BETWEEN now and next Tuesday two crucial votes will be taken in the Turkish parliament; their outcome and the more general response to them throughout Turkey and more widely in Europe will determine whether the ideas of Islam and western democracy are seen to be compatible. Yesterday Abdullah Gul, Turkey's former Islamist foreign minister, narrowly failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority for his nomination as President. A second vote on Friday is likely to go the same way but in a third next Tuesday he will require only a simple majority to gain approval and is almost certain to get it.

Since the mid-1920s the Turkish presidency has traditionally been held by the secular elite (meaning non-Muslim) which has always been able to count on the Army if its precedence was threatened. If Abdullah Gull becomes president he will always automatically become commander-in-chief, a change which a military establishment that has removed four governments in the past half-century may find hard to accept.

Mr Gul is a member of the AK party which won an overwhelming victory at elections last month. He has won the respect of many European leaders for his handling of Turkey's application for membership of the European Union. He has insisted that he supports secularism for Turkey and as Presidnet would maintain its principles. His opponents point out that if he becomes President his AK party will hold all the key posts in Turkey's political hierarchy.


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