clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Islamic movement is losing even more ground in Turkey

With Turkey's Islamic movement forced out of office and banned by the courts, the secular government and the military are doggedly rolling back its gains.

The authorities have curbed religious schools, purged Muslim-minded bureaucrats and moved to end tax breaks for Islamic foundations. Subsidies to Islamic party-run cities and towns have been choked off, the party charges.On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz ordered government offices to crack down on employees wearing Islamic dress - long banned but tolerated when the Islamic-minded Welfare Party controlled the previous government.

"Anyone who is found disobeying the code will be punished promptly," the semi-official Anatolia news agency quoted the order as saying.

The government also has made moves that appeal to the Islamic party's followers - such as going forward with a casino ban. Turkey's 76 casinos stop taking bets Wednesday at midnight.

The pendulum has swung back in this country of 63 million Muslims, torn since its founding 75 years ago between its religious roots and attempts to create a secular society.

Welfare, Turkey's largest party, ran the government until its leader was forced to resign as prime minister in June under prodding from the powerful military.

Yilmaz took over as head of a center-right government backed by the strongly prosecular military, and he has sought both to promote secularism and cut away at Welfare's support.

Welfare won 21 percent of the vote in the last elections, in 1995.

The most tangible change has come to the country's religious schools, which secularist critics say indoctrinate a segment of the nation's youth to hold Islam over the country's lay principles. The schools have been around since 1951 and were formed to train preachers.

As soon as it came into office, the administration extended from five to eight years the period of compulsory secular education, effectively barring children from attending sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Islamic schools - considered impressionable, and thus crucial, years.

Welfare is now struggling to find its future. Some of its supporters have set up a party called Virtue, but it is unclear if this will be its true successor.