Turkey’s Erdogan Both Loved and Feared

Posted June 13th, 2011 at 12:45 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at once both a popular and polarizing figure in Turkey who is increasingly coming to dominate the country's political landscape.

Since his Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, Mr. Erdogan has transformed Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies despite global economic troubles.

He has also led Turkey into European Union accession talks while at the same time strengthening ties with the Middle East. His willingness to condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and to reach out to Iran has galvanized his Islamic base, but has also raised fears among large sections of the population that their secular lifestyle is in danger.

In addition, Mr. Erdogan has undertaken reforms to curb the influence of Turkey's powerful, secular military in order to reduce the risk of coups that have plagued the country in the past.

The tough-talking and charismatic prime minister has become a favorite for much of rural Turkey and the urban poor. However, for all of his successes, the prime minister has also gained many detractors.

Despite a record of democratic reform, Mr. Erdogan's government has come under increasing criticism for consolidating power at the expense of consensus-building. Political opponents accuse the prime minister of showing authoritarian tendencies and say he has accumulated too much power and is using it to try to silence his critics. Opposition groups also accuse Mr. Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party of driving Turkey away from the secular principles on which it was founded, towards a more conservative, Islamic state.

The 57-year-old prime minister is a devout Muslim who does not drink or smoke, but he has denied wanting to impose Islamic values on his countrymen.

His Justice and Development Party has its roots in political Islam, and was previously banned for anti-secular activities. Mr. Erdogan was jailed for four months in the late 1990s for reading a pro-Islamic poem at a political rally.

Before becoming prime minister, Mr. Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul.