitutional Court for resolution -- an action Sezer took more than a hundred times. Such checks and balances frustrate the AKP. Tension erupted into violence on May 17, 2006, when an Islamist lawyer upset with court rulings striking down AKP legislation on the Islamic veil opened fire on the Supreme Court, killing one justice. Erdogan did not attend his funeral.

Since the inauguration of the multiparty system, the Turkish military has staged coups in 1960 and 1980, and pressured governments to resign in 1971 and 1997. Speculation about military intervention now, however, is unwarranted.

It will not take military action to prevent an Erdogan Presidency. The military is not alone in recognizing the threat to Turkish secularism. Multiple institutions have put the Prime Minister on notice that he risks pushing the system too far. On August 23, 2005, for example, the National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, also known as MGK) warned the AKP that its actions risked becoming extraconstitutional. [56] While the MGK was traditionally a military body, it now has both a civilian leader and a civilian majority.

Sezer has at least twice warned Erdogan to stay within the bounds of the law. [57] The military underlined the warning. On October 2, 2006, General Yasar Büyükanit, Chief of Turkey's Armed Forces, warned military cadets of growing Islamic fundamentalism and said "every measure will be taken against it." [58] He repeated his warning at a ceremony commemorating the sixty-eighth anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Turkish Republic. [59]

What happens if Erdogan does not heed the warnings? There will not be tanks in the streets, but rather political and judicial actions. The suspended corruption charges faced by Erdogan should prevent his rise to the Presidency. His corruption files exacerbate the conflict within the AKP and raise legitimate questions about his fitness for the Presidency. There is precedent: former Anavatan leader Mesut Yilmaz aspired to the Presidency in 2000. While his record at the time was clear, the simple allegation of improper intervention in a supporter's financial crisis pushed his candidacy aside.

The CHP has suggested Erdogan put forward a compromise candidate for the Presidency. Should the Prime Minister refuse to acquiesce, as appears likely, CHP leader Baykal could sidetrack the Erdogan candidacy by precipitating a mass resignation of his party's 153 CHP deputies from Parliament. Because the Parliament must ratify any resignation, this could precipitate a constitutional crisis, should either the AKP refuse to accept or try to maintain a quorum for daily business. Because of these circumstances, civil pressure -- and the very real threat of street violence -- might force Erdogan to accede to early elections.

Baykal may hesitate to pursue such a course for fear that many CHP deputies would refuse to follow. The perks of office are tempting. In reality, though, decisive leadership would enhance CHP popularity and could even position Baykal as a presidential candidate for any future parliament.

Should Erdogan's stubbornness exacerbate the crisis, there are two possible scenarios: First, as AKP popularity hemorrhages, Gül, Tüzmen, or another prominent AKP figure, might form a splinter party, just as Erdogan himself once did. They could immediately lay claim to a bloc of at least a hundred deputies and perhaps launch themselves into the Premiership. Second, the continuing political impasse might spark judicial action which could send the party the way of both Refah and Fazilet.

There is no question that the AKP has violated Turkish election laws. In June, 2005, Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Nuri Ok identified eight AKP bylaws which contravened Turkish law. He criticized the near-dictatorial power enjoyed by Erdogan within the framework of his political party. [60]

In addition, the AKP is in violation of the Political Parties Law, which prohibits parties from seeking to unravel Atatürk's fundamental reforms, attempting to change Turkey's secular identity, or exploiting religion in public. [61] Here, speeches by both Erdogan and Arinç could provide sufficient grounds for dissolution of the AKP party, [62] an event which would precipitate early elections.

Across the political spectrum, Turks recognize the looming crisis. Should the lame-duck parliament confirm Erdogan as President, there could be street demonstrations and violent protests. Across Turkey, officials remain concerned about the AKP's assault on secularism.

What do such scenarios mean for Washington? Turkish democracy might seem convoluted, but it works. Turkey is a secular state and it will counter the Erdogan agenda in its own way. U.S. officials should be patient and do nothing to imply endorsement for the AKP, its Prime Minister, or his ambitions. While every diplomat likes stability, U.S. interests should remain rooted in Turkey's strong democracy and secular system, rather than in any single political leader. Washington should do nothing to undercut Turkish secularism or downplay the dangers which it faces.

Here, though, the U.S. State Department is on the wrong course. After Sezer and Büyükanit issued their warnings to Erdogan, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, interjected himself into the debate to defend the Prime Minister and dismiss concerns about eroding secularism. [63] To be fair, Wilson only mirrors the attitude of his superiors. On December 14, 2005, as Erdogan moved to eviscerate the judicial and educational systems, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried, described the AKP as "a kind of Muslim version of a Christian Democratic Party." [64] It is not. As Erdogan once quipped,

    "Democracy is like a streetcar. You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off." [65]

As the presidential election nears, Erdogan is approaching his destination. A resilient democracy works against the prospect of a constitutional crisis. Washington should let that democracy take its course, even if it means shortterm instability.

1. Zeyno Baran, "The Coming Coup d'Etat?" Newsweek, International Edition, December 4, 2006, available at

2. Cited in "Does Prime Minister Erdogan Accept Turkish Secularism?" Middle East Quarterly 14, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 89-90.

3. European Court of Human Rights, Refah Partisi (Parti de la prospérité) et autres c. Turquie, no. 41340/98, 41342/98, 41343/98, and 41344/98 (sect. 3), July 31, 2001.

4. See Ali Çarkoglu, "Turkey's November 2002 Elections: A New Beginning?" Middle East Review of International Affairs 6, no. 4 (December 2002), available at Carkoglu.

5. Election Result Announcement, NTV Television (Istanbul), March 29, 2004.

6. "TUSAID Defends Itself against PM's Criticism," NTV/MSNBC, December 23, 2005, available at; and "Leading Businessman Warns against Current Account Deficit," NTV/MSNBC, April 10, 2006, available at

7. "UAE Prince Nahyan Plans to Invest in Turkish Firms," Turkish Daily News, November 8, 2005.

8. "Trade between Saudi Arabia and Turkey Will Double, Says Ambassador," Turkish Daily News, October 10, 2006. See also "Arap sermayesi Türkiye yolunda" [Arab Capital on the Way to Turkey], Milliyet, July 14, 2005, available at

9. Ilhan Kesici (former under secretary at the State Planning Organization), in discussion with the author, Istanbul, July 21, 2004. See also Yusuf Kanli, "And Green Capital Is under Scrutiny," Turkish Daily News, March 31, 2005.

10. Türkiye Cumhuriyet Merkez Bankasi [Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey], "Balance of Payments--Monthly Analytic Presentation (January 2005-November 2006)," table 1, available at

11. Türkiye Cumhuriyet Merkez Bankasi, "Balance of Payments--Yearly Analytic Presentation (1975-2005)," table 3, available at

12. International Monetary Fund, "World Economic Outlook Database," World Economic Outlook Database, September 2006 (Washington, DC: 2006), available through

13. Scott McDonald, Yontem Sonmez, and Jonathan Perraton, "Labour Migration and Remittances: Some Implications of Turkish ‘Guest Workers' in Germany" (paper prepared for the Ninth Global Economic Analysis Conference, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 2006), 10, available at; World Bank, "Turkey Data Profile," World Development Indicators Database (Washington, DC: April 2006), available at; and "Capital Market Watchdog Warns Investors against Kombassan," Turkish Daily News, October 27, 2000.

14. Ilhan Kesici, in discussion with the author.

15. "Report: Turkey's Leaders to Tighten Squeeze on Islamic Businesses," Associated Press, March 31, 2001.

16. "Mumcu: Leave Central Bank Alone," Turkish Daily News, June 15, 2006.

17. Ahmet Erhan Çelik, "TMSF Baskani Ahmet Ertürk komando kampinda imamdi" [Savings Deposit Insurance Fund Chairman Ahmet Ertürk Was Serving as "Imam" in a Commando Camp], Milliyet, August 1, 2005, available at

18. Mehmet Ali Birand, "Was It Worth All This Trouble?" Turkish Daily News, April 20, 2006.

19. "Çoskun: There Is No Danger in Financing of Current Account Deficit," Turkish Daily News, August 25, 2005.

20. Selcuk Gokoluk, "Turkish C/A Deficit Merits Concern, Says Analysts," Turkish Daily News, November 18, 2005

21. "Turkey's Current Account Deficit Rises," NTV/MSNBC, January 12, 2007, available at

22. "Baykal Accuses Gov't of Bankrupting Turkey," Turkish Daily News, May 10, 2006.

23. Hande Culpan, "Are the New Winners in Turkey Really Islamists?" Agence France Presse, November 6, 2002.

24. David L. Phillips, "Turkey's Dreams of Accession," Foreign Affairs 83, no. 5 (September/October 2004), available at david-l-phillips/turkey-s-dreams-of-accession.html.

25. "PM's Headscarf Criticism Draws Anger," Turkish Daily News, November 15, 2005.

26. "Reference to Secularism Taken out from Document for EU," Turkish Daily News, June 1, 2006.

27. "University Doors Opened to Imam-Hatip Graduates," Turkish Daily News, December 15, 2006.

28. "CHP Asks the Gov't about Koran Courses," Turkish Daily News, October 24, 2005.

29. "Baykal: ‘Laik düzene saldiri'" [Baykal: "Attack to the Secular System"], Sabah, May 27, 2005; and "Laiklikten uzaklasildi" [Go Away from Laicism], Milliyet, June 3, 2005.

30. "4,950 Full-Time Koran Courses in Turkey," Turkish Daily News, November 1, 2006. There were 58,500 part-time Koran schools as of October 2006. See also General Directorate of Religious Affairs, "Annual Statistics," news release, 1995.

31. "Vetoed University Law Passed Again," Turkish Daily News, March 2, 2006.

32. "Elected Members of the Supreme Council of Judges: The Executive Power Is Willing to Influence the Judicial Power," Milliyet, June 6, 2005.

33. U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "Turkey," International Religious Freedom Report 2005 (Washington, DC: November 8, 2005), available at

34. "Top Prosecutor Calls for a Change of Mentality in Politics," Turkish Daily News, July 10, 2006.

35. For example, see Tenth Division of the Council of State, June 21, 2004, file no. 2004/7935, decision no. 2004/5575K.

36. "Üsküdar Insists on ‘Alcohol Zones,'" Turkish Daily News, December 16, 2005.

37. "Sect Separation," Cumhuriyet, October 9, 2005.

38. "Tartisilan testte kizdiran sorular" [Debated Exam's Infuriating Questions], Sabah, October 6, 2006, available at

39. "Erdogan Fails to Declare His Assets," Turkish Daily News, February 1, 2006.

40. "Erdogan Declares Assets," Turkish Daily News, February 8, 2006.

41. "Erdogan'a ikinci sok" [Second Shock to Erdogan], Sabah, July 9, 1998; "DSP tezgaha el koydu" [DSP Stops the Deal], Sabah, November 20, 2000; "Basbakani mahkemeye gönderen basarili polis sefini görevinden attilar!" [Police Chief Who Sent the Prime Minister to Court Is Fired], Sabah, September 23, 2003; "Erdogan-Baykal atismasi" [Erdogan-Baykal Quarrel], Sabah, December 6, 2003; "Basbakan olmadan bagis kabul ediyor!" [He Accepts Donations before Becoming Prime Minister], Sabah, August 27, 2002; and Robert Ellis, "Turkish Swings and Roundabouts," Turkish Daily News, July 19, 2006.

42. Yusuf Kanli, "A Courageous Voice in AKP," Turkish Daily News, February 28, 2006.

43. "Çömez Calls on Unakitan to Resign," Turkish Daily News, February 28, 2006.

44. "Grumbling within AKP Getting Louder," Turkish Daily News, March 1, 2006.

45. "Press Scanner: Tayyip and al-Qadi's Partner," Turkish Daily News, October 27, 2001; Çigdem Toker, "Maliye'den Ladin'in finansörüne vergide 4.6 trilyonluk kiyak" [4.6 Trillion Turkish Lira Favor to Ladin's Financier in the Ministry of Finance], Hürriyet, June 23, 2004; U.S. Department of the Treasury, "Bulletin from the Office of Foreign Assets Control," news release, October 12, 2001, available at; and U.N. Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1267 (1999), "Press Release, AFG/169, SC7222," news release, November 26, 2001.

46. Ates Yalazan, "Bush yanlisi yzara dava," [Lawsuit against the Pro-Bush Writer], Hürriyet, February 27, 2005.

47. Nedim Sener, "Zapsu için sok rapor" [Shocking Report for Cuneyd Zapsu], Milliyet, June 23, 2006.

48. "Erdogan: Davutoglu, Sam'da Hamas lideri Melas'le görüstü" [Erdogan: Davutoglu Met with Hamas Leader Mishaal in Syria], Vatan, July 12, 2006.

49. "Al-Qadi Assets Remain Frozen for Now," Turkish Daily News, October 13, 2006.

50. Utku Çakirözer, "Islami hareketlerin hamisiyle görüstü" [He Met with the Protector of the Islamic Movements], Milliyet, March 31, 2006; and Yusuf Kanli, "Eligibility or Ideology," Turkish Daily News, April 2, 2006.

51. "Poll: AKP Loses Support but Still Most Popular," Turkish Daily News, June 9, 2006.

52. "Erdogan: Next President Will Be from Current Parliament," Turkish Daily News, November 9, 2006; and "Erdogan Hints at Intention to Run for Çankaya at Congress," Turkish Daily News, November 13, 2006.

53. "Son anket ‘çikma' dedi" [Last Poll Says "Don't Go" (to Çankaya)], Aksam, January 10, 2007.

54. Yusuf Kanli, "Çankaya War," Turkish Daily News, December 15, 2006.

55. Interview with a retired Turkish diplomat, Istanbul, November 30, 2006.

56. "Opposition Says MGK Warned the Government," Turkish Daily News, August 25, 2005.

57. "Sezer, Government Caught Up in Secularism Dispute," Turkish Daily News, April 14, 2006.

58. "Military Joins in Criticism of Government Policies," Turkish Daily News, October 3, 2006.

59. "Secular System under Threat, Büyükanit Warns," Turkish Daily News, November 10, 2006.

60. "Top Prosecutor Asks for Censure of Ruling Party," Turkish Daily News, December 1, 2005.

61. Political Parties Law, Law 2820, April 22, 1983, §3:84-87.

62. "Erdogan: Religion Is the Cement That Unites Us," Turkish Daily News, December 12, 2005.

63. "Tan Politely Warns Wilson Not to Comment on Domestic Issues," Turkish Daily News, October 7, 2006.

64. Daniel Fried, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, "Putting Transatlantic Power to Work for Freedom" (presentation, AEI, Washington, DC, December 14, 2005), available at

65. Quoted in "Moment of Truth for the EU and Turkey," Turkish Daily News, November 10, 2006.

Turkey, the Middle East, & the U.S.A.

American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East

Middle East:  Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors

Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three    Page Two    Page One

International Politics & World Disorder:
War & Peace in the Real World

   Page Two    Page One

Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.

Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization

Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies

U.S. National Security Strategy

Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.

AEI Research Assistant Jeffrey Azarva and Editorial Assistant Nicole Passan worked with Dr. Rubin to edit and produce the February 2, 2007, issue of the AEI Middle East Outlook.

The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the AEI Middle East Outlook, February 2, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.

Republished with Permission of the Middle East Forum
Reprinted from the Middle East Forum News (MEF NEWS)
February 4, 2007

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Subject Matter Highlights




Africa: Black Africa * Africa: North Africa * American Government 1
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * France
Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control

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