When hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Istanbul on Sunday, it may have looked like a protest of government policy.
It was not.
Behind the slogans and signs of marchers in Istanbul on Sunday and in Ankara two weeks ago was something much more basic: a fear of the lifestyles of their more religious compatriots.
Some concerns were snobbish: religious Turks were uneducated and poor, their pesky prayer rugs got underfoot in hospital halls.
Others were less elitist and had more personal worries: how much tolerance for our secular lifestyles will an emerging class of religious Turks have?
“These people are from poor areas; they just don’t know what the government stands for,” said Aysel Tuikman, 39, a civil servant wearing a skirt, a sweater, beige pumps and pearls. “They’re only being manipulated. We are here for their good also.”
“People here are the real Turkey,” she said, waving a flag high above her head.
It is an emotional reaction to a relatively new layering of society that began 20 years ago but has accelerated recently. A massive migration from rural areas to Turkey’s cities and a large-scale economic boom have drawn an entirely new class of religious Turks from the country’s heartland into the life of its secular cities.
The class is represented by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is challenging the secular elite, forcing a presidential candidate upon them whom they find completely distasteful.
On Friday, the military gave him a warning. It has ousted four elected governments since 1960, and seemed to be considering whether to make Mr. Erdogan’s the fifth. On Sunday, Mr. Erdogan gave a warning of his own: He will continue to push his candidate, an action that will probably lead to early national elections.
Secular Turks fear that Mr. Erdogan has a secret agenda to impose Islamic law on Turkey and that his party’s move to secure the presidency, the highest seat of secularism in Turkey, is one of the final steps needed to start that process.
Mr. Erdogan, for his part, came from Turkey’s political Islamic movements of the 1990s, but he broke with them and formed his own, which swept national elections in 2002. He has said that he would keep religion out of policy decisions, and for the most part, he has.
But for the protesters on Sunday, that was not enough.
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