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May 23, 2012

At Stanford, Turkish president says 'this is the age of people's empowerment'

President Abdullah Gül spoke about leadership, change and sticking to principles, even when they may be unpopular.

By Brooke Donald

Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey, answers questions from the audience with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a faculty member at the Graduate School of Business. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Turkish President Abdullah Gül, on a visit to Stanford Wednesday, praised the technological innovations that have come out of the university and Silicon Valley as critical to expanding freedom and enabling democracy around the world.

"Because of your innovation, no regime today has the luxury to govern its people behind iron curtains," he said to an audience at Cemex Auditorium.

Gül visited Stanford as part of a U.S. swing that had him at the NATO conference in Chicago earlier this week and in San Francisco, where he received the key to the city from Mayor Ed Lee. One of Gül's sons graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a host of the lecture.

On a day when Egyptians half a world away lined up to vote for their first freely elected president, Gül spoke about democracy, freedom, leadership, change and sticking to principles, even when they may be unpopular.

He said social media and other communication tools have allowed everyone to learn about what is happening everywhere in the world and make comparisons.

"This is the age of people's empowerment," he said, citing the Arab Spring uprisings and the Occupy demonstrations in New York.

"It is today almost a universally accepted notion that the only source of legitimacy for a political leader is the people's choice. And every day and everywhere we are seeing increasing involvement of people in decision making," he said.

Gül criticized politicians who relent to public pressure, however, when it results in bad policy for everyone else.

"The leaders might become reluctant to take bold decisions for the common good," he said.

He took Europe's leaders to task for what he characterized as failing to see the looming economic problems and not taking bold steps to address them. And, he said, there are now growing tendencies across Europe for leaders to become more introverted and to give in to the rise of political extremists.

"This is certainly not a good example of leadership, but petty politics at its worst," he said.

Gül also lamented the ongoing violence in Syria that has resulted in nearly 25,000 refugees fleeing into Turkey. He said Turkey is doing what it can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, but the international community hasn't done enough.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a faculty member at the business school, sat on stage with Gül after his speech, moderating questions from the audience and asking some of her own.

Rice said a question on the minds of many after the Arab Spring is whether a Muslim country can also be democratic.

Recognizing there is still a long way to go in broadening liberties and strengthening some democratic institutions in Turkey, Gül said his country is a model for others. He added that Turkey is in the process of drafting a new constitution and hailed other democratic reforms pursued over the last several years.

"Turkey has become a source of inspiration," Gül said.

Gül urged Stanford students to use their education to help solve such problems as poverty, global warming, energy and biological security.

"I firmly believe that with your outstanding leadership qualities and culture of innovative entrepreneurship, you will make an enormous difference in the resolution of these global problems," he said.

Gül's speech was part of the business school's Global Speaker Series and View from the Top lecture series, which feature world and business leaders.



Brooke Donald, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,

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