Where did Turkey’s former president go wrong?

Where did Turkey’s former president go wrong?

“The first time I met her; she had no idea about my expertise. I gave her a briefing. When we met six months after, I found a woman who had done her homework, asking me all the right questions.”

This anecdote comes from a person who has contributed to the works done in the Presidential Palace by Hayrünnisa Gül, the wife of Abdullah Gül, whose presidency comes to an end today.

Turkey’s (as of today) former first lady has spent a lot of time and energy to make everything impeccable in the presidential premises. Abdullah Gül and his wife are leaving behind 17 books that compile their seven years living at the Çankaya Palace.

The books were presented to journalists in a press conference on Aug. 26, two days before Gül’s tenure ended. “This is too little too late,” I thought to myself when I received the invitation for the press event that took place at the Huber Palace in Istanbul.

Mr. and Mrs. Gül should have started that kind of activity around three months before their departing date. Mrs. Gül, for instance, has every reason to be proud about turning the dull state dinners of Gül’s predecessor into delightful feasts. But she probably did not dare to do so for fear of perhaps creating resentment with Emine Erdoğan, the wife of the prime minister; just as her husband has been careful not to antagonize Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

I think Mr. Gül waited until the last moment in the hope of being where Ahmet Davutoğlu is today: The new leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and soon to be the prime minister. However, he now faces a fate he probably feels he does not deserve: Having been totally scrapped by Erdoğan.

Ironically, while he was an old ally to Erdoğan, it seems that he was the person who knew the least about him. Let me explain. While Gül disagreed many times with Erdoğan, he never openly dared to challenge him. He thought that Erdoğan would appreciate his reconciliatory nature. But for Erdoğan, the political animal, reconciliation is a sign of weakness.

Let me take you to an incident that took place last May. Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Union of Turkey’s Bar Associations (TBB), delivered a one-hour-long speech criticizing the government at a ceremony marking the Council of State’s 146th anniversary. Turkish politics witnessed a first when Erdoğan interrupted Feyzioğlu’s speech, standing up and heckling the TBB head. He then walked out of the ceremony, while Gül who was trying to calm him down had to leave the place as well, walking behind him.

According to state protocol, the prime minister cannot leave any room before the president. So this was an instance where Gül downgraded himself to the level of a former brother-in-arms to Erdoğan, forgetting that he, as the president, represented the whole of the nation and Erdoğan was being disrespectful to the head of the nation. Again, this was done in order to please Erdoğan, in the hope that he would eventually be the "chosen one."

Gül is appreciated for his moderate and reconciliatory nature. But this has played against him in the final stage of his political act. One should not resort to reconciliation at the expense of one’s principles, and certainly not when this is seen as a sign of weakness by your adversary. Then again, Gül perhaps made the mistake of not seeing Erdoğan as an adversary.

By the way, am I wrong to say the "final stage of his political act"? Only time will tell.