Abdullah Gul is the right-hand man and loyal deputy of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two celebrated together when their AK Party won, a few days after the elections of November 2, 2002. The Party of Justice and Development, with its Islamist roots, swept to power, changing the political landscape of Turkey. The old parties were swept out, victims of economic crisis and corruption.
But it was precisely those Islamist roots of the AK Party that worried the establishment. Its very popular leader, Recep Tayip Erdogan, was prevented from becoming premier because of a previous jail conviction for “inciting religious hatred”. He had recited an Islamist poem.
Cue Abdullah Gul who stepped into the breach. For five months, he carried out the duties of Prime Minister. During this time, Erdogan won a seat in by-elections and took up the leadership of government. Abdullah Gul was then made Foreign Minister and earned respect as a diplomat.
For four years, without losing his trademark smile, he dedicated himself to thorny issues, including relations with Cyprus, as well as negotiations with the European Union. He oversaw EU accession talks. An economics professor, who studied at British universities, he is determined to fuse Islamic politics with modern life. “A country with a Muslim identity can be democratic, transparent and can be comfortable in a modern world. We will prove this,” Gul said.
Gul has quite a long track record in politics. He stood several times as a member of parliament for Refah, the first Islamist party in power in Turkey. It later dissolved and he represented Fazilet, the Party of Virtue. He was also one of the founders of the AK Party.
A pious Muslim, this makes him an object of distrust to Turkey’s secularists. On April 14, they protested in their thousands against the idea of Erdogan becoming president. But Gul’s personality and his cosmopolitan background seem to make him more acceptable.