Gül the centre of Turkish attention

Many Turks suspect the just appointed Turkish president Gül of having a hidden agenda. Gül’s task is now to prove he is not an Islamist.

Finally Abdullah Gül is Turkey’s new president. Secular Turks resisted, the Turkish army threatened and manipulated, but to no avail.  Yesterday president Gül made his first speech to parliament. So what can the army do now? They will not just lean back now that what they didn’t want has happened, namely Abdullah Gül being the eleventh president of Turkey? Well no, maybe they won’t lean back. Over the coming months they will be closely watching the president’s moves from the wings.

Is that all? Yes. Over the last few months, the Turkish army has done more. Last Monday, they posted a strongly worded text on their website, in which they stated that the centre of evil was threatening the secular, democratic state of Turkey. In April they wrote something similar and threatened to defend secular Turkey. But the AK Parti of Prime Minister Erdogan stood firm. They were forced to announce early elections, and in the end these elections made their position stronger. Had the party not been so full of self confidence, they wouldn’t have chosen Gül to be their presidential candidate. Then they would have chosen an outsider, a compromise figure, as some opposition parties have suggested lately. But the AK Parti refused to be manipulated. The army made threats, but it knows that Turkey has become too much of a democracy for it to act on them. The generals have, in short, contributed to their own marginalisation.

The last few months have been months of fear. Months when people expressed their fear that soon women in Turkey would have to dress like their sisters in Iran and that alcohol would be prohibited. When the fear of ‘Iranian situations’ seemed to be as big as fear of the European Union, in which Turkey would, according to some people, lose its identity and independence. Fear, fear, fear.

Gül also mentioned the word in his speech to parliament. We should not fear, he said. Not for the freedoms of democracy, not for differences. All the differences that are heard in a democracy, are not a weakness, but a strength. And, he said: have faith in the democratic system.

That’s the only thing the Turks can do. They have spoken out over the last few months. In AK Parti gatherings, in pro-Atatürk marches, on noisy, sometimes busy sometimes quiet election campaign demonstrations, and they spoke out on 22 July, during the parliamentary elections. The outcome is that AK Parti now has the majority in parliament and that they can choose the president, who will no longer be aligned to any party. The party says is doesn’t want to transform Turkey into an Islamic state, but wants to take it forward, faithful to secularism and to Atatürk. The next five years are the ultimate test.  That’s democracy, exactly the form of state  the army says it defends. The Turks have to accept it. And so does the army.

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