Turkey Elects President With Ties to Islamism

August 28, 2007 10:44 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul becomes the country’s first president with an Islamist background, in a victory that marks the increasing influence of Turkey’s religious middle class on a government with staunchly secular roots.

30 Second Summary

On Tuesday, August 28, Abdullah Gul was elected Turkey’s next president by the country’s 550-member parliament. The 56-year-old economist won 339 votes, far surpassing the 226-vote majority necessary.

Noticeably absent from the election were the 128 members of the main party of the secular establishment, the Republican People's Party (CHP), who boycotted the balloting in protest of Gul’s past ties to the overtly Islamic Welfare Party during the 1990s. 

Until this election, the Turkish presidency had been an elite secular post, which along with the military, was perceived as a safeguard against the political influence of religious groups.

The military has taken it upon itself to protect the secular nature of this post in the past, ousting four elected governments with Islamist ties since 1960. The military has yet to make a statement concerning the Gul’s election, but not a single military commander attended his inaugural ceremony.

Whether or not the military decides to act against Gul’s presidency, his victory raises important questions about the extent to which a government can be both democratic and Islamic.

In his acceptance speech, Gul stressed his commitment to the country’s secular values, and pledged to continue working toward European Union membership. If this is the case, then Turkey could serve as a model for the entire region on how to temper Islamic values with those of a democratic government.

Headline: Gul elected, approves new cabinet

Reactions: The Turkish and American press discuss the rise of Turkey's religious middle class

Background: "Islamism" defined, Turkey's divided population, and why it matters to the U.S.

According to a report written by Stephen A. Cook and Douglas According to a report written by Stephen A. Cook and Douglas Dillon Fellow titled "Generating Momentum for a New Era in U.S.-Turkey Relations" the stability of the new Turkish government is critical for the United States because of its potential to serve as a democratizing ally in the increasingly hostile environment of the Middle East.

Historical Context: The Islamist movement, Turkey's founding, and U.S.-Turkey relations

Opinion: What will Gul mean for Turkish democracy, EU membership, and ties to Russia?

Key Players: Gul and Turkey's political landscape

Reference Material: Maps, history, and Turkey's religious make-up

Turkey was once the center of the Ottoman Empire. Now as the country works to gain entry to the European Union, the BBC offers a short history of the nation and its national and international conflicts.

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