Ever since the transformation of the “National View” (Milli Görüş) from initially rather radical Islamic roots, one figure came to the fore as the “engine of change.”
It was the soft-spoken, mild-mannered, fluent English and Arabic-speaking Abdullah Gül, who had a profound patience to listen, genuine tolerance for dissenting views and a natural curiosity to understand global trends in politics.
He would later be part of the “founding quartet” (together with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bülent Arınç and, to a lesser degree, Abdüllatif Şener) that engineered the formation of what is today known as the Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
It came as no surprise that Erdoğan, kept out of politics due to a hostile judiciary that banned him from being elected, entrusted the post of prime minister to his “brother,” Gül.
Two days before Gül declared his cabinet, the US Embassy was already in action, sending his detailed portrait (classified “confidential”), written by Robert Deutsch, then charge d’affaire in Ankara, to Washington. Not just limiting itself to an ordinary biography, the cable goes on at length in describing who the “real” Gül is:
“Gül is a long-time, close contact of the Embassy in Ankara. He has an excellent understanding of the American mind and of US foreign policy priorities. For years he served as a de facto spokesman -- judged to be reasonable and open-minded by Western and Islamist interlocutors -- for Refah and Fazilet and has been an influential and moderate voice for Islam-oriented politics in Turkey. A number of long-standing embassy contacts have told us consistently that the relationship between Gül and party chairman Erdoğan is complex. He is loyal to Erdoğan but has his own ambitions and occasionally in comments to us has chafed at his subordination to the more rough-edged Erdoğan. Both came through the Erbakan movement ranks together, with Gül representing the more technocratic stream. While Erdoğan is far and away the most popular figure in the AK Party, Gül has strong grass roots and parliamentary support of his own and has built a formidable network of relations with politicians of all stripes, bureaucrats, academics and journalists.”
“Gül has an obliging (mulayim) and courteous character stemming from his modest and very pious upbringing. His faith in Islam is rock solid, as is his courage of convictions: Gül is no pushover.”
“He also firmly believes in the need to redress the current imbalance in civilian-military relations, privately telling us forthrightly that if pushing this kind of democratic reform would be considered “destabilizing” by the Kemalist establishment, ‘then so be it’.” This kind of comment, combined with Gül’s knowledge of the system and his smooth manner, leads some Kemalist circles to fear that he would succeed in implementing an Islamist agenda effectively. Gül has the serene but focused temperament (huzur) similar to that of late president Turgut Özal. At the same time he is untainted by the corruption surrounding the Özal family and government.”
We find another comment in a cable dated Nov. 22, 2002, similar to the conclusion of Deutsh. Another officer in Ankara, Nicholas Kass, ends his family portrait:
“Gül is widely regarded even by many Kemalist secularists as an engaging, tolerant man, though one with deep convictions. These traits, and the evident importance of Islam to the Gül family, reflect a cardinal Özalist virtue that is a key to success in Turkish politics and to Turkish social peace: to be at once both modern and forward looking, yet with an abiding respect for the religious and traditional values.”
Gül would not disappoint those who value his “soft decisiveness.” When Turkey was dragged into turmoil by a military-dictated e-memo and a farce of a judicial decision (by the Constitutional Court) blocking his candidacy as the president, he seemed to be fully focused on his aim: to be elected no matter what.
In a cable written by Janice G. Weiner, the title (“FM Gül as the behind-the-scenes master”) predicts correctly the outcome of the presidential elections two months later.
Not only that. We learn from the cable that it was – as claimed here – Gül himself who penned the famous, harsh cabinet response to the e-memo by the General Staff.
“Once the Turkish General Staff released its e-memo late on April 27, it was allegedly Gül, not the PM, who persuaded the AK Party to take the democratic high road and hard line reflected in GOT [Government of Turkey] spokesman Cemil Cicek’s April 28 statement (ref A), which Gül reportedly penned.”
“One frequent TGS [Turkish General Staff] accusation has been that the AK Party has a hidden agenda. Gül had rebutted it consistently, pointing to the raft of political and economic reforms the AK Party government has passed, and asking rhetorically if they would be working hard to harmonize Turkish law with EU law if GOT’s agenda were sharia.”
This is not the end of the attention, naturally. There are more comments about the “new president” and his vision. But that is material for another column.