With the government lifting the ban on the Islamic veil in public administrative buildings, restricting the sale of alcohol and taking control of the army, the Turkish secular opposition is worried. Are the Islamists trying to change a society founded on the separation of prayer and power? We investigate a country torn between Islam and secularism.
Under the leadership of the AKP – the party for Justice and Development – Turkey has grown into a regional powerhouse. When the Islamist and conservative party came to power 11 years ago, the country was just recovering from a serious financial crisis. Since then, it has enjoyed renewed growth and begun the negotiation process to join the EU.
But talks with the EU are now bogged down, and the Islamist policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are raising concern, in a state born from the nationalist and secular vision of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
On September 30, the prime minister unveiled a series of reforms, including the right of some civil servants to wear the Islamic headscarf, in a clear tip of the hat to the country’s most conservative fringe. Veiled university students have welcomed the reform.
Another landmark was a law voted last spring to restrict the sale of alcohol. Prime Minister Erdogan said the law would create a “pious generation” rather than one of “drug addicts”. The secular opposition reacted strongly, denouncing a “creeping Islamisation” of Turkey. The same anger at the government’s policies, perceived as authoritarian and Islamist, was expressed in the mass social protests of last June.
But the government cracked down hard on the protesters, sending a clear warning ahead of next March’s elections.