Erdoğan, the Messiah or a Pontificator?

05/04/2015 02:57 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2016


Since the Gezi demonstrations took place in İstanbul in the summer of 2013, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been called an autocrat, a despot, a sultan, a tyrant, a fascist and a dictator by the opposition.

However, his fans call him "boss" and the concept is no different, anyway... Recently, his followers started calling him "caliph" and the term is worth talking about before the election that will take a place on June 7.

As a matter of fact, although Turkish unity has always been dependent on the religion of Islam as a kind of social cement to maintain a common identity, Islam has never been as much a matter of pretension in politics during the history of the Turkish Republic as it is right now. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Erdoğan are making a great effort to show a Muslim reawakening at home and expanding Turkey's religious ostentatiousness abroad.

Even though Turkey has always been an example of secularism in the Islamic world, the so-called model for a synthesis of Islam and democracy, the state controls and supervises religious activities through the Religious Affairs Directorate, so it would not be incorrect to say that Sunni Islam has always been a "state religion" in the Turkish Republic. The directorate was established as a branch of the government in 1924 to control any unwanted religious uprisings in the newly established modern Turkey. It is directly attached to the Prime Ministry in response to the Turkish state's termination of the caliphate and the Office of the Grand Mufti and the Ministry of Pious Endowments.

President Erdoğan and Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gömez

However, apparently, after almost a century after it was established, the directorate is leading a religious uprising in Turkey. The directorate has had its budget and staff expanded since 2003 and now has 120,000 permanent and 30,000 temporary employees.

Since 2013, the directorate has received an 18.2 percent increase in its budget, which is now larger than 13 individual ministries. For example, while the directorate got a budget of approximately $2.5 billion this year, in comparison, the Foreign Ministry received $636.5 million and the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology only received $299.7 million. These figures clearly reveal the priority of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. In addition, under the leadership of Professor Mehmet Görmez, it has organized the Eurasia Islamic Council, the Summit of African Islamic Leaders, the Meeting of European Muslims, the Convention of the Balkan Religious Affairs' Directors and the World Muslim Scholars Initiative for Peace, Moderation and Common Sense to discuss religious services and cooperation opportunities in the world and to embrace and get ready to lead the Islamic institutions in the world.

While the directorate has been transforming from a regular-sized directorate to a super-sized major institution, Erdoğan -- the AKP's founder and long-time prime minister and now the country's president -- has been using his personal charisma and eloquence to bind with his supporters through Islamic references. Even though Turkey has become a big-time failure in the Middle East with its wrong foreign policies and has lost its credibility in the region, in the eyes of its Western allies and for all those who believed Turkey could be a model to the Islamic world, at home his promise to raise "pious generations" (apparently just to transform public schools into religious schools) sold well. Thus, the project of reintroducing open Islamic discourse into the country's public and political life reached its peak when he was elected the president of Turkey, and now he aims to introduce a presidential system to complete the project.

Erdoğan wasn't alone in this. His team has worked hard to promote him as a holy being to the public so he can become the embodiment of holiness. There are plenty of examples but I only need to mention a few to explain what I mean:

"Erdoğan is a leader who embodies all of the characteristics of God." said AKParty Düzce Deputy Feval Aslan.

"Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a second prophet to us," declared AKP Aydin branch President İsmail Sezer.

"Believe me, even touching our prime minister is a form of worship," remarked AKP Bursa deputy Hüseyin Şahin.

"Doing what our prime minister does is 'sunnah' [a practice of the Prophet Muhammad]," chimed in Deputy Health Minister Ağah Kafkas.

"The TV that displays our prime minister cannot be placed on the ground," warned AKP Çayeli branch President Rıza Çakır.

"Both history and geography stand up to welcome our prime minister," stated Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek.

"The city in which our prime minister was born is sacred," suggested EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış.

"Erdoğan is the eternal president of Turkey," announced AKP Deputy Chairman Süleyman Soylu.

"Prophet Muhammad was overtaken by pride, so God warned him. We, on the other hand, will not be tempted by pride," said Interior Minister Efkan Ala.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is bid farewell by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud after their meeting at Riyadh's Erga Palace in Saudi Arabia on March 2,2015 (Anadolu Agency and Getty images)

It seems his supporters' concerted efforts helped Erdoğan believe that he is the messiah and prepared millions of people in Turkey to believe that without thinking of how acceptable his caliphate is not only in the Islamic world but also to the Turkish nation, with his $655 million flamboyant presidential palace and with the backing of the directorate, his ministers and supporters, he is ready to save the world.

So, are we ready to be saved?

Speacial thanks to Celil Sağır for his contributions.
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