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Western Press Review: Turkey's Militant Islamists Vs. Its Secular Military

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey's Islamist leaning government either is struggling to stay in power or is smugly defying its secular generals, depending on which Western press commentary one finds credible.

NEW YORK TIMES: Erbakan's coalition looks increasingly shaky

Stephen Kinzer says that the government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan is struggling for its life. In a news analysis yesterday, Kinzer wrote that the government was seeking "to resist intense pressure from military commanders and secularist politicians but was unable to stem predictions that it would fall soon."

Kinzer said: "Mr. Erbakan's coalition has looked increasingly shaky in recent weeks. Leaders of other parties have met and agreed on a list of political and business figures who could serve as ministers in a new, non-Islamist government. Military commanders, who view themselves as guardians of the country's secular principles, have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of Mr. Erbaken's Islamist policies."

He wrote: "Turkish newspapers have been predicting Mr. Erbakan's fall. Even some commentators who have supported Mr. Erbakan until now are reconciled to the prospect. One of them, Ilnur Cevik, wrote a column that sounded like an obituary of his government."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Political Islam thrives where pro-Western governments are corrupt, arrogant, and indifferent

But Wolfgang Koydl writing in yesterday's edition examined the same facts and reached another conclusion -- that it is Turkey's secularist Army that finds itself in a quandary, partly because preceding governments have been so arrogant and corrupt.

He commented: "Necmettin Erbakan usually has the enigmatic smile of a shrewd, well-fed cat, but over the weekend Turkey's Islamist prime minister looked more than usually satisfied, even though the country's generals had given him marching orders and political circles were awash with rumors that his government soon would collapse. It seems a contradiction, but there is a simple explanation:. Two months after the military's first open, heavy-handed warning to him, his Welfare Party is still in power. Every day that Welfare stays on top in secular Turkey, Erbakan sees it as a victory for the Islamists. And every day the Islamists visibly resist the military is a double victory."

Koydl said: "In Turkey no one knows how to handle the phenomenon of political Islam because no one, anywhere, has ever shown an ability to handle it."

The commentator wrote: "In theory, the generals have several options by which they could force Erbakan and company from power. But when one adds the qualifier that the power-play must at least have the appearance of being democratic, their list of options is considerably reduced. A coup d'etat is out of the question; even in the military general staff it is understood that opponents of Turkey's entry into the European Union (EU) would like nothing more, as it would delay for many years any discussion of greater Turkish integration into Europe."

Koydl said: "Turkey's generals therefore find themselves in a dilemma shared by such diverse political figures as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the heads of EU member governments, the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia and, of course, Algeria's generals. And all have a common obsession: that Islamic political organizations are being directed by some central body determined to wreak havoc by infiltrating otherwise peaceful and essentially stable societies."

And concluded: "This assessment is not only short-sighted, it is utterly false. It ignores the fact that political Islam thrives only where pro-Western governments are corrupt, arrogant, and indifferent to the masses."

TURKEY'S MEDIA: A pre-death knell rings for the Erbaken government

In Turkey, newspapers quoted by Reuter news service were ringing this morning a kind of pre-death knell for the Erbaken government. The mass circulation daily "Milliyet" said that Democratic Left Party leader Bulent Ecevit was organizing talks with other opposition leaders on forming a government excluding the ruling Islamist Welfare Party. Milliyet's headline called it "A search without Welfare." The liberal daily Yeni Yuzyil said: "The search for an alternative to the (coalition) has accelerated. The DSP leader has begun talks."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The generals want to deprive the Islamists of power without compromising democracy

Today's edition carries a news analysis from Ankara by Amberin Zaman saying that Turkey's military is scouting for ways, short of an outright coup, to split and bring down the government coalition. Zaman writes: "Turkey's Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, has succumbed to pressure from his generals to uphold the country's secularist traditions in a final attempt to save his 10-month-old government."

Zaman says that the military-led National Security Council gave the government "up to six months to sack Muslim militants from the state institutions and ban radical Islamic propaganda in the media. (The generals) implied failure would result in Mr. Erbakan being forced to step down."

The analyst writes: "The generals face the problem of depriving the Islamists of power without compromising the country's fragile democracy with anything so drastic as a coup."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The military tried to provoke splits in the pro-Islamic Rafah Party

James M. Dorsey writes in today's edition that the government in Ankara is in crisis, even after Erbakan renewed a pledge to implement anti-fundamentalist measures. Dorsey says: "Mr. Erbakan's decision ended the latest round in a conflict between the government -- a coalition of Mr. Erbakan's pro-Islamic Rafah Party and the center-right True Path Party headed by Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller -- and the military, which has been trying to engineer the government's downfall."

He writes: "The military -- frustrated by Mr. Erbakan's persistent efforts to subject the military to greater democratic control as well as his insistence on Islamic symbolism -- has sought to provoke splits in Refah by forcing Mr. Erbakan to adopt measures that would create problems within his own party or by persuading a sufficient number of True Path dissidents to leave the coalition."