How Gül differed from Erdoğan

How Gül differed from Erdoğan

A new book by a longtime advisor to former President Abdullah Gül, Ahmet Sever, is Turkey’s latest sensation. Titled “12 years with Abdullah Gül: I lived, I saw, I wrote,” the book is not just an instant headline-maker and potential bestseller: It may also be leverage for a shift in the political landscape. 

In his book, Sever tells the behind-the-scenes details of the growing rift between Gül and Tayyip Erdoğan, the two men who founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) together in 2001. In the beginning, they were both reformed Islamists who claimed to make Turkey a European-type liberal democracy. But, apparently, while Gül really believed in this vision, Erdoğan only saw it as a temporal necessity to overcome the threat from the secular establishment. And once Erdoğan himself became the establishment, everything changed. 

It is no wonder that Sever marks the years 2009 and 2010 as the beginning of the big divergence between Gül and Erdoğan. For Erdoğan, he notes, growingly reverted to the authoritarianism of the “Old Turkey” he claimed to overthrow, whereas Gül remained loyal to the early principles. Gül also did not share the conspiratorial view that has dominated the AKP since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013. 

Some of the disputes between Gül and Erdoğan were already visible from the outside, but Sever’s book adds two little-known aspects. First, in foreign policy, Gül was apparently unhappy with Erdoğan’s (and Davutoğlu’s) impassionate --- and ineffective, if not counter-productive --- policies toward Syria and Egypt. He reportedly even blamed Davutoğlu for “acting like the foreign minister of Syria or Egypt.” Gül was cautious about the Salafi jihadists in Syria from the very beginning. And he believed that talking to [Abdeh Fattah] el-Sisi was a better way to help Egypt. 

Another fact Sever unveils is that Gül was actually not very fond of the Gülen movement, contrary to popular misperception.  It was Gül who tried to restrain the aggressive hunt of secular figures, including journalists, during the “Ergenekon” trial, which was spearheaded by Gülen-affiliated police and prosecutors. (Erdoğan was more in line with the Gülen movement then, whereas he would become much more wary - in fact, hateful - of the movement after the corruption investigations of December, 2013.)

Sever emphasizes that Gül, in the past few years, watched the reformist, pragmatic, moderate party he himself founded turn into something totally different --- with pain and disillusionment. Yet, still, he tried to work behind the scenes to soften Erdoğan’s iron fist as much as he could. Some blame Gül for not being bolder against Erdoğan and vetoing his authoritarian legislations - and they may have a point. But we don’t know whether that would help anything, other than the branding of Gül as a “traitor” in the AKP universe and thus, making that universe only more isolated and closed-minded. 

Since the book came out, it had received heated reactions from two sides: First, Erdoğanists, who saw the book as a conspiracy to divide the AKP and second, anti-Erdoğanists, who saw the book as a conspiracy to prepare a more marketable AKP. I think both of these views are nonsense (as most views in contemporary Turkey are). But the book does have political significance. It says that if the AKP will be restored back to sanity and civility one day, Gül will be the one to do it.