Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul - the tough guy and the gentleman

There are widespread rumors of growing rift between the Turkish PM and President.

Though Erodgan and Gul have been longtime political partners working together within the AK Party, temperamentally they have begun to appear being poles apart.

Tayyip, with a reputation of being brash, macho and never shy of being aggressive, is more commonly known as the "Kasimpasa man" in Turkey.  Kasimpasa is a rough 'n' tough Istanbul neighborhood where Tayyip Erdogan was raised and spent most of his childhood.  Abdullah Gul, on the contrary, is elegant, courteous and smoothly agreeable.  He is said to be much better educated than Erdogan, his charming diplomatic mannerisms never going unnoticed particularly by the local and foreign press.

There has been a marked difference of opinion between Erdogan and Gul over the violent protests in Turkey.  While Erdogan has been verbally combative and often furious, Abdullah Gul has constantly displayed the characteristics of a through gentleman. He never lost his calm and suavity, speaking with a distinctly conciliatory tone.  This aspect is seen as a dynamic that could have repercussions on the upcoming presidential elections of 2015.  On the Turkish protests, Gul stated: "Democracy is not just about voting.  If there are different opinions, different situations, different points of view and dissent, there is nothing more natural than being able to voice those differences."   When asked for his comment on the President's statement, the Turkish Prime Minister shrugged it off saying: "I don't know what the president said, but for me democracy is all about the ballot box."   On this, Turkish Hurriyet Daily News published a headline:  "Erdogan fails to get the point, Gul does."

Over the past few years, there have been growing differences between the two men.  As PM, Erdogan will be reaching his term limit in 2014.  Still ambitious enough to continue holding the reins of power, he is now  seeking to be elected President in 2015 with new powers similar to Putin’s in Russia. In 2011, with his highly authoritarian style, Erdogan purged several of Gul supporters from the Party's list of parliamentary candidates.  He has been eyeing Gul's presidential post for a long time with no pretenses to conceal his desire of getting into the Cankaya Presidential Palace.  Consequently, he has been exploring the possibilities of putting up all sorts of draconian laws to prevent Gul running for  re-election.

Among the 47 countries of the Council of Europe, Turkey is supposed to have the worst record on press freedom.  Thanks to Erdogan.  It takes him very little time to get agitated and hyped at the slightest of criticism by the local media.   Erdogan and Gul appear to have disagreed on the topic of press freedom several times with conflicting comments.  Erdogan's new idea to frame and prosecute journalists has been through an anti-terror legislation, according to which, "propaganda" in favor of an officially declared terrorist group is punishable by imprisonment.   More than 120 journalists are behind bars in the country, making Turkey one of the "world's leading jailers of journalists."  Unlike Erdogan, Gul has always been a keen proponent of a free Turkish press.

While Erdogan has been endlessly grumbling with disappointment over Morsi's ouster in Egypt,  Gul sent a congratulatory message to Egypt's interim leader, Adli Mansoor.  However, this shouldn't be taken as Turkey's softening of stance towards Egypt's Tammarod revolution.  Any softening would have to come from the government .. that means from the Prime Minister, not the President.  Gul has a largely ceremonial role as President with virtually no authority to challenge the hostile tone or bad policies of the government.

It's unclear yet whether this show of disunity involving Gul's humility symbolizes his effort to safeguard the interest of AK Party by trying to allay the anger of the people or might it be a strategy to distance himself from the Prime Minister to consolidate his own political future.   Only time will tell.

Concerning the demonstrations in Turkey, it's interesting to note that the  military has reportedly refused to join the police force.  Even if Erdogan isn't intimidated by the leaderless Turkish protests, no matter how large, the military's gesture (if true) surely needs to be heeded as a worrisome warning.