Turkey's Islamic Revolution

The Islamists have all but completed their coup. What to expect from the Islamic Republic of Turkey.

The Turkish Islamists, who took control of the country after democratic elections in 2002, are well on their way to completing a revolution which will radically affect the Middle Eastern balance of power and perhaps, more generally, the international arena (West versus Islamic East), practically without protest or opposition. This weekend, they ticked another important "V" in their gradual desecularization of the country with the mass resignation of the country's top military brass and their immediate replacement by Islamist-friendly generals.

The dramatic resignations of the chief of staff and the heads of the army, air force and navy were prompted by the ongoing trial of about 200 military officers for conspiring against the regime. Most observers regard the charges as trumped up. But their purport was clear: To cow the army and the country's secular, educated middle classes. As it emerges, the trials served to defang the army in advance of the takeover of the high command.

This weekend's developments are part of a protracted process that has nibbled away at the secular foundations of the republic established by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) in 1923 on the ruins of the multi-national Ottoman Empire. With the army neutralized, one can now envisage, down the road, the gradual, formal imposition of sharia law across the country, despite the overwhelming secularity of the country's educated classes. The semi-democracy that was Turkey—during the past decades, intellectuals have repeatedly been subjected to judicial processes, sometimes ending in jail time, for "defaming" the state or the Turkish people, raising the Armenian and Kurdish questions, etc.—may soon give way to something that may resemble Teheran more than Paris or London.

And even before the de-democratization and desecularization of Turkey are completed, and the process may take another decade or so, one can foresee the complete dissociation of Turkey from the West and the consolidation of its alliances with the Muslim world, primarily neighboring Iran and the more extreme elements in the Arab world. Any hope of Turkey joining the EU vanished long ago, probably more because of the way Turkey was moving than because of alleged European prejudices.

The government of Recep Erdogan already put the West on notice in 2003, soon after taking power, when it prevented America and its allies, despite Istanbul's continued (though growingly ostenible) membership in NATO, from sending an armored column from Turkey into Iraq as the northern pincer of the anti-Saddam campaign.

The second message, delivered during the late 2000s, was somewhat vaguer, but was clear to those who were willing to look reality in the eye—the gradual dissolution of Turkey's ties with Israel. First, there were well-publicized charges about Israeli arms exports to Turkey (Israel was said to be supplying the Turks with malfunctioning equipment). Then came Erdogan's equally well-publicized rude, sharp rebuke to Shimon Peres at Davos in January 2009 over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Then, in 2010, came the third instalment, with Turkey dispatching (under the guise of an "independent" Turkish Islamist associatioin activity) a flotilla of boats carrying supplies and "peace activists" to Gaza. The provocative, blockade-crashing boats were interdicted by the Israeli navy and boarded by naval commandos, with nine Turks killed after they attacked the raiders.

The Turks pretended to go into a huff, condemning the "butchery" of their nine (aggressive) citizens (how many Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Cypriots, and Kurds have the Turks butchered over the past century? A million? Two million? More?) and withdrew their ambassador from Tel Aviv. They now demand that Israel apologize (and make several other self-abasing gestures) as the price of reinstating the ambassador—though, in all probability, they will definitively sever their diplomatic ties with Jerusalem come the next (Turkish-initiated) incident. (They will probably do it only after something happens that they can portray as another act of Israeli brutality, most likely involving the Palestinians, possibly against the backdrop of the threatened imminent Palestinian declaration of statehood.)

All of this, of course, has little if anything to do with what Israel does or doesn't do—and everything to do with Turkey's gradual divorce from the West and its steady realignment with the world's other Islamists. The fall of the generals is merely another notch in the process.

And one last word. The Turks may soon find an emulator in Egypt, where Islamists seem set to take over the state by democratic means. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties are favored to win the forthcoming general elections and may be expected to follow the selfsame Turkish "softly, softly" paradigm, in which a state is gradually subordinated to Islam and removed from the West's orbit by a slow, incremental process, stretching over years or even decades, which the West barely notices and finds itself unable to counter.

Image by Kimdime