Erdogan, Recep Tayyip

▪ 2004

      The man who formed the new Turkish government in March 2003 had to overcome a serious drawback. The parliamentary elections in November 2002 had been won by the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a leader who was legally barred from standing for the parliament and therefore was not eligible to be prime minister. Erdogan had been deprived of his political rights when he was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment in 1998 for having recited a poem that compared mosques to barracks, minarets to bayonets, and the faithful to an army. This, the court decided, made him guilty of the offense of inciting animosity between citizens on the grounds of religion. The conviction was never overturned, but a constitutional amendment in December 2002 had the effect of removing Erdogan's disqualification. In March 2003 he won a by-election in the eastern province of Siirt and a few days later was asked by the president to form a new government. “Where a brave man falls, there he rises again,” Erdogan commented, for it was in Siirt that he had recited the fatal poem.

      Erdogan was born in a rough neighbourhood of Istanbul on Feb. 26, 1954, the son of a captain of suburban ferries. He went to a vocational school for prayer leaders and preachers and then studied economics. In high school he became known as a fiery orator in the cause of political Islam and an accomplished association football (soccer) player. After playing with a professional soccer team, he opted for politics and became active first in the youth organization and then in the Istanbul provincial branch of parties led by the veteran Islamic politician Necmettin Erbakan. In 1994 Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul on the ticket of the Welfare Party. The election of the first-ever Islamist to the mayoralty shook the secularist establishment, but Erdogan proved to be a competent and canny manager. Having long ago shaved off his Islamic beard and having taken to wearing smart suits that set off his handsome appearance, Erdogan yielded to protests against the building of a mosque in the city's central square and did not enforce the ban on drinking in pavement cafés. He emerged from prison—he served only four months—as a conciliator. When Erbakan's Virtue Party was banned in 2001, Erdogan broke with him and became the leader of innovators in the Islamic camp with whom he formed the Justice and Development Party as a “democratic conservative,” rather than a religion-based, political grouping. He toured the U.S. and Europe in order to prove his democratic Western credentials and advance Turkey's bid to join the European Union. He was a quick study. After a bit of fumbling in the Iraq crisis in spring 2003, which overlapped with his move to the prime minister's office, he was able to rein in his party and the parliament. In October he secured approval for the dispatch of Turkish troops to help keep the peace in Iraq. This assertion of his authority proved cost-free as Iraqi opposition prevented the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers.

Andrew Mango

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▪ prime minister of Turkey
born February 26, 1954, Rize, Turkey
 
 Turkish politician, who became prime minister of Turkey in 2003.

      In high school Erdoğan became known as a fiery orator in the cause of political Islam. He later played on a professional football (soccer) team and attended Marmara University. During this time he met Necmettin Erbakan (Erbakan, Necmettin), a veteran Islamist politician, and Erdoğan became active in parties led by Erbakan, despite a ban in Turkey on religiously based political parties. In 1994 Erdoğan was elected mayor of Istanbul on the ticket of the Welfare Party. The election of the first-ever Islamist to the mayoralty shook the secularist establishment, but Erdoğan proved to be a competent and canny manager. He yielded to protests against the building of a mosque in the city's central square but banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in city-owned cafés. In 1998 he was convicted for inciting religious hatred after reciting a poem that compared mosques to barracks, minarets to bayonets, and the faithful to an army. Sentenced to 10 months in prison, Erdoğan resigned as mayor.

      After serving four months of his sentence, Erdoğan was released from prison in 1999, and he reentered politics. When Erbakan's Virtue Party was banned in 2001, Erdoğan broke with Erbakan and helped form the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi; AKP). His party won the parliamentary elections in 2002, but Erdoğan was legally barred from serving in parliament or as prime minister because of his 1998 conviction. A constitutional amendment in December 2002, however, effectively removed Erdoğan's disqualification. On March 9, 2003, he won a by-election and days later was asked by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to form a new government. Erdoğan took office on May 14, 2003.

      As prime minister, Erdoğan toured the United States and Europe in order to dispel any fears that he held anti-Western biases and to advance Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Although the previous government had refused to allow U.S. troops to be stationed in Turkey during the Iraq War, in October 2003 Erdoğan secured approval for the dispatch of Turkish troops to help keep the peace in Iraq; Iraqi opposition to the plan, however, prevented such a deployment. In 2004 he sought to resolve the issue of Cyprus, which had been partitioned into Greek and Turkish sectors since a 1974 civil war. Erdoğan supported a United Nations plan for the reunification of the island; in April 2004, Turkish Cypriots approved the referendum, but their Greek counterparts rejected it. Tensions between Turkey's secularist parties and Erdoğan's AKP were highlighted in 2007, when attempts to elect an AKP candidate with Islamist roots to the country's presidency were blocked in parliament by an opposition boycott. Erdoğan called for early parliamentary elections, and his party won a decisive victory at the polls in July.

      In early 2008 parliament passed an amendment that lifted a ban on the wearing of head scarves—a sign of religion long contested in Turkey—on university campuses. Opponents of the AKP renewed their charges that the party posed a threat to Turkish secular order, and Erdoğan's position appeared to come under increasing threat. In March the constitutional court voted to hear a case that called for the dismantling of the AKP and banning Erdoğan and dozens of other party members from political life for five years. Erdoğan successfully maintained his position, however, when in July 2008 the court ruled narrowly against the party's closure and sharply reduced its state funding instead.

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Universalium. 2010.

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