AKP and Their Plans About Turkey

Thanks to Wikileaks.

ID: 101373
Date: 2007-03-21 15:33:00
Origin: 07ANKARA648
Source: Embassy Ankara
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Dunno: 07ANKARA610 07ANKARA629
Destination: VZCZCXRO1479
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ANKARA 000648

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/04/2017
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ECON, TU
SUBJECT: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE AKP'S "SECRET ISLAMIC AGENDA"

REF: A. ANKARA 0629
B. ANKARA 0610

Classified By: Political Counselor Janice G. Weiner for reasons 1.4(b),
(d)

1. (C) Summary. Ever since its victory in the 2002 general
elections, rumours and suspicion have swirled around the
ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) "secret"
Islamist agenda. After more than four years in power, some
doubters are relieved to find an AKP that appears
conservative, Western- as well as Islam-oriented, reform
minded and democratic. Others remain convinced that AKP is
determined to impose Sharia law in Turkey and undermine the
country's secular system once it gains control of the triple
crown - the presidency, prime ministry and parliament - in
this year's double elections. The evidence either way is
circumstantial, but the issue is central to Turkey's future.
Turkey's traditional secularists (including the civil
service, judiciary and military), opposition parties and even
ultra and neo-nationalists are resorting to increasingly
desperate maneuvers, including rumour and innuendo, to
counter the perceived "threat" of an AKP-dominated
triumverate. Their concern is undoubtedly heightened by the
realization that AKP's reform agenda threatens the
established elite's traditional, top-down control. To keep
the public's trust and minimize tension as Turkish society
evolves, AKP leaders will need to continue to employ
broad-reaching, moderate, balanced rhetoric. End summary.

The Origins of Suspicion
------------------------
2. (SBU) Those looking to brand the AKP as Islamists
determined to undermine the Turkish Republic point first to
the AKP's religious origins and PM Erdogan's political roots.
AKP evolved from Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party (RP), an
Islamist party founded in 1993. Critics focus on Erdogan,
who in 1994 as Istanbul's mayor, called himself the "imam of
Istanbul" and praised God that he was a servant of Sharia.
Later, in 1998, Erdogan served four months of a 10-month
sentence for inciting religious hatred by reading a religious
poem at a rally. When the Constitutional Court outlawed the
RP in 1998, Erdogan and other RP members formed the
Islamic-oriented Virtue Party (FP). When FP was banned in
2001 for unconstitutional anti-secular activities, Erdogan
split off from Erbakan and formed AKP with more pragmatic
members willing to work within the existing political system.
Erbakan and more hardcore Islamists formed Saadet (Felicity)
Party. Erdogan moderated his rhetoric, making it easier for
voters to turn to AKP in the 2002 elections as an alternative
to traditional parties, mired in scandals, corruption and an
economic crisis. AKP surged to power with 34 percent of the
vote, one of the largest parliamentary majorities in Turkey's
history.

For the Defense
---------------
3. (C) Those who view AKP as reform-minded and democratic
are quick to cite AKP-backed reforms that strengthened
freedoms and democracy. AKP legislation that reduced the
military's influence in the National Secuity Council (MGK)
and eliminated military membership in the security courts and
the Board of Higher Education (YOK), among others, improved
the civil-military equilibrium that had been heavily skewed
toward military control. They cite as evidence of the
party's western-oriented, free market approach AKP's liberal
economic policies, which have stimulated the private sector,
increased foreign investment, reduced inflation and
stabilized the currency. AKP supporters argue that Turkey's
traditional power centers (the military, judiciary,
bureacracy) feel threatened by EU-linked human rights and
rule of law reforms that enhance individual freedoms. By
promoting EU membership, the AKP is slowly introducing more
balance into Turkey's strictly secular, statist society.
Supporters maintain that Erdogan's appointment of AKP
loyalists to influential positions previously held by
secularists has generated resentment against the AKP, further
fueled by the party's popularity. They frame attacks against
the party as desperate measures by entrenched secularists who
fear that further democratization will undermine their
traditional control and the economic benefits they derived
from state intervention in the economy.

4. (C) Opponents charge that AKP only pushed a reform agenda

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as far as necessary to convince the EU to begin accession
talks. Even then, AKP focused on those reforms needed to
dilute the military's power rather than those that might
interfere with the party's Islamic agenda. They note
Erdogan's support for greater freedom to express Islamic
practices (such as wearing the headscarf), and point to his
failure to allow Alevis, Kurds, Armenian and Greek Orthodox
communities similar freedoms. Suspicious that the accession
process is just a cover for the AKP's anti-secular Islamic
agenda, some in the military and opposition are reconsidering
the merits of EU membership. AKP officials admit reform
efforts have slowed, but explain that Turkey's bureaucracy
needs time to absorb and implement significant changes, such
as the complete overhaul of the Penal Code, Criminal
Procedure Code and Punishments Law passed between 2002 and
2004. They also note that parliament passed in November 2006
much of another major reform package, including legislation
relating to minority foundations and schools, military
audits, military courts and political party funding. In some
cases, parliament has had to re-approve the legislation to
overcome President Sezer's veto.

Circumstantial Evidence
-----------------------
5. (C) Conspiracy theorists and concerned secularists alike
build the case against AKP using persuasive but largely
circumstantial evidence. Many claim that Erdogan has used
AKP's parliamentary majority to weaken Turkey's secular
educational, financial and judicial institutions. They warn
that an AKP troika of president, PM and parliament speaker
would control the appointments process, transforming Turkey's
secular system into something approaching an Islamic
republic. They point to AKP-sponsored changes in the
strictly secular education system to allow graduates of
religious high schools (imam hatip) to compete for limited
university seats and qualify for government jobs.
Previously, imam hatip, like other vocational school
graduates, advanced to the clergy or other appropriate
professions. In addition, opponents charge that AKP has
undermined state regulation of private Koranic schools by
lifting age limits and extending hours of attendance. As a
result, the number of Koranic schools has increased
significantly, with correspondingly less government
oversight.

6. (C) Erdogan is also frequently accused of trying to
infiltrate the higher education system with Islamist-minded
professors and administrators. After some university rectors
resisted AKP efforts to introduce more Islam into the
curriculum, AKP opponents claimed the government began a
harrassment campaign. Police arrested one obstinate rector
in Van twice in 2006; both times he was reinstated by court
decision. Legislation creating 15 new universities gave the
government authority to appoint the new rectors, rather than
the usual procedure of approvals by YOK and the president.
The law, pushed through over President Sezer's veto, is
viewed as an end-run to allow Erdogan to select 15 new
rectors of his mindset. Parliament currently is considering
a proposal to establish another 17 new universities.

Green Money Seeping In
----------------------
7. (C) While many acknowledge AKP economic successes, some
doubters flag the alleged influx of "green" money from
Islamic sources as proof of the real direction AKP is taking
Turkey's economy. AKP opponents note that Islamist capital
is hard to track and question whether it is ultimately tied
to more Islamist policies. Increased investments from the
UAE and a promised doubling of trade with Saudi Arabia after
the Saudi King's unprecedented 2006 visit raised suspicions
among some western-oriented investors. The overall trend of
increased foreign investor inflows actually counters
insinuations of an Islamist take-over of Turkey's financial
sector, however. Investments from Islamic sources pale in
comparison to total foreign inflows and do not seem to be of
economic or political significance.

8. (C) Erdogan reputedly has manipulated the political
appointments process to place Islamist bankers in key
economic positions. Along with Finance Minister Kemal
Unakitan - a former board member of one of Turkey's leading
Islamic banks (al-Baraka) - Erdogan's appointment of seven
other al-Baraka officials to key positions in Turkey's
Savings Deposit Insurance Fund is cited as support for an

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Islamist take-over theory. In 2006, the PM virtually
paralyzed financial policy when he tried to appoint an
Islamist as head of the Central Bank against President
Sezer's firm opposition. (The compromise candidate has
demonstrated independent decision-making since his
appointment.) To round out the "damning" evidence, critics
cite FM Gul's background as a specialist at the Islamic
Development Bank in Jeddah from 1983 to 1991 and his reported
objections to state scrutiny of Islamic enterprises.

Packing the Court
------------------
9. (C) Erdogan is also accused of staging a take-over of the
judiciary. The AKP pushed through legislation to lower the
mandatory retirement age for technocrats, opening the way for
Erdogan to name almost 4,000 of 9,000 judges and prosecutors.
In a stand-off with the judiciary, AKP has threatened to
refuse to implement high court rulings against the government
for obstructing AKP-sponsored legislation. Similar struggles
between AKP and President Sezer have caused Sezer to veto
over 3,000 AKP appointments and send over 100 AKP-backed laws
to the Constitutional Court for review. But for Sezer,
Erdogan would already be implementing his "secret" agenda,
worried secularists claim. Economic reformers, including the
IMF, for their part, would be only too happy to see an
AKP-inspired change in the judiciary, which has consistently
blocked forward-looking economic reforms.

10. (C) Erdogan rebutted the secularists' charges in 2006 by
noting that the AKP hadn't been in power long enough to
reshape the judiciary. Rigid bureaucratic controls on
promotions and a 15-20 year career path for judges limit the
influence of any particular government on the judiciary's
orientation. But critics note that Justice Ministry
budgetary control over the Supreme Council of Judges and
Prosecutors, which oversees assignments within the judiciary,
gives the AKP indirect influence that can have a long-term
impact. The president appoints five of the seven council
members. The Justice Minister, however, heads the council
and controls its funding, which could discourage council
members from voting against the Minister's proposed
appointees. The most recent charge is that the Minister, by
not attending Supreme Council sessions, is preventing 29
judicial positions from being filled.

Small Changes
--------------
11. (C) AKP's strategy to infiltrate its Islamist agenda into
Turkey's secular institutions extends to the municipal level
and beyond, according to AKP opponents. The party controls
four of Turkey's five largest cities (Ankara, Istanbul, Bursa
and Konya). Measures by some AKP mayors to ban alcohol on
municipal property, establish women-only parks or equip
ferries with prayer rooms are seen as Islamic encroachments
on the secular system. Erdogan and other party leaders
explained the alcohol restrictions as consistent with the
state's obligation to protect children from alcohol, drugs
and gambling, rather than a religious proscription.
Municipalities are authorized to ban the sale and consumption
of alcohol on municipal property and near schools, religious
sites and related locations. Of the 62 provincial capitals
that have such a ban, 18 have non-AKP mayors. Of the 19
without alcohol bans, 14 have AKP mayors. As another
often-cited example of small but telling changes, critics
note that employees at the Health Ministry and state-owned
Turkish Airlines reported being questioned about their
religious beliefs and attitudes toward the Koran, an
unprecedented practice.

Internal Balancing Act
----------------------
12. (C) Erdogan has performed a delicate balancing act to
maintain unity within the AKP, despite the sometimes
conflicting interests of its competing factions. Many party
faithful are pious; keeping their allegiance is central to
the AKP's hold on power but Erdogan has won them few tangible
successes. He has not upheld earlier pledges to lift the ban
on headscarves in public buildings, though his strong
objections when the European Court of Human Rights upheld the
ban in public schools resonated with the party's more devout
members. AKP's more conservation faction was disappointed by
the failed attempt to criminalize adultery in 2004.
Erdogan's attempts to put loyalists into government jobs can
also be viewed through the prism of rewarding the party

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faithful.

The Jury Is Out
---------------
12. (C) Comment. To date, AKP critics can only muster
circumstantial evidence of an AKP Islamist agenda.
Opposition leaders, some media outlets, the military and
extreme nationalists have used this to play up fears that an
AKP triumvirate will allow Erdogan to make significant,
perhaps irreversible, changes that would undermine Turkey's
secular system. Using dramatic ad campaigns and threatening
rhetoric, they warn that Turkey may soon have an Islamist
president with a head-scarf wearing wife ready to take the
country back to the pre-republic "dark ages". President
Sezer, military leaders and the MGK chief have all warned
Erdogan against unconstitutional moves that might change
Turkey's secular identity. The secular establishment's
concern that AKP poses a genuine threat to Turkey's secular
system is undoubtedly heightened by the realization that
AKP's reform agenda threatens the established elite's
traditional, top-down control.

13. (C) Those not convinced of a nefarious AKP plan contend
that more than four years in power have matured the party.
Erdogan has had to moderate his message to balance factions
within AKP and lessen tensions with secularists threatened by
AKP reforms. Much of the party's success stems from its
image as being less corrupt ("AK" in Turkish means "clean", a
dubious claim for any party here) and more effective than the
opposition. Its record to date describes a center-right,
conservative party with Islamic roots that has modestly
advanced Kemal Ataturk's core principles of westernization
and modernization. Some of the changes tied to that process
will inevitably transform the traditional power balance and
strengthen civilian leaders. To keep the public's trust and
minimize tension as Turkish society evolves, AKP, and Erdogan
in particular, will need to continue to employ
broad-reaching, moderate, balanced rhetoric. End Comment.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/ankara/

WILSON

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