It’s seldom that nations meet personalities who are larger than life and influential to such an extent that they leave an ever-lasting footprint for generations to revere and remember. It’s rare, but when it happens, it results in such magic and transformation that nations evolve and transcend beyond comprehension. If I allow my imagination to back-track some of the names that pop out of my mind are people like, Ghandi, Quaid e Azam and Nelson Mandela. Today, I would like to draw your attention to someone if not of similar stature yet, but no doubt, a contender on the road to similar limelight. I am referring to Erdogan, the current Turkish Prime Minister, who has been in power for about 8 years now. He is known as being a moderate Islamist and advocate of secular democracy who is slowly becoming the world’s most influential leaders.
It is not every day that politicians are greeted in a reception reserved for rock stars and the Turkish leader is not at all alien to such standing ovations and has been received by thousands of fans cheering in the airport holding aloft posters of their hero on multiple occasions. Erdogan was ranked the most admired world leader in a 2010 poll of Arabs and many site him as the kind of leader they would like to have instead. He has greatly enhanced Turkey’s international reputation; reined in its once omnipotent military, pursued economic policies that have trebled per capita income and unleashed new entrepreneurship and has for the most part maintained a pro-west stance. Erdogan and his justice and development party, better known by its acronym AKP has drawn support from both the religious and conservation classes and is regarded with suspicion by secular absolutists. For Arab Islamists, Turkey’s success is proof that they can modernize their countries without breaking away from their religious moorings. Erdogans message to all brethren Arab states is to be good Muslims, but make sure your constitution is like, Turkey’s secular. “Do not fear secularism, because it does not mean being an enemy of religion.” Erdogan wears a business suit, but he prays in the mosque.
In the eight years that Erdogan has been in power, Turkey’s per capita GDP has grown nearly threefold, from $3,492 to $10,079. The dramatic improvement in the lives of ordinary Turks is a major reason his socially conservative, pro business justice and development party, won its third general election in June, by a landslide. From the eyes of western observers, the rise of political Islam conjures up visions of extremist, reactionary states, like Iran and Iraq. But, Turkey proved its critics wrong by not becoming another Iran. Also Erdogan has pushed harder than his secular predecessors for an ultimate Western endorsement: admission into the EU. Not just that, from the year 2002 to 2010, Turkey’s GDP grew by a compounded rate of 4.8 per cent, more than Russia, Brazil and South Korea. In 2010, their GDP grew by 8.9 per cent and EU’s grew by 1.9 per cent. Turkey today, has become the world’s 17th largest economy, behind Spain and Canada. With time, Erdogan has grown more ambitious abroad, with US support, he has sought to turn Turkey into a moderator of other regional rifts, bringing Syria and Israel as close as they have ever come to peace talks. In the political arena, his next challenge is to rewrite the Turkish constitution. The fear in the air that he will dilute Turkey’s secularism has now been replaced with a growing concern that he will push for executive power to be concentrated in the office of the President, where Presidency in Turkey is an ornamental position. There are talks of him switching roles similar to the Medvedev-Putin swap in Moscow. All this is a true testament of how far Erdogan, the Islamist iconic hero, has come that his critics no longer fear him of turning Turkey into another Iran, rather there is a euphoric element in the air of Turkey’s rise to acme and Erdogan’s critical role for almost a decade working towards its success day and night.
The writer is Texas A&M University graduate who is currently employed with Telenor in the Products – Commercial Division. He can be reached at [email protected]