HE Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the Prime Minister of Türkiye for 11 years, winning three consecutive elections with a majority (2002, 2007 and 2011), before becoming Türkiye’s first popularly elected president in August 2014, securing a second term in the 2018 election and then winning a hard-fought 2023 election. During his terms, Türkiye has seen unprecedented economic growth, constitutional reform, and its re-emergence as a major global power. All this, combined with his unapologetic voice on the world stage and support of Muslim issues, have won over Muslims worldwide.
President: Erdoğan secured 52.1% of the vote in the second round run off in the 2023 presidential election. This was a continuation of his remarkable popularity and success at the ballot box over the past two decades. During his time as President he has pushed for more powers for his post, criticized by many as signs of wanting excessive power. He has lost support from key members of his own party and been criticized for cracking down on the media.
Challenges: ‘Erdonomics’, as the President’s unorthodox, economic policies are referred to, have driven down the lira 80% over the last five years, resulting in inflation problems. The appointment of Mehmet Şimşek is a sign that economic policies will return to more orthodox policies. In February 2023, a catastrophic earthquake in southeastern Turkey killed more than 50,000 people and the President and government were criticized for their slow response. Despite this, both the AKP and the President comprehensively won most of the election votes in the earthquake-hit regions.
Failed Coup Ramifications: The failed coup of 15 July 2016, which led to about 200 deaths, has led to huge ramifications as Erdoğan looks to root out all those involved. He has squarely laid the blame of orchestrating the coup on Fethullah Gülen, and has led an all-out attack on Gülen’s organizations and supporters. There has been a major crackdown on many sectors with about 160,000 civil servants being dismissed in various state institutions, with over half from the education sector. Also, 50,000 people remain in detention with this number continually rising as authorities press ahead with regular raids. Between the US and Russia: Ties with the US have strained considerably since Türkiye decided to purchase the Russian S-400 defence system instead of the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. The US responded by suspending Türkiye from the F-35 jet programme and holding up other arms deals. Türkiye is playing a balancing role with Russia following the latter’s war with Ukraine, and is key for Europe’s energy flow.
Hagia Sophia: Hagia Sophia, built in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, was converted into the Fatih Mosque after Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city in 1453. In 1935, and in line with his effort to erase Türkiye’s Islamic identity, Atatürk converted Hagia Sophia into a museum. In July 2020, Erdoğan reversed Atatürk’s decision and reclassified Hagia Sophia as a mosque—a decision celebrated by most Muslims.
Soft Power: The soft power of the Turkish film industry has played a large part in growing Türkiye’s influence throughout the Muslim world. Historical dramas about Sulayman the Magnificent and Sultan Abdul-Hamid II were hugely popular in the Arab world, but the drama about Ertuğrul, (Diriliş: Ertuğrul), the legendary father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, has intensified and broadened this influence. Leaders of other Muslim countries have not only urged their citizens to watch it but have also taken it as a model with which to develop their own indigenous dramas.
Name Change: In 2022 an official request for Turkey to be changed to Türkiye (tur-key-YAY) as it is spelled and pronounced in Turkish was accepted by the UN. The country has called itself Türkiye since its declaration of independence in 1923.