- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Bridging
- Official Title: Prime Minister
- Government: Established democracy
- Years Left in Office: Indefinite: no term limits
- Political Classification: Center-right
- Education: BA in Management
- Age: 65 (born February 26, 1954)
Recep Erdoğan Facts and Information
I do loves the Turkey…and I’m not even talkin’ about Thanksgiving either! Turkey is a fast-rising regional power of note, with increasing importance on the world stage as well in terms of its role as a power broker in Middle Eastern affairs, as a NATO member, and as a rapidly expanding economy. Turkey is simultaneously a Muslim country, a vibrant democracy, a friend to the US and “the West”, yet also an ally of Syria, Iran and others in “the East”...this very unique situation makes the leader of Turkey a critical figure who impacts a hell-ton of political action and serves as a bridge between east and west. And that position is currently held by one kick-ass Turk by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Prime Minister Erdoğan, that is.
Let me throw out this disclaimer before I go any further here: I personally absolutely love Recep Erdoğan and think he is easily one of the most awesome, effective, and honest world leaders currently in office…and I say this at the risk of offending my staunchly secular Turkish friends who may not dig him. But whether you like him or not, it is hard to dispute that he is hugely respected by Western powers (Obama’s 1st overseas visit was to meet with him), by Middle Easterners (he was #1 on a Middle Eastern poll on most respected leaders), and the world as a whole (he has twice been put on Time magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” list). The dude has street cred, has political savvy, is not afraid to speak his mind, and straight up gets shit done. Pretty rare qualities for a politician indeed. So who is Erdoğan and what is he up to?
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan studied economics in college, was politically active at age 18, and was a semi-professional football player from 1969 to 1982. Already, I like a guy who can speak on a political platform during a rally, and then simultaneously beat the hell out of you on the field. Erdoğan was elected Mayor of Istanbul (a serious big-time world city) in 1994…and then was immediately sentenced to prison for publicly reading a poem which referenced Islam. Say what? Yeah, this is important enough to deal with for a minute more…
See, Turkey is a hugely secular society: meaning, they are serious about separation of church and state, in this case a separation between Islam and the government. Since the inception of the modern state in 1923, the Turkish constitution and the Turkish military have made it expressly clear that their democratic institutions will be protected at all costs, and that there will be no tolerance for religious influences on the political process. (This sets Turkey quite apart from virtually all other overwhelmingly Muslim countries in the Middle East in which religion plays an integral part of politics, and makes Turkey the most successful example of a Muslim democracy.) Turkey does not allow religious political parties to thrive, bans the wearing of any religious garb in government buildings, and the military has regularly ‘purged’ entire governments that were seen as leaning towards implementing Islamic/theocratic elements into society. But back to Recep…
After serving 4 months in jail for his “Islamic” poetry reading while Mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan was so incensed by his experience that he later established the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2001. From the start, the AK Party immediately became the largest publicly-supported political movement in Turkey. The general elections of 2002 resulted with the AK Party winning two-thirds of the seats in parliament…meaning they are large and in charge, a situation which is still true up to today. Since Erdoğan is the chairman of the AK Party, and that party holds a majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, that makes him the Prime Minister…one with a solid support base across the country. But even given that, he and the AK Party Turkish President were almost tossed out of office in 2009. So what gives with that?
The AK Party was challenged at the Turkish Supreme Court level for being too religious, and therefore unconstitutional! Had this challenge been upheld by the court, the entire AK Party would have been banned and Recep thrown out of office! How bizarre! Luckily, it just barely was rejected by a very close vote, but this issue is not entirely dead yet.
Let me give you my personal take on this: I don’t believe Recep or his AK Party are really a ‘religious’ party bent on making Turkey an Islamic state. They would be better described as a conservative, traditional party that openly values religion as an integral part of their culture…in fact I would go so far as to compare them to conservative Republicans in the US who would approve of prayer in school and banning abortions. Would you call the US conservatives a ‘religious party’? Hmmm…probably not, but they are a political party that is very religious. The AK is kind of like that, and please know this: they are popular with the majority of Turks, especially the more rural, more traditional, more conservative, more religious ones. So I’m OK with the AK.
The Turkic Top-Gun:
But enough of the AK and Recep’s role in it, let’s turn to why this guy kicks total ass as the top Turk…. Since taking office as the Prime Minister in 2003, Recep Erdoğan has overseen a tremendous economic explosion, a cultural renaissance, and international power expansion of Turkey. I say with no reservations that Turkey is a country to keep an eye on, as it continues to become a regional leader of note and an international power player on a variety of fronts. Such as?
Well for starters, even though few people are paying attention to it, Turkey’s economy has been absolutely exploding ever since Erdoğan took power. Turkey has had an average 7-8% economic growth rate for the last decade, putting it second only to China in the growth category! That is way more than any other European country, by a long-shot! What has Recep done to influence that? He is a staunch free market capitalist, and has focused on privatization big time….he believes in getting the government out of the way of business…which has been increasing competitiveness and streamlining industries. He has also slashed Turkey’s public debt in half since he took office….what other world leader can say that?
On top of that, he simultaneously set much higher standards on the banking/finance sectors in Turkey—much higher standards than in ‘the West’, by the way—which is why Turkey has not been hurt nearly as bad in the world economic recession as the unregulated markets of the West. Put all those factors together, and you have Turkey as a prime spot for international investment, and it has been pouring in. With a population of 70 million, look for Recep’s Turkey to become a workshop and industrial center of Europe/Middle East. They are booming, and doing it right, with a diversified economic approach that blends industrial/manufacturing and service sector growth with increasing technology-intensive industries too. Credit the economics major Erdoğan with that.
On that same front, Erdoğan has also fought tirelessly for membership in the EU, and the Europeans have steadfastly continued to screw Turkey out of full membership for decades (due mostly to Turkey not being ‘Christian enough’ to fit in their club). Recep still is pushing hard for EU integration…but quite frankly at this point it may not even help Turkey that much anymore even if they get in, since their economic growth and potential is way higher than any of the EU countries.
And Recep has not been waiting around at the alter for the EU either: he has been vigorously establishing more trade ties with Russia, China, and Latin America. Russia is currently their #1 trading partner, but the Turks are expanding in all directions. I look for Turkey to soon join the ranks of the BRIC group [Brazil, Russia, India, China] of economic upstarts which are leading the way for the entire 21st century global economy. So when Turkey joins, will it be the BRICT or the T-BRIC?
Not satisfied with relying on stagnant Europe, Recep has also pushed hard for more economic integration with the Middle East, and Turkey is certainly poised to be a leader in that region as well. Turkey houses the headquarters of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and Erdoğan is still mulling over supporting a “Mediterranean Union” which would become a Middle Eastern alternative to the EU. Recep has no problem forging a unique economic path for Turkey, and he has the same independent attitude in international politics as well…
In other words, Erdoğan is a very vocal political player for Turkey, and has made them into an increasingly important voice in world affairs. Turkey has the ass to back up his words too: Turkey has a professional and modern military (one of the best in the entire region) and Turkey is a freakin’ NATO member, man! Hell yeah!
Everyone seems to forget this important little fact: the Turks have been staunch US allies and a contributing NATO member since the 1950’s!!! The US loves Turkey! Again, not just for Thanksgiving Day either…that US Turkey-love is year round baby! Nobody will ever mess with Turkey for fear of NATO retaliation…but the thing is, no one would ever mess with Turkey anyway because it really doesn’t piss anybody off. Okay, except maybe the Greeks and Armenians, but who is scared of them? And Erdoğan even normalized ties with Armenia after a decades-long cold shoulder.
BUT WAIT! Just because Erdoğan and Turkey are loyal NATO members and tight with the US, don’t think for one second that they are just lap dogs at the beck and call of the West. In fact, Erdoğan is so independent-minded and outspoken that he has regularly ticked off the Western powers with his willingness to establish political ties with US enemies and establish political polices that run counter to US desires. Recep has strong diplomatic ties with Lebanon, Iraq and Russia….but also with Iran and Syria! That really pisses off the US! Turkey is a huge trading partner with Iran, getting millions of cubic meters of natural gas from the Persians every year; and Erdoğan has outright supported Iran’s right to obtain nuclear energy and has refused to support UN-sanctions on Iran. Turkey and Brazil actually made a joint announcement against those US-proposed sanctions….ah, yes, thats right! Turkey and Brazil…part of the BRICT!
This pretty much means you can forget about any joint NATO strike on Iran, because the Turks will veto that too…and forget Turkish support for the US if the Americans decide to go after Iran unilaterally. Recep has already shown that he will not support an attack on a fellow Muslim country. When?
It was Erdoğan who refused to allow the US to use Turkish air space for the Iraq invasion (he was against the Iraq campaign in its entirety). That made Uncle Sam see red, but at the end of the day, there was nothing the US could do but swallow its pride and deal with it. Why? The US does not want to lose its only Muslim military ally on the planet, especially when that ally is a vibrant democracy and model for the world. But Erdoğan is not afraid of using force when he sees fit: he made the command call to militarily invade northern Iraq to squash a Kurdish terrorist group, which really upset the US too.
By far the biggest international waves that Erdoğan has made concern Israel. He has been a long-time friend of Israel and was even the force behind getting Israel and Syria to the negotiating table to perhaps finally sign a peace agreement (that has since fallen through.) However, Recep has really taken an aggressive hard-line against the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was further polarized by the Israeli Gaza Flotilla Raid of May 2010 (google it if you didn’t see it in the news)...this was a supposedly a peaceful blockade-buster of ships, mostly of Turkish peoples, which was intercepted by the Israeli military and 9 people died. Nasty, nasty business that really infuriated Erdoğan, who then called it “Israeli state terrorism”, recalled the Turkish ambassador, and demanded an international investigation. He had previously stormed out of the Davos Economic Summit in 2009 after a heated debate with the Israeli President, in which Recep was quoted as saying, “Israel is really good at killing people.” Yikes! I think you can probably figure out what the Israelis think of the top Turk…
But even that has worked in Erdoğan’s favor! He is now one of the most respected leaders in the Middle East and in Muslim communities worldwide. His unapologetic hard-line against Israel, and standing up to ‘the West’ in general on this issue, has earned him huge street cred in the eyes of hundreds of millions of folks who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. He is now one most identifiable and respected leaders in Eurasia/Middle East/Europe.
So take a hit on the hookah and sum it all up: Recep Erdoğan is a passionate, outspoken, politically savvy Prime Minister that has strong ties to the US, to Europe, to the Middle East, to Russia, and increasingly to China and Latin America….hell, that just about covers the planet! He has guided his country to unprecedented economic growth, and a growing spot on the political world stage. He has become the “bridge” between major powers on a variety of issues and is the most likely peace broker between the West and Islamic countries. A pro-West, pro-Islam, pro-internationalism, pro-Turkey kind of guy.
Like him or hate him, you at least know where you stand with him, and that sets him far and above the mindless and pandering rhetoric of most politicians. Erdoğan is the Turkish man with the Turkish plan. I think he put the ‘delight’ in Turkish Delight too.