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Islam and Politics ( 28 Jul 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islam: Secularists raise tension as Turkish court prepares landmark judgment on ruling AKP

Robert Tait in Ankara

The Guardian,

Monday July 28, 2008


A senior Turkish prosecutor has raised tensions on the eve of a landmark court case that could leave Turkey without a government and deeply divided by warning that it is in danger of an "intolerant" Islamic takeover.


In an interview with the Guardian, Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, chairman of the association of judges and prosecutors (Yarsav) and deputy to Turkey's chief prosecutor, said the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) was seeking a system of sharia law that would destroy the country's secular system and transform it into an Islamic state.


He claimed the government had exposed its true agenda in a series of measures, including attempts to establish halal standards in food production, signing bilateral agreements underwritten by "Islamic laws" with fellow Muslim countries, increasing religious education at state schools and trying to allow female students to wear headscarves at university.


The moves were aimed at reviving an Islamic consciousness dormant since the end of the Ottoman Empire, Eminagaoglu warned, leading to a religious society where secular lifestyles were discouraged and women denied equal status.


"The basis of the case against the AKP is intolerance," he said. "A sharia system is, by its nature, intolerant of other thoughts, beliefs and practices. Just like fascism in Italy or nazism in Germany, sharia is a sensitive issue in Turkey. With a small spark it can turn into a social movement. We had a sharia-based system during Ottoman times and our society still has traces of it. We don't want to go back to that."


The comments came as the constitutional court prepares to open hearings today that could result in the AKP's dissolution. The court's 11 judges will consider an application by the chief prosecutor, Aburrahman Yalcinkaya - Eminagaoglu's immediate boss at the supreme court of appeals - to close the party and ban 71 senior members, including the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the president Abdullah Gul, from party politics for anti-secularism.


A decision is expected this week. If the party is closed and its leaders banned, it could lead to early elections, with the AKP competing under a different banner and figures such as Erdogan running as independents.


Eminagaoglu's remarks appeared timed to counter fears among Turkey's secular establishment that the AKP is winning a PR battle at home and abroad to depict itself as innocent. The party, which has held power since 2002 and was re-elected last July with 47% of the vote, denies the accusations against it and claims it is the victim of a "judicial coup". It has won the backing of senior European officials, who have condemned the attempted closure as anti-democratic and warned that it could damage Turkey's EU membership bid.


However, Eminagaoglu insisted the case heeded EU regulations and said European critics understood neither Turkey nor Islam. "Islam is not like Christianity. It doesn't just aim to be practised in the realm of belief but also to regulate and rule the state," he said.


"If you look at Islamic countries, the headscarf isn't an expression of religious belief but the symbol of an Islamic regime. Turkey isn't an Islamic country, it's a democratic country. For Europe to be correctly informed, its officials should talk not just to the governing party, which is engaged in anti-secular activity, but to other institutions in Turkey."


The blunt remarks contrasted with the conciliatory tone struck by Erdogan, who called at the weekend for national unity. He told the pro-secularist newspaper, Hurriyet, that the impasse had been created by an "elitist group" who wanted to govern in their own interests.


However, senior AKP figures privately admit that the party needlessly alarmed opponents by reforming the law banning headscarves at universities and by pushing Gul's presidential candidacy last year, despite the military's opposition because of his Islamist past.


"There are ordinary men and women on the street who do not want to change their lifestyles and are opposed to our party," said Yasar Yakis, an AKP MP and former foreign minister. "We should have done something to dissipate the worries of those who believe we will bring in sharia law."