Magazine article New Internationalist


Magazine article New Internationalist


Article excerpt

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Job: President of Turkey

Reputation: Ambitious autocrat in pious clothes

Recep Tayyip erdogan isn't afraid of making enemies. These days he is at war on almost every conceivable front. He first rose to national prominence in 2002 when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority in parliament and he became Prime Minister. The party has its roots in the Turkish tradition of political Islam (opposed to the strong Turkish secular traditions dating back to Atatürk). During a brief stint as mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan earned a reputation as a mild reformer on issues such as traffic and pollution and there were brief hopes that he could be the face of a more tolerant and democratic political Islam. These soon crashed in flames as his tendency to regard politics as a form of death match became all too apparent.

Today, the range of Erdogan's enemies is truly impressive: secular civil society, the Turkish Left, the Kurds, Shi'a Muslims, the young environmentalists of Gezi Park, Armenians and other minority groups in Turkey, and, following the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane by Turkish forces in November, Russian boss Vladimir Putin. One might be forgiven for thinking that Putin and Erdogan might have found some common ground as two of the more humourless and intolerant specimens the global political class has on offer. But no.

The pious Erdogan is proving a keen micro-manager of Turkish behaviour, with schemes to criminalize adultery and create 'alcohol-free' zones. An old-school kind of guy, Erdogan is not fond of social media either, threatening to outlaw Twitter and arresting teenagers who don't show him enough respect in their Facebook posts. He does, however, believe in the proper trappings of pomp in government, overseeing a new 1,100-room presidential complex costing a cool $615 million. Syria is the thorn in the side of Erdogan's geopolitical ambitions. With Syrian President 'Basher' Assad, a Shi'a ally of Iran, in well-deserved trouble, Erdogan joined hands with Saudi Arabia's House of Saud to see if together they could move the failed democratic experiment of the Damascus Spring in the direction of Sunni fundamentalism. They succeeded, probably beyond their expectations, with the emergence of the barbaric ISIS or Daesh. …

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