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Viewing cable 07ANKARA648, THE TRUTH BEHIND THE AKP'S "SECRET ISLAMIC AGENDA"

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ANKARA648 2007-03-21 15:03 2010-11-28 18:06 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
VZCZCXRO1479
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHAK #0648/01 0801533
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 211533Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1409
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5// PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEUITH/TLO ANKARA TU PRIORITY
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU PRIORITY
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 
 
ANKARA 00000648  002 OF 004 
 
 
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 
 
ANKARA 00000648  003 OF 004 
 
 
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 
 
ANKARA 00000648  004 OF 004 
 
 
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