They called him Imam Beckenbauer in school – the man who has just won a second term in office in Turkey is fervent about his religion and his football. And he has turned out to be a tactician worthy of any top-class manager. Raised in a deprived part of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan earned money on the football field – and quickly learned how to sell day-old bread rolls to pay for his Islamic studies. In 1994, he was elected mayor of Istanbul. But his progress in politics hit a snag – with a poem which cost him dear: “The mosques are our barracks,” he read, “the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.”
The secular authorities thought it was too religious. They gave him a short jail term, and banned him from holding political office. The AK Party was founded in 2001. The following year it won a landslide in parliament. But Erdogan was still banned from holding office, until March 2003, when parliament changed the law, and he became Prime Minister. This popular and highly charismatic politician signed the papers to start talks on EU membership in 2005. But despite his enthusiasm for Europe, certain quarters of Turkish society view him with suspicion. In the spring, his choice of Presidential candidate, Abdullah Gul, was deemed too religious. But analyst Murat Akgun thinks Erdogan will get the change in the law he wants.
He said: “At the moment, what I see in the picture, AKP have the clear majority, even if they go for the presidential election for the society, it means they will get what they want” Erdogan is confident his victory in the parliamentaries will be repeated in a referendum in October on how the President is chosen – and if he is right, there could be a President from the AK party after all.