Friday, April 27, 2007

In Turkey, a Sign of a Rising Islamic Middle Class

NEW YORK TIMES - By Sabrina Tavernise - April 25, 2007

ISTANBUL, April 24 - Turkey's ruling party on Tuesday chose a presidential candidate with an Islamic background, a move that will extend the reach of the party - and the emerging class of devout Muslims it represents - into the heart of Turkey's secular establishment for the first time.

The selection has focused the worries of secular Turks who fear that sexual equality, as well as drinking alcohol and wearing miniskirts, could eventually be in danger.

Abdullah Gul, 56, the foreign minister, whose wife wears a Muslim head scarf and who is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's closest political ally, is expected to be confirmed as president by Parliament in several rounds of voting that begin Friday. That will boost Turkey's new political class - modernizers from a religious background.

"These are the new forces, the new social powers," said Ali Bulac, a columnist for a conservative newspaper, Zaman, in Istanbul. "They are very devout. They don't drink. They don't gamble. They don't take holidays. They are loaded with a huge energy. This energy has been blocked by the state."

Turkey is a Muslim country, but its state, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is strictly secular, and the presidency is its most important office. The current president is Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a secularist with a judicial background whose term is expiring.

Mr. Gul, an affable English speaker who has long been his party's public face abroad, nodded to secular concerns in a news conference in Ankara after his nomination, saying, "Our differences are our richness." His candidacy was a concession: the choice most distasteful to the secular establishment was Mr. Erdogan himself, who deftly bowed out.

Still, if Mr. Gul is confirmed, his party would occupy the posts of president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker, a lineup that the opposition party leader, Deniz Baykal, called "unfavorable." His party later announced that it would boycott the vote. - - - -





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