They also accused water of being wet. “Turkey’s protesters accuse Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Islamist agenda,” by Barney Henderson in the Telegraph, June 1:
When Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to power in 2002, Turkey was lauded by the West as an example of a successful, Muslim-majority, secular democracy.
The country’s brand of “Islamic Calvinism” — spearheaded by Mr Erdogan’s pro-business and pro-free market reforms — lifted Turkey out of deep recession.
Crippling inflation was brought under control and the economy has grown at an average of 7.3 per cent a year over the last decade.
Politically, he has been praised for the introduction of several progressive reforms. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has been given supremacy over Turkish courts, and in general Mr Erdogan has brought Turkey closer to the European Union.
After three election victories, he has been — and remains — the most popular politician in Turkey’s recent history and has cemented the country’s alliance with the United States, which was highlighted when Barack Obama chose Ankara as his first overseas trip as president in 2009.
However, with protests flaring across the country, the prime minister now faces one of the biggest challenges of his eleven-year reign. A growing number of people in the country — even those who have supported him in the past — are now accusing Mr Erdogan of a stifling authoritarianism and a subtle shift towards religious conservatism. They say Turkey is secular in name only and that Mr Erdogan is now promoting a distinctly Islamist agenda.
The government has refused to continue Turkey’s strict ban on religion from all public domains and its limitation to private life.
In 2008, parliament passed an amendment to the constitution allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities.
Describing himself as a Muslim prime minister of a secular state, Mr Erdogan last year said he wanted to see a “pious generation” — a comment that drew much criticism but was backed up by the passing of a law allowing religious schools to take on students as young as 11.
In a surprise move last week, the government introduced a new law cracking down on alcohol, banning the sale of drink between 10pm and 6am and forcing restaurants near schools or mosques to be dry.
The prime minister denied the law had anything to do with Islam, but that it was intended to stop young Turks from “wandering about in a state of inebriation”.
The protesters are unconvinced, fearing that targeting alcohol fits in with a pattern of conservatism that has seen more headscarves and longer skirts amongst female civil servants.
“In the old days if you wanted a promotion you wore a short skirt, now it’s the other way round,” a diplomat told the Economist.
The wave of protests that began on Friday were not borne of environmental concerns about Taksim park. The men and women that have taken to the streets in towns and cities across the country are growing increasingly frustrated by the direction Mr Erdogan — supported by his intensely unpopular police force — appears to have taken.
“They want to turn this country into an Islamist state, they want to impose their vision all the while pretending to respect democracy,” said one young female protester in Istanbul, declining to give her name.
The US issued a rare rebuke over the police response to the protests and will be monitoring the suggestion that Turkey’s secularisation is under threat closely — especially with the key and complex role Turkey has in the Syria conflict.