by Daniel Pipes
The arrest and indictment of top military figures in
On four occasions between 1960 and 1997, the military intervened to repair a political process gone awry. On the last of these occasions, it forced the Islamist government of Necmettin Erbakan out of power. Chastened by this experience, some of Erbakan's staff re-organized themselves as the more cautious Justice and Development Party (AKP). In
Parliamentary rules then transformed that plurality into a 66 percent supermajority of assembly seats and a rare case of single-party rule. Not only did the AKP skillfully take advantage of its opportunity to lay the foundations of an Islamic order but no other party or leader emerged to challenge it. As a result, the AKP increased its portion of the vote in the 2007 elections to a resounding 47 percent, with control over 62 percent of parliamentary seats.
Repeated AKP electoral successes encouraged it to drop its earlier caution and to hasten moving the country toward its dream of an Islamic Republic of Turkey. The party placed partisans in the presidency and the judiciary while seizing increased control of the educational, business, media, and other leading institutions. It even challenged the secularists' hold over what Turks call the "deep state" – the non-elected institutions of the intelligence agencies, security services, and the judiciary. Only the military, ultimate arbiter of the country's direction, remained beyond AKP control.
Several factors then prompted the AKP to confront the military: European Union accession demands for civilian control over the military; a 2008 court case that came close to shutting down the AKP; and the growing assertiveness of its Islamist ally, the Fethullah Gülen Movement. An erosion in AKP popularity (from 47 percent in 2007 to 29 percent now) added a sense of urgency to this confrontation, for it points to the end of one-party AKP rule in the next elections.
The AKP devised an elaborate conspiracy theory in 2007, dubbed Ergenekon, to arrest about two hundred AKP critics, including military officers, under accusation of plotting to overthrow the elected government. The military responded passively, so the AKP raised the stakes on Jan. 22 by concocting a second conspiracy theory, this one termed Balyoz ("Sledgehammer") and exclusively directed against the military.
The military denied any illegal activities and the chief of general staff, İlker Başbuğ, warned that "Our patience has a limit." Nonetheless, the government proceeded, starting on Feb. 22, to arrest 67 active and retired military officers, including former heads of the air force and navy. So far, 35 officers have been indicted.
Thus has the AKP thrown down the gauntlet, leaving the military leadership basically with two unattractive options: (1) continue selectively to acquiesce to the AKP and hope that fair elections by 2011 will terminate and reverse this process; or (2) stage a coup d'état, risking voter backlash and increased Islamist electoral strength.
At stake is whether the Ergenekon/Balyoz offensives will succeed in transforming the military from an Atatürkist to a Gülenist institution; or whether the AKP's blatant deceit and over-reaching will spur secularists to find their voice and their confidence. Ultimately the issue concerns whether Shari'a (Islamic law) rules
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