Quake Shakes Turkey's Political Foundation

Anger over the state's failures and harassment of Islamic relief operations bodes ill for Ankara.

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It may take more than an earthquake to change the way Turkey is governed, but the government is already suffering some political tremors. While Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has vowed to "get rid of the defects of the political system," the political aftershocks of last weeks devastating act of God have left his government increasingly embattled. New taxes proposed by the government to raise some of the $20 billion required to repair the quake damage were greeted with skepticism Friday by Turkish newspapers who questioned whether the revenue would actually be spent in the disaster zone. Anger at the sluggish initial relief efforts from the government and the military was compounded by the realization that the massive death toll was largely a result of officials failure to enforce building regulations. Even more bizarre and possibly self-destructive - were the governments moves to stop relief efforts by Islamic organizations.

The Turkish authorities have responded to the mounting challenge of political Islam by enforcing a form of authoritarian secularism in the political process, seeking to curb even moderate Islamic parties. "The poor government response to the quake may help the Islamists, who appeal to people who are alienated and are extremely good at winning supporters by providing welfare," says TIME correspondent Lisa Beyer from Istanbul. "On the other hand, this government has only been in power for only three months, and its not as if the Islamists arent equally responsible for allowing poor construction in municipalities under their control. The population is unlikely to tolerate any divisiveness." While that cuts against any attempts by the Islamists to capitalize on government weakness in handling the quake, it also makes it extremely risky to stamp out Islamic quake relief efforts at a time when population is angry at the states own failings.