Courtesy Reuters

The Old Turks' Revolt

When Radical Secularism Endangers Democracy

Countries eyeing membership in the European Union do not usually come to the brink of a military coup. Yet that is precisely where Turkey found itself on April 27 of this year, after weeks of a pitched battle between the country's generals and the ruling Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP).

The AKP, a conservative populist movement with Islamic roots, had announced its decision to nominate Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, a well-respected, jovial politician and the architect of the AKP's ambitious drive to get Turkey into the EU, to the largely ceremonial but prestigious post of president. The media and the business community welcomed the choice as a conciliatory sign; they were relieved that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the more mercurial and polarizing prime minister, would not be running. But the staunchly secularist military and the Republican People's Party (known as the CHP), a center-left opposition party, were not happy. To them, the presidency was the last bastion of secularism, and Gül, who once flirted with political Islam and whose wife wears a headscarf, posed an existential threat to the republic.

The CHP, along with other parties, boycotted the first round of the parliamentary election, held on April 27, and the vote proved inconclusive. There was little doubt that the AKP would eventually prevail, however, since in a third round, if it came to that, a simple majority would do. But that day, the CHP also challenged the whole process before the constitutional court, asking that the election be annulled on the dubious grounds that the legislature had lacked the necessary two-thirds quorum to vote. That night, all eyes were therefore on the court. And just as television pundits were debating how long it would take to issue a decision, sudden news from the military struck the country like lightning.

The generals had just staged the country's first "e-coup," as a dumbfounded Turkish press called it, by posting on the Turkish military's official Web site a warning that "if necessary,

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