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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
The riddle of Turkey's 'pro-Islamic' party
Sunset skyline of the Sultan Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul

Turkey's political crisis could be coming to a head with early elections in November. Currently leading the polls is the Justice and Development or AK Party - commonly described as a pro-Islamist grouping.

In a modern meeting room in an office in Eminonou in Istanbul, the women of the AK Party have gathered to prepare.

On Wednesday, they will be fundraising for the party and they chat about what they will cook and bring along to sell.

About three-quarters of the women wear headscarves, some flapping them in the roasting heat of the Istanbul afternoon.

Turkish men watch television at an electronics market in Istanbul as Turkey's ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit gives a TV interview
Political instability has marred Turkish life
Others are more informally dressed, one in a sleeveless T-shirt.

Downstairs and outside in one of the tea-rooms that litter Istanbul, Nevret Er, the local party chairman, is pressing the flesh.

A tall, balding lawyer with a pepper and salt moustache, he commands the men playing cards to stop their game whilst he addresses them.

They grumble a little, but hear him out.

Party organisation

At the end, there is a round of applause.


The people of Istanbul did not have water to take a bath in until Tayyip Erdogan [AK leader] was elected as mayor of Istanbul

Sadik Imret, retired civil servant

The AK Party is getting organised.

It has got around 20% support in the polls - not much, but a lot more than any other party.

Nevret Er sounds confident.

"The AK Party is organised across Turkey," he says. "The most important obstacle for all the political parties at the moment is the AK Party."

The AK Party is routinely described as an Islamist party by its enemies and as pro-Islamist by more neutral observers.

Mr Er says the party has nothing to do with religion.

Politics and religion

The party's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also says religion has no part to play in the party's ideology.

But the AK Party is descended from the banned Islamist party Fazilet and Mr Erdogan certainly has a past.

"Tayyip Erdogan used to be, at least used to be, a really militant Islamist," says journalist Rusen Cakir.

He has spent 16 years studying and writing about politics and Islam.

Mr Cakir is convinced there is not much of the Islamist left in Mr Erdogan or the party he leads.

But he is not so sure about the rest.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of AK Party
Erdogan is popular with voters
"You know that there is a word in Turkish politics, 'takiye'," he says.

"It means a kind of covering his real faith and line.

"The problem of this political party, especially Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party is all the accusation of takiye."

Outside the Fatih mosque, children play football as the shadows lengthen and the hot day cools.

I have come to Fatih because it is one of the most Islamic parts of Istanbul.

Here, most of the women you see wear headscarves and full length robes.

This is traditionally a stronghold of the Islamic parties.

Next to the mosque, men wash their feet in preparation for prayer.

A couple of hundred metres away, more men sit at a row of tables in the late afternoon sun.

I ask them about politics, religion and the AK Party.

Sadik Imret, a retired civil servant, will not accept what he calls "the slurs".

"It is not religious," he says.

"It just gets things done.

"People of Istanbul did not have water to take a bath in until Tayyip Erdogan was elected as mayor of Istanbul five or six years ago.

"He brought water to Istanbul and that is enough for me to support him."

It is difficult to find much evidence that AK Party has an Islamic agenda.

But then, it is quite difficult to find out what agenda it has at all.

Much of its support seems to be drawn from a general sense of despair at the established parties.

That might seem depressing.

But in Turkey's current circumstances, it is not particularly surprising.


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09 Jul 02 | Business
16 Jul 02 | Europe
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