Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Turkey's next president: A devout Muslim who has promised to put Turkey on a modern path

Turkey's next president: A devout Muslim who has promised to put Turkey on a modern path

He is a devout Muslim whose wife wears an Islamic headscarf in a nation where, despite deeply ingrained religious feelings, religious attire is banned from government buildings.
And Abdullah Gul is about to become president of Turkey _ following in the footsteps of a national hero who made secular principles the cornerstone of the republic.
Gul, 56, is a controversial pick to hold the deeply symbolic and influential post. But after winning a big mandate in elections triggered by secularist opposition to his candidacy, the ruling party has a free hand to send the politician of its choice to the presidential palace once inhabited by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk _ Turkey's founding father who inspires so much veneration even today that insulting his name is a crime.
Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development Party lacked the two-thirds majority needed for him to secure the post. But the party had a far easier hurdle Tuesday, when only a simple majority was required.
The president-elect was born to a pious family in Kayseri, a central Turkish city that is a major business center in the conservative heartland.
That traditional background may be somewhat misleading, however, for Gul has been instrumental in recent years in putting Turkey on the path of modernization.
As foreign minister, he has been the face of Turkey's bid to join the European Union, working unflaggingly to persuade EU leaders that his nation is implementing the democratic, economic and social reforms needed to qualify for membership in the elite bloc.
The burly mustachioed politician speaks fluent English and obtained a Ph.D. in economics after studying at universities in London and Exeter in Britain.
For Europeans, Gul's Islamic-rooted party is increasingly being seen as a truer friend of democracy than the secular establishment, which is backed by a military that in recent decades has not hesitated to stage coups in order to uphold secular principles.
Secularists, however, fear that once Gul is installed in the palace, his close ally Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will begin carrying out a hidden Islamic agenda _ and there will be no presidential checks to stop him.
Turkey's president has the power to veto legislation and appoint judges to Turkey's highest courts, raising fears that Gul may impose an Islamic tilt in the judiciary and allow the passage of legislation overturning the ban on headscarves in schools and government offices.
The most symbolically-charged issue is the attire of Gul's wife: Secularists feel that allowing a headscarf-clad first lady into the presidential palace is tantamount to desecrating Ataturk's memory.
The opposition also expresses alarm that Gul started in politics in an Islamist party that was banned by the courts in 1998.
But as foreign minister, Gul has cultivated an image as a moderate politician, acting as an impassioned voice for reforms to promote Turkey's EU bid. In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Gul said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost Turkey's EU bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on the international scene.
Gul was one of the first in the Islamic movement's 30-year history to break with the more hard-line policies of the movement's leader, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, and renounce the idea that Islam should be a driving force in politics. Gul was a government minister when the military forced Erbakan from office in 1997.
In 2001, along with Erdogan and other moderate members of the movement, he founded the Justice and Development Party and distanced himself from his past political leanings.
The party swept elections in 2002. Gul briefly served as prime minister, standing in for Erdogan, who was temporarily barred from politics because of his criminal record for publicly reading an Islamic poem that the courts deemed to be in violation of secular laws. Gul stepped down in favor of Erdogan.
Before studying in England, Gul took an economics degree at Istanbul University. He spent eight years working for the Islamic Development Bank, based in Saudi Arabia, before entering politics in 1991.


Updated : 2021-09-22 01:05 GMT+08:00