Religion at Heart of Turkish Vote

July 21, 2007

Author: Laura King

Source: Los Angeles Times, the,1,6877032.story?coll=la-news-religion&ctrack=6&cset=true

ALANYA, TURKEY — Vacationing just a few miles apart on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, the economist from Istanbul and the engineer from Ankara could hardly have more divergent views of a nationwide vote Sunday that is expected to return the ruling party to power — and intensify an ongoing battle over the role of Islam in public life.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, which has roots in political Islam, is "just too Muslim, too radical," said Reha Guner, drinking tea in a cafe just off a crowded beach where European tourists sunbathed topless and beer flowed freely. "They want to hold the country back. That's why these elections are so important."

Down the road, at a resort that caters to religiously observant families, engineer Ahmet Alintuglu said pious Muslims like him often feel marginalized in a republic whose 8-decade-old founding principles mandate a strict separation of Islam and government.

"We're a so-called Muslim country, but we are treated like second-class citizens, even when we are on vacation," Alintuglu said. He and his family, he complained, were forced to pay premium prices to secure the hotel amenities they wanted: gender-segregated swimming pools, modest dress in public areas and a ban on alcohol.

Though parting ways at the ballot box, Guner and Alintuglu had this much in common: Like tens of thousands of Turks, each was cutting short the traditional summer holiday to return home to vote in the parliamentary elections, which are shaping up as among the country's most divisive in recent memory.

The Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, is expected to garner the largest share of seats, but not enough to render it immune to challenges by the secular-minded opposition.