05/08/2007 - By nominating an observant Muslim for the Turkish presidency, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan inadvertently highlighted deep-rooted tensions about the role of religion in the nation's political life. These tensions were already evident in recent Pew Global Attitudes surveys that found growing doubts among Turks that democracy can thrive in their country and increasing worries that Islam is playing a larger, and possibly harmful, role in politics.
Erdogan's presidential pick, Abdullah Gul, is the country's foreign minister. A leader of Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, Gul is an observant Muslim. Like the prime minister, both members of the governing AK party, Gul promised to respect the Turkish Constitution and its requirement of secularism. Opponents instead focused on his religiosity and on his wife's wearing of a head scarf in public, a symbol of relatively conservative Islam. The president is elected by parliament, where AK has a majority.
The secular establishment, including the military, is wary of gains by parties with roots in Islamic politics. Adding to the stresses, street protests have involved hundreds of thousands of demonstrators opposed to an observant Muslim becoming president. On May 1, the country's highest court overturned parliament's initial vote endorsing Gul as president, ruling that parliament lacked the necessary quorum when it voted. Erdogan says he now will seek new national parliamentary elections, to take place on July 22, a vote that may further strengthen political parties with religious roots.
Read the full report Can Secular Democracy Survive in Turkey? on the Pew Research Center Web site.