Gul, Abdullah

▪ 2008

born Oct. 29, 1950, Kayseri, Tur.

      On Aug. 28, 2007, Abdullah Gul was elected the 11th president of Turkey. He inherited his politics from his father (the owner of a modest metalworking shop), who had stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate of the National Salvation Party (NSP), the first Islamist party to make an impact. After Gul graduated (1971) with a degree in economics from Istanbul University, where he was active in the nationalist Turkish National Students' Union, he spent two years conducting postgraduate studies in Exeter, Eng. Returning to Turkey to gain his Ph.D. (1983), he was briefly detained after the 1980 military coup and then took up employment in 1983 as an economist at the Islamic Development Bank in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.

      Eight years later Gul launched himself full time into Turkish politics, becoming the international spokesman for the Welfare Party (WP, a reincarnation of the NSP, which had been banned by the constitutional court) and then minister in the coalition government headed by NSP leader Necmettin Erbakan. When Erbakan was eased out of office by the military in 1997 and NSP was closed down (just as its predecessor had been), Gul became a leading member of a group of modernizers who broke away from Erbakan and formed the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a democratic, conservative but nonconfessional movement. Gul deputized for the AKP leader Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was imprisoned on the eve of the 2002 parliamentary elections. In the elections the AKP won an absolute majority, and Gul served as prime minister for four months until Erdogan was allowed back into politics.

      Gul then became foreign minister in Erdogan's government. During his four-year tenure at the Foreign Ministry, Gul concentrated on pushing forward Turkey's application for membership in the European Union, acquiring a reputation as a skillful and nonconfrontational negotiator who was as popular with his staff as he was with his foreign constituents. A pious practicing Muslim himself—and married to an observant wife who refused to discard the Muslim head scarf and petititioned the European Court of Human Rights to disallow the ban on women students' wearing the head scarf in Turkish universities (a petition she withdrew tactfully when her husband became foreign minister)—Gul was ideally placed to represent the mass of conservative Turks who practiced Islam while maintaining loyalty to the secular republic and remaining open to the outside world in their outlook. Both before and after his election as president, Gul insisted that he would work for all the country's citizens irrespective of creed or ethnic origin. Nevertheless, he faced an uphill task in persuading Turkish secularists in general, and the Turkish military in particular, that the secular regime established by the republic's founder, Kemal Ataturk, was safe in his hands.

Andrew Mango

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

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