Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured his place in history by winning Turkey’s first direct presidential election on Monday.
Although Erdogan, who has been prime minister for more than a decade, won after receiving 52 percent of the vote, he remains one of the most
controversial leaders in his country.
His dictator-style rule and Islamist policies brought thousands of Turks to the streets last year, leading to mass protests that are still ongoing.
However, the violent demonstrations – that according to some analysts were the most challenging events for Erdogan's ten-year term and the most significant nationwide unrest in decades – didn’t have any significant effect on the embattled PM’s governance, which is conversely getting stricter by the day.
Let’s have a look at how and exactly why Tayyip Erdogan earned the status of a tyrant over the course of his rule (and maybe even before that).
Ban On Alcohol:
In 1994, Erdogan became the mayor of Istanbul. Although he was appreciated for doing a good job, even by his critics, a decision to ban alcohol in cafes garnered a lot of criticism from the secularists of the country.
During his time as mayor, his religious background and commitment to Islamic values made him popular among the devout Muslim Turks.
Islamic Poem Incident And Conviction:
Erdogan’s Islamic leanings had him arrested in 1998 when he publicly recited a controversial poem after which he was accused of inciting religious hatred.
The lines read: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..."
He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, but was freed after four, after which he adopted a more pro-Western approach in politics which helped him win the support of pro-European union Turks.
On March 14, 2003, Erdogan assumed office as the 25th Prime Minister of Turkey.
Church Request Denied In Favor Of Mosque:
Last year in May, a request to build a Christian church in Turkey's capital of Ankara was denied by Erdogan’s government in favor of building a mosque.
The city at that point had 3,000 mosques and no church. It was one of the earliest and the biggest controversies that erupted prior to the protests.
In the same month, kissing or showing affection in public was legally prohibited in Turkey. Subsequently, people decided to stage a protest doing just what they had been forbidden to do.
They gathered and quite publicly not only demanded their right to show affection and kiss publicly but exchanged kisses as well to mark their point.
Dozens of couples locked lips at a subway; many bore placards protesting against the ban.
(UPDATE: However, as one reader was kind enough to point out, contrary to the initial reports, kissing was neither banned on the network nor subject to fines. But there was a campaign that asked customers to "behave considerately".)
Red Lipstick And Nail Polish Ban:
Also in May, Turkey's national airline banned flight attendants from wearing red lipstick and nail polish, arguing bright makeup 'impairs visual integrity'.
This move was yet again seen as an attempt towards the radicalization of Turkish society and garnered much criticism.
(UPDATE: Fortunately though, the ban was later overturned.)
Use Of Brutal Force During Protests:
It’s a well-documented fact that the protests last year would not have turned violent had the police not used excessive force against the activists.
Tear gas and pepper spray was frequently used against the protesters while some of them were even shot down by the law enforcement personnel.
Due to the brutal crackdown, the Turkish PM was then widely referred to as the ‘modern-day sultan’.
Silencing State Media:
The state media totally abandoned the protesters’ cause under Erdogan’s orders, which is why the public turned towards social media forums like Twitter and Facebook for help, demanding their right to free speech and freedom of movement.
The demonstrators even asked for the international media’s support by raising funds for a full page advertisement in the Washington Post and/or the New York Times.
The page entitled ‘Full Page Ad for Turkish Democracy in Action: OccupyGezi for the World’ was posted on IndieGoGo.com – a crowdsourcing website.
Lifting Ban On Headscarves:
On October 8, 2013, he lifted a long-standing ban on head scarves for female workers in state offices. Although according to Erdogan the step was taking towards the promotion and endorsement of democratic values in the country, many eyed it with suspicion, alleging it was a clear indication of the PM’s sultan-like, pro-Islamic sympathies.
Internet Censorship Laws:
In 2014, Erdogan yet again generated controversy for passing a controversial new law in February that would tighten control of the internet in Turkey.
People again took to the streets, igniting the flame of protests that had faded for a few months.
The Turkish government blocked Twitter on March 20. It was like driving the last nail in the coffin of Erdogan’s credibility as a ruler.
He made matters worse by expressing his dislike towards social media forums and how he considered them a menace for a civilized society.
In less than a week after the ban on Twitter, statewide access to YouTube was blocked in Turkey on Thursday which further added to the ire of the anti-government activists.
Moreover, it is being widely reported that blocking YouTube could be a response to the leak of a conversation between top officials purportedly discussing the possibility of going to war with neighboring Syria – a fact Turkish citizens think their government ought to clarify with them instead of hiding it through social media bans.