Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Needs Clarity

In spite of the Turkish Prime Minister's Islamist past (or present) and his lack of clarity, he has striven more than his predecessors to bring Turkey closer to Europe.

Yesterday in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, took 47% of votes and it gave it 341 seats in the 550-seats parliament of Ankara. Moreover, these results didn't meet the required quorum (two-thirds of the parliament's seats: 367 seats) that could have allowed the AKP to have its candidate Abdullah Gul elected by the parliament at the republic's presidency.

Despite his relatively comfortable victory, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's opponents still have doubts about him and by extension his capacity to integrate Turkey into the European Union (EU). These doubts are due to Erdoğan's past (or present) as being an Islamist. After all, here are some arguments that they could use to blast him:

  1. While he attempted to satisfy his party's conservative grassroots in 2004, Erdogan wanted to revive the criminalization of adultery (which was abolished in 1996). Obviously, because of protests, he made his bill die on the order paper.

  2. When he was mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan made a law that restricts the use of alcohol in restaurants.

  3. Despite most of its current members' ideological break-up with Turkey's Islamists in 2001, it's needless to say that the AKP was born out of the Milli Görüs.

  4. On November 2005, Erdoğan, despite respecting secularism, reacted badly when the European Court of Human Rights refused to condemn Turkey's secular regime for forbidding Leyla Şahin (a medicine student) to wear a Muslim headscarf.

In spite of the Turkish Prime Minister's Islamist past (or present) and his lack of clarity, he has striven more than his predecessors to bring Turkey closer to Europe. Of course, while the AKP wasn't in power in April 2002, Turkey did a great step forward by abolishing capital punishment during peace time on April 3, 2002.

Besides, last year, the French quarterly magazine Alternatives Internationales (issue of June 2006) published a very interesting article written by Rusen Cakir, a journalist of the Turkish newspaper Vatan, and translated by Clémence Scalbert.

In his piece, Cakir wrote that the AKP brought many reforms that were meant to please the EU (ex: open-mindedness to freedom of press, fight against torture, limitation of the Turkish army's power within political institutions, granting cultural rights to Kurds). However, despite saying that the application of these reforms is made slowly, Cakir wrote that the AKP's moves "constitute undeniable democratic advancements."

That being said, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did great things for Turkey, but his annoying pragmatism can fuel certain people's impatience. On another note, yesterday in the French newspaper Libération, a former Turkish diplomat averred that Erdoğan is "an [adept of the art of equilibrium] who knows how to simultaneously talk about democracy in Kurdish areas, religion in mosques, Kemalism in Ankara, Europe in Brussels and security in Washington."

As time goes by, Turkish and also Westerners need to know more about his stance on secularism. After all, you can't pretend that you represent the Turkish mainstream society if you want to confront Turkey's Kemalist heritage! Moreover, if Erdoğan is in a bind, he definitely has no plan B for both Turkey and his political party. Indeed, all the liberal-minded and centrist people who voted for the AKP might desert this party if Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does another religious blunder.

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