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Islamist rivals for regional supremacy: Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood 

Standing outside Istanbul's Blue Mosque on a Friday morning as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer, curious tourists furtively peek through the windows in the hope of catching a glimpse of the beautiful ceramics that decorate the majestic shrine a stone's throw from the Topkapi palace. An hour before noon, the mosque closes its doors to non-Muslims.

A devout few are washing their feet outside or rushing in through the doors but the tourists vastly outnumber the faithful. Istanbul, on the Friday morning when Hamas and Israel are squaring off once again, is a reminder that larger forces are still clashing in this region, in a conflict longer than our short memories. Religion is on the rise but Friday, the Muslim day of rest, is a working day in a Turkey that is formally still secular. 

Everywhere, though, one sees evidence that Kemal Atatürk's secularism is under pressure—the extraordinary number of veiled women on the street is but a superficial sign of this country's deep undercurrents, which show that the past is never really a foreign country. Eighty years of secularism, like 70 years of Communism in nearby Russia, did not obliterate the past. A millennium of Islam in Anatolia has not withered.

What may not meet the eye but leaves a more enduring mark is the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey who dared criticise the ruling party. Beyond the increasing harassment of critics, the telltale signs of a retreating secularism are alarming:  a gradual but inexorable takeover by the ruling Islamic forces of schools and universities, the judiciary and the army is under way. 

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geoff garside
January 5th, 2013
8:01 PM
This is a very long-winded article that doesn't say very much save that Erdogan has reoriented Turkey's position in the world. But we know that. The discussion of nationalism is superficial. The whole poinjt about Erdogan is that he is an opportunist, who stands somewhere between Kemalism and the Turkic (not Turkish) nationalism that now has a place in the AKP ranks (Tv shows about Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkmenistan, the Caucuses etc, folk dance festivals celebrating Turkich culture). There are also concrete examples of Erdogan's playing off different countries against one another or just being unpredicatble - so he is hostile to Israel but perfectly open armed towards american business, especially agribusiness, which is now destroying turkey's agricultural sector and swelling already bloated cities like Istanbul. And what about his 'at least 3 children' family policy?

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