The Global Cost of Turkey’s Crisis

Turkey's government has avoided a constitutional crisis by calling an early parliamentary election, but the country's latest bout of political instability has damaged its foreign policy and international standing. Given Turkey's strong potential to demonstrate the compatibility of liberal democracy and Islam, its current travails are particularly worrisome for Europe and the West.

Turkey will hold its parliamentary election in July, four months earlier than scheduled, thereby narrowly avoiding a constitutional crisis over the choice of the country’s next president. Nonetheless, Turkey’s bout with political instability has damaged its foreign policy and international standing.

At the center of the storm are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, head of the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Yasar Buyukanit, Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish military, which regards itself as the guardian of the secular republican tradition established by Kemal Ataturk. When Erdogan contemplated moving from the prime minister’s job to the presidency earlier this spring, the military and secular political parties indicated profound dissatisfaction. General Buyukanit said in April that the country’s new president must be secular “not just in words, but in essence.”

Having met and conversed with Erdogan on more than one occasion, I found him a moderate and reasonable man. Moreover, the AKP has broad support among Turkish voters and an admirable record of economic growth, human rights legislation, and improvement in the treatment of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a close associate of Erdogan in the AKP, pressed Turkey’s application to join the European Union. So when Erdogan decided to nominate Gul as the AKP candidate for the presidency, I was surprised by the strength of the secularist opposition.

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