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Common Cents

Neo Ottomans

Ralph Murphy

(12/2015) The West Asian nation of Turkey which also attaches geographically to Europe has just witnessed its second Parliamentary election since June of this year. This "snap poll" was needed because no single, political party was able to establish a majority. All 550 seats of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey were at stake and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved from 258 seats to 316. They needed 276 seats for a ruling majority.

Incumbent Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Erdogan of the AKP will now have a clear mandate to promote their vision of Turkey's role for the future. Unfortunately, because of their platform and much of their actions, they are likely to slip back into the past decade dealing as Islamist and authoritarian.

Turkey is in a region of great turmoil- largely due to the Syrian civil war. They have taken in the most refugees- an estimated 1 million, and they are having problems housing and feeding them. Violence has erupted along its southern borders. A Kurdish region of varied ethnic, Muslim peoples, who are still Sunnis and mostly Turks that have been drained of resources and suffered much damage. This includes political bombings as well as cross border attacks of Peshmerga targets in Kurdistan Iraq.

The country has a long and fabled history dating back to 1299 AD as the Ottoman Empire. It was renamed Turkey in 1923 with post World War 1 allied impetus and aid. Prime Minister Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's political platform was radical for its day as he tried to dissuade Quran teachings or Caliphate interpretations to influence society at all levels. This included passing stringent laws banning customs such as face veils for women . However, his politics were left of center and his political legacy in the Republican People's Party (CHP) reflected that position often causing resentment among friends and domestic parties who otherwise often agreed with the push to modernize.

The CHP dominated political life in Turkey from the 1920's through to 1960. That year a bloody coup d'etat was staged which killed the Prime Minister and his staff, as he reportedly had sought closer links with Soviet Moscow. There were 4 coups between 1960 to 1997 and they were mostly about economic issues or religion. The Turkish military until very recently considered itself the key "defenders of the (secular) Constitution". That was before Erdogan, a moderate Islamist, attempted to maintain or enhance Islamic culture there. He even managed to reverse some of Ataturk's secular measures and almost impossibly - the militaryís role. The military has since been forced to "go along" with the Islamist agenda.

Turkey is probably the best example of the difficulty when implementing an Arab Spring in other Muslim nations as they seek plurality and secular inclusion. The Quran has interwoven political, economic, and religious institutions which are (or ideally should be) kept separate when introducing western ideas. The result has been a complex mixture of laws and social standards that are aggressive when applied and promote hostility and often violence that is supported by the regional Caliphates or political - religious leaders. The west doesn't have an equivalent. It is similar to having a radicalized church leader who is running both the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

Following the 1997 coup, then Istanbul Mayor Recep Erdogan became radicalized and was jailed for anti secular activities. He was later banned from politics altogether in 1998. A member of the Welfare Party - he joined forces with fellow Islamist Abdullah Gul to found the Virtue Party which split into hard and moderate religious factions. Gul and Erdogan projected the latter's interests, but remained at odds with the military who continued to want politics devoid of direct theocracy. The moderate faction became the AKP in 2001.

Gul gained power as Prime Minister in 2002 and served until 2003 when Erdogan's ban from politics was lifted and he assumed the Prime Ministerís post. He remained in office through the 2007 and 2011 polls as Gul moved to a largely ceremonial, Presidential position. A key issue in his rise to power was his desire for European Union (EU) membership. The EU viewed Turkey as a non-European power even though they were members of the NATO and OSCE security alliances. Nevertheless, Turkey "kept trying" for membership. The EU, however, wanted social reforms that were at odds with the Quran and Erdogan couldnít deliver.

Whether by chance or remarkable political savvy, Erdogan effectively redesigned the nation's National Security Council which then controlled the military and much of their intelligence to the apparent applause of the EU. Media purges, judicial and police reforms as well as curbed human rights "demeaned the rule of law", but were relatively minor issues compared to the effective neutralization of the military's secular goals in politics. Erdoganís Islamist agenda went forward after military operations "Sledgehammer" and "Ergenkon" to allegedly foment unrest then restore order were exposed in 2003. Erdogan and the AKP looked victimized and they consolidated power that they have retained until this past Autumn.

Gul was President until the 2014 election when Prime Minister Erdogan stepped down after a 12 year reign. He moved to the President's post last year and AKP's Davotoglu, an affable former Foreign Minister, assumed the Prime Ministerís post. Erdogan appears to have moved considerable power from the Prime Minister's office to his own. Especially Cabinet positions that were formerly ceremonial in nature. He now has a 5 year term but can only serve two. The Prime Minister has a 4 year term, but as the "snap election" on 1 November shows, the time length can be altered if the Parliament desires its review.

Self proclaimed Neo Ottoman Erdogan has a political mandate for the AKP party as it retains the Presidency, Prime Minister as well as Speaker posts, but he really doesn't have the military. This is a historic precedent that could prove costly if the military chooses to restore their role as a Constitutional and secular safeguard. The way forward to a stable Turkish social structure may well be the CHP secular platform with AKP private market advocacy, but it may take another coup and subsequent party reformation to accomplish it. The Muslim direction is also routinely pernicious and emotional in effect so that a key source of concern as well. Stability might happen through political reformulation, but it is not the standard in Turkey- despite wishful thinking that it could be.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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