This did not happen overnight. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), a disciplined, well-organized Islamist faction with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, managed to squeeze into power in 2002, even though it was a minority opposed by millions of pro-Western, secular Muslims. It increased its popularity by foreswearing any intention to impose sharia, avoiding the taint of financial corruption, adopting responsible economic policies, and only gradually enacting items on the Islamist punch-list — beginning with the ones that enjoyed broad support. Behind the scenes, it used its power both to infiltrate the military and to install its loyalists in important institutions (e.g., the banks, bureaucracy, judiciary, and education system).
Based on this performance, it won reelection with a narrow majority — no small thanks to cheerleading from Western governments and commentators about how Turkey under AKP rule symbolized a modern, “moderate” Islam. With that cover, the AKP promptly stepped up its Islamicization program, ordered arrests of its political opponents, and began challenging the military. To see what the Islamists could get away with, this challenge started with the arrests of a few officers. When there was no pushback, more prosecutions and harassment followed. It was clear that the military would not rise to the occasion, as the West always assumed it would.
Emboldened, the AKP regime has ended Turkey’s military cooperation with Israel and become an increasingly strident supporter of Palestinian “resistance.” Last spring, Turkey’s government financially backed the “peace flotilla” — an attempt by Brotherhood-tied Islamists and anti-American Leftists to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas in Gaza. Turkey now formally rejects the description of Hamas as a terrorist organization, referring to it as a democratically elected political organization that is merely defending its rightful territory. The AKP government has also cozied up to Hezbollah and Syria while working against Western efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Here’s the part that ought to scare us: Unlike Turkey, Egypt has never undergone a rigorous, decades-long effort to purge Islam from public life. The AKP had a higher mountain to climb. If the Muslim Brotherhood gets its turn at the wheel and steers as shrewdly, the transformation of Egypt won’t happen tomorrow . . . but neither will it take the eight years Turkey needed.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.