Huge rally for Turkish secularism
Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Istanbul in support of secularism in Turkey, amid a row over a vote for the country’s next president.
Many see the nomination of foreign minister Abdullah Gul as a threat to the strict separation of religion and politics since Turkey became a republic in 1923, suspecting that he has an Islamist agenda and would be in a position to veto all laws and appoint key establishment figures. If he became president, his wife would be the first First Lady of the Republic of Turkey to wear a headscarf, or hijab, which some say would have Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey “turning in his grave”.
Although the demonstration in Turkey (reported as attracting a million people) was peaceful, some are nervous because the military have threatened to intervene to prevent an Islamist from becoming president. A demonstrator is reported as saying, “We want neither Sharia, nor a coup, but a fully democratic Turkey.”
Turkey wants to join the EU and has introduced substantial human rights and economic reforms to meet European standards, improving the status of women (though not enough, women’s organisations say), abolishing the death penalty, bringing in tougher measures against torture and overhauling the penal code. Abdullah Gul has been involved with the EU negotiations.
Many European politicians have opposed Turkey’s application to join the EU because of the unresolved issue of Cyprus and because they regard its predominately Muslim culture as “not European”. If Turkey became part of the EU, the union’s borders would be uncomfortably adjacent to Syria, Iraq and Iran. If the country’s secularism is abandoned or compromised, it will be even less likely to gain membership of the EU.