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Gul Elected to Turkey's Presidency
The Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, taking parliament and the prime minister's office. Since then, Erdogan and his ministers have presented themselves far more as Rotary Club than religious zealots.
Under their guidance, Turkey's economy has been transformed, turning Istanbul into a bustle of construction projects and high-design restaurants. With Tuesday's election, Erdogan and Gul pledged to push for economic reform and constitutional amendments and try to win European Union membership.
Many Turks have been won over by the boom times, especially for a growing middle class; improvements in public services; and the ruling party's comparative restraint in helping itself to the economic spoils. But among secular Turks, there remain widespread concerns that Erdogan's government has given political Islam a toehold that will lead Turkey the way of much of the Middle East, perhaps starting with lifting Ataturk's restrictions on the head scarf, outlawing alcohol or criminalizing adultery.
"With a first lady in a head scarf, a taboo is finished in Turkey. Some people are not happy about that," said Ehmet Ali Birand, a columnist in Turkey's press, which seized upon the military chief's warning as a sign of grave tension between the military and the government.
Turkey is a U.S. partner in the NATO alliance, although Turkey's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq created bilateral strains. In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Gul's election "continues the course of democratic development in that country." President Bush called Gul to congratulate him, the White House said.
The rise of the Justice and Development Party came in the same period as political gains made by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the radical Islamic group Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Hamas's gains, in particular, are regarded by many analysts in the region as leading the Bush administration to back off from its earlier avowed enthusiasm for promoting democracy in the Middle East.
But Turkey -- a country bridging Europe and Asia, as well as Islam and secularism -- is different, and the Justice and Development Party doesn't fit well into the growth of political Islam elsewhere, said Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The election success of "Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood is . . . essentially a protest vote" in countries with authoritarian leaders and little viable political opposition, Taspinar said by telephone. "But the reason the [Justice and Development Party] won is largely due to the services they have provided," he said.
Hard-liners in the military believe that "it is thanks to the military's efforts that the [party] and political Islam are learning to become moderate," Taspinar said. "Islam in Turkey is getting closer and closer to the West," he added, even as "the global trend is that Islam is getting more confrontational with the West."
Special correspondent Zehra Ayman in Istanbul contributed to this report.