European papers commented on Turkey's new president Abdullah Gül on Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether he will bring Turkey closer to the EU while alleviating the Turkish military's doubts about him, they said.
Abdullah Gül was sworn in as Turkey's 11th president on Tuesday
The election of Abdullah Gül as Turkey's new president was preceded by much controversy regarding his Islamist stance. But Gül has repeatedly promised to uphold secularism in Turkey.
The Times of London called Gül's election "a victory for democracy." It noted that Gül's reputation abroad was that of a modernizer. "It is fair to take him at face value, as a modern Turk committed to reform," the British paper wrote. But at the same time, it was impossible to forget what Gül represented: the desire of many ordinary Turks to have a stronger voice in politics and in the country's institutions. "That authentic voice of many Turks is conservative and Islamist," it said. The election was therefore a setback for secularism. "It accurately reflects the new strength of the conservative, low-key Islamic voters from the heart of Anatolia at the expense of the secular cities."
The German daily Frankfurter Rundschau said Turkey still had a long way to go before it became clear which development the country would take permanently. "Turkey will not be able to quickly become all round EU-compatible," it commented. "But it will never completely turn away from Europe." Gül had propagated a further rapprochement to Europe. "As president, he can by all means give a clear signal and take moderate conservative skeptics along on the long road to liberal democracy." But, the paper warned, Gül could also provide the wrong people with the wrong cues. "Europe should encourage him to do the former and make the latter more difficult through signals of closeness and openness, not rejection."
The business daily Handelsblatt also viewed Gül's election as "a major step in the direction of Europe." But the Düsseldorf paper wrote that it was much more. "It creates the requirements necessary to stabilize the most important partner of the West in this complicated region." It also enabled "a model for the reconciliation of Islam and modernity, which can emanate to the entire Muslim world."
This tie between East and West was also noted by the Parisian newspaper La Croix. It said it mattered a great deal to the entire world that democracy and prosperity be strengthened in Turkey, as the country situated between Europe and the Middle East. "This process is significantly stimulated by the perspective of a rapprochement to the European Union," the French Catholic daily wrote. "That is why it is important not to block negotiations and at the same time leave the decisive question open: an association with the EU or full membership."
Several papers viewed Gül's election success as a victory over Turkey's strong military. The Italian daily La Repubblica said that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had ensured that his party, the AKP, now held all top positions in Ankara. "And this means that the force of the military leadership in the shadows could vanish into thin air," the Rome-based paper wrote.
Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in Arhus said time would tell whether fears that Islamists would undermine the secular state were justified. "Now, the only question that counts is whether Gül is the right man for the presidency: Whether he will be capable to fulfill Turkey's wish to join the EU and whether the generals, as well as the secular Turkish elite, will concede him the possibility to do his job."
But Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung warned that democratic legitimacy did not ensure protection against military coups and pressure. "The party of President Gül and Prime Minister Erdogan has to deepen military reforms already tackled and anchor the principle of the subordination of the military under politics in the country's culture. This task requires the right instinct and judgment," the paper commented.