Gül, Abdullah (Turkey)
Abdullah Gül was elected president on 28 Aug. 2007. His background in Islamist politics and membership of political parties banned under the country’s secular constitution stoked widespread concern when he was nominated as a presidential candidate. A former prime minister and close ally of the incumbent premier, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Gül has taken a moderate line since 2001, advocating a pro-Western agenda and eventual EU membership.
Abdullah Gül was born on 29 Oct. 1950 in Kayseri. He graduated in economics from İstanbul University in 1971 and began an academic career. From 1980–83 he taught economics at the Sakarya School of Engineering and Architecture. As a devout Muslim, and having received a PhD in 1983, he joined the Islamic Development Bank (in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia) as an economist.
Returning to Turkey in 1991, Gül entered politics. Campaigning for the Islamist Welfare Party, he was elected representative for Kayseri. He rose through the party ranks to become state minister and speaker for the government of Necmettin Erbakan in 1996. He was initially critical of Turkey’s overtures towards the West and opposed EU membership. His ambitions were curtailed in 1997 by a military-backed campaign to oust the government. The following year a ban was imposed on the Welfare Party which was said to threaten the secular constitution. Gül joined the Virtue Party, contesting its leadership in 2000, but this party was also banned in June 2001.
In Aug. 2001 Gül joined Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s newly formed Justice and Development Party (AKP), which presented itself as pro-Western and democratic. In the 2002 parliamentary elections Erdoğan was barred from standing because he had a criminal conviction for reading an Islamic poem at a political rally. Nevertheless, the AKP attracted voters dissatisfied with the ruling government and won an outright victory to replace the three-party coalition. Two weeks after the election the party nominated Gül for the premiership.
As prime minister, Gül wanted to prove that Turkey could operate as both a Muslim and democratic state, and was committed to steering Turkey towards EU membership. He announced plans to reform the laws on the freedom of expression and human rights, supported further privatization and sought to achieve a modernized and efficient public administration.
In Dec. 2002 President Ahmet Necdet Sezer agreed to constitutional changes that would allow Erdoğan to stand for a parliamentary seat and thus become eligible for the premiership. Erdoğan returned to parliament in a by-election in March 2003 and was appointed prime minister. Gül became foreign minister, working to achieve an EU accession date, although this was thwarted by the continued impasse over the status of Cyprus.
Prime Minister Erdoğan announced in April 2007 that Gül would be the AKP candidate in the 2007 presidential election. This sparked Turkey’s most serious political crisis in a decade, with mass protests in the big cities in support of secularism. The military also warned that it would defend secularism. The AKP was forced to call early elections for 22 July, which it won decisively. Gül was re-nominated as the AKP candidate and on 28 Aug. he was elected president in the third round of voting. The chief of the general staff absented himself from the swearing-in ceremony.
In his inauguration speech, Gül sought to dispel secularist fears of an AKP Islamist agenda. However, parliament’s vote to remove the ban on women wearing headscarves at universities in Feb. 2008 was seized on by secularists as evidence that Gül was attempting to introduce Islamic rule. In June the Constitutional Court rejected the move in a ruling that was viewed as a setback for the AKP government.
In July 2009 Gül approved controversial government legislation allowing civilian courts to prosecute military personnel for offences against the state. Then in Aug. 2011, after Turkey’s top military leadership had resigned en masse in a dispute over promotions, he moved quickly to appoint replacements and assert civilian control over the powerful and traditionally secular armed forces.
Gül continued to court controversy towards the twilight years of his mandate by supporting a number of laws that opposition groups regarded as unconstitutional. Increased restrictions on freedom of speech and the press led also to a spate of demonstrations and civil unrest around the country that eventually courted international attention during the Taksim Gezi Park sit-in of May–June 2013.
Gül’s 7 year term as president came to an end on 28 Aug. 2014 when he was succeeded by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—the first directly appointed president in Turkey’s history.