Erdogan: The Turkish President and the Islamist - Seeker's Thoughts

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Erdogan: The Turkish President and the Islamist


Recep Tayyip Erdogan The Turkish President and the Islamist





The Turkish President and the Islamist Islamist

Erdogan was born in 1954 in Kasimpasa, an impoverished and working-class district of Istanbul. He attended an Islamic school before playing semiprofessional football before graduating from Istanbul's Marmara University.


Reis rose through the ranks of Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party to become mayor of Istanbul in 1994. When that party was banned in 2001, Reis helped found the AK Party and two years later was appointed prime minister.




Erdogan was raised in Rize province along Turkey's Black Sea coastline. While selling lemonade and sesame buns to supplement his income, he attended Imam Hatip Islamic school before earning a management degree at Istanbul's Marmara University (Genc, 2019). Later, he pursued professional football before entering politics - where he quickly established himself among Islamist political circles.


In the 1970s and 80s, Erdogan joined Necmettin Erbakan's Milli Gorus Party which focused on distancing Turkish society from secularism, Westernism, capitalism and secularism (Koni, Rosli & Zin, 2015). Erbakan advocated an Islamist state; rapidly emerging as its charismatic leader was Erdogan.


By the early 1990s, he had established himself as an influential politician, eventually being elected Mayor of Istanbul in 1994. He had an exceptional gift for gathering large crowds together and speaking with profound religiosity that resonated strongly with conservative segments of society. Unfortunately in 1998 he was arrested after reading out a poem which likened mosques and minarets to barracks and bayonets; charges of inciting religious hatred ensued against him, leading him to step down as mayor while continuing as Welfare Party Provincial Head in Istanbul.


As president, Erdogan has utilized this same style to gain popularity by tapping into popular grievances and aspirations. To reassure his populist economic policies have implemented by him while increasing military intervention abroad - this strategy may irritate Western allies but has gained him loyal supporters among conservative Sunni voters (Genc, 2015).


Erdogan has used traditional moral positions as public policy measures in Southeast Turkey following devastating earthquakes which killed over 50 thousand people in February, such as strict interpretation of laws regulating child bearing rates for women and restrictions on coed dorms and off-campus housing units to address allegations of prostitution (Lowen 2017).


Erdogan has established himself as a key foreign policy decision-maker despite his unconventional domestic agenda, with close ties with Russia, keeping Sweden on hold in NATO membership, and shifting Turkey's relationship with Western powers to one of transactional cooperation and antagonism (Genc, 2019). Going forward, it seems likely that Erdogan will continue this strategy.




Turkey and Western governments have had tenuous relations for some time now, and Erdogan's leadership has only compounded these strains. Erdogan is accused of undermining the secular foundation established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 and weakening its key institutions such as army, judiciary and media pillars - with critics alleging he favors his own group of followers while using state resources for personal gain while bypassing democratic checks and balances.


Erdogan's roots in Islamist politics allowed him to effectively understand and respond to the grievances, resentments, and aspirations of his conservative Turkish Sunni supporters. While Kemalists suppressed Islamist parties that fed off religious oppression within society, Erdogan aligned himself with populist Islamism while cultivating an image as being close to his constituents.


Erdogan began his business career selling lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul before earning a degree in management from Marmara University. Soon thereafter he got involved with youth politics by joining Necmettin Erbakan's pro-Islamic Milliyetci Partisi-National Salvation Party youth branch; this movement fuelled his rise to prominence due to its appeal among conservative voters with its Islamist nationalist agenda which sought to keep Turkey from Westernization and secularism.


In 2002, Erdogan's party became increasingly popular and won an overwhelming victory at elections, becoming the largest party in parliament and eventually taking government power with Erdogan as prime minister. Over three terms in office he delivered steady economic growth and won praise internationally for expanding middle class demographics while modernising infrastructure projects; but his desire to suppress criticism by arresting and jailing many critics raised serious concerns among journalists, academics, soldiers, dissident politicians as well as dissident politicians - leading many to question his rule and force his will upon society.


With an emerging currency crisis threatening to shake Turkey's economy, economists believe President Erdogan may be forced to adjust his approach over the coming months; however, this change may meet opposition from business groups who fear devaluing of lira would increase costs for doing business in Turkey.


Foreign Policy


Erdogan has steadily advanced from mayor of Istanbul to prime minister to president by exploiting and manipulating democratic institutions, consolidating his power further and becoming increasingly autocratic in nature. Additionally, his influence is used to shape international politics with greater success.


At the outset of his political career, Erdogan adopted an Islamist populist worldview. This came from his time spent during the 1970s and 80s in Milli Gorus (National View) Islamist party under Erbakan's mentorship, where his worldview included Islamist elements rooted in secularism and Western values that cast Turkish Muslims as moral superior and opposed by Kemalist elites who oppress, exclude and victimise them.


Erdogan utilizes more than just this ideology to advance his neo-nationalist and populist agendas. To remain popular and secure his place at power, his playbook calls for him to boost national pride while feeding national security fears and demonizing opponents - which all play into his hands.


Since 2000, Erdogan has used this playbook to secure three terms as prime minister, overseeing economic expansion and garnering praise from international institutions as an effective reformer. Under him, middle classes grew rapidly; millions were lifted out of poverty; and giant infrastructure projects were prioritized by state authorities; however critics warned of increasing authoritarianism and populism from Erdogan.


As president, Erdogan has taken steps to shift Turkey's foreign policy in an increasingly confrontational and nationalist direction. As President, he actively promoted and contributed to a devastating conflict in Armenia's Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2021, raised obstacles against Sweden and Finland's NATO accession, and served as an important mediator in Russia-Ukraine hostilities. He has taken more aggressive positions in Syria and Iraq, raising the threat of ground invasion against Kurdish groups. NATO member countries have threatened expulsion of ambassadors from nearly a dozen nations; Erdogan has been pushing for greater powers for his presidency; domestically he has cracked down on dissent as well as media freedom while moving toward an increasingly authoritarian model.




Religion plays an essential part in Erdogan's worldview. Early in his career, he was heavily influenced by Necmettin Erbakan's Milli Gorus (National Salvation Party - MSP) ideology of Islamist nationalism; specifically its populism built around anti-Western sentiment, pro-Islamist ideology and Turkish nationalism to consolidate power within state institutions while suppressing dissent while breaking institutional checks and balances to form a loyalist elite in private sector employment.


Islamist populism enabled him to construct himself as the sole genuine representative of society and its general will, while this narrative resonated with conservative Turkish Sunni masses who felt victimised by Western-oriented Kemalist elites, echoing collective trauma associated with 1923 Treaty of Sevres that partitioned Ottoman Empire.


As a student at Marmara University, Erdogan participated in professional football team play while being an outspoken orator on behalf of political Islam. Furthermore, due to his extraordinary mobilizational skills he managed to attract young people towards his campaign; eventually becoming Beyoglu district head of Welfare Party in 1984 before being named Istanbul provincial chairman later.


He became the first Islamist mayor of a major Turkish city and his victory sent shockwaves through secularist Turkey. Yet, he managed the transition by being both pragmatic and canny in his approach - for instance yielding to protests about mosque construction while banning alcohol sales at local cafes.


Erdogan refined his leadership and organizational abilities during his ascent through the ranks of the AKP for over a decade, becoming an effective orator who could appeal to voters' emotions. Additionally, he leveraged popular fears about Western or other foreign influences infiltrating into his country; painting civil society organisations as "enemies of the people," funded by foreign interests.


As the AKP's power increased, it moved closer to Islamist totalitarianism. Erdogan began to introduce more religious rules into daily life such as wearing headscarves and banning same-sex marriages - signs that religio-moral elements from his National View had returned into his worldview.


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