The Challenge for Turkey’s New President
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th August, 2007
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, has been elected President of the Republic by a comfortable majority, in a third round of voting in the country’s parliament. In recent months, there have been massive street demonstrations against his candidature for the post, because of his Islamic roots, and the fact that his wife always wears a headscarf — not a burka or a niqab, mind you, but merely a headscarf — in public. That might seem pretty inoffensive to most Britons, but for some Turks it is a red rag to a bull, as they see it as a challenge to the secular nature of the state, established by the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Mr Gul has pledged that he has absolutely no intention of doing anything to undermine the secular nature of the country, and the record of the AKP government led by his colleague, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has in the main been consistent with that principle. Moreover, the government won a resounding victory in recent parliamentary elections, increasing its number of MPs significantly. Yet the army, which sees itself custodian of secular ‘Kemalism’ has been making ominous noises off-stage about ‘dark forces’ trying to turn Turkey into an Islamic state.
Four times in recent history the army has intervened to overthrow a civilian government in Turkey. This must not happen again, if Turkey is to move slowly but surely towards EU membership, as the Erdogan government wants. Turkey still has a long way to go until it meets all the so-called Copenhagen criteria for EU accession, but the British government should continue with the position it has held so far, of encouraging Ankara to make further reforms with the prize of a warm welcome into the European family when the time comes.