Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has served longer than any person as prime minister of the Republic of Turkey, today marks his completion of a full decade in that office, having entered it on March 14, 2003.
Born in February 1954, he is now 59 years old. And while he has a potentially long political career ahead of him, he reportedly suffers from some serious ailments that could cut it short.
The only comparable figure in modern Turkish history is Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic and its dominant figure. It is reasonable to see Erdogan as the anti-Ataturk, the leader who seeks to undo substantial parts of his predecessor’s legacy, especially his rejection of sharia, or Islamic law. One can also see him as the politician who turns Islamism into a nearly viable political program.
Erdogan’s main challenges are three-fold: an electorate increasingly wary of his domineering ways, an ever-more restive Kurdish population, and a problematic regional alignment in which, as Ian O. Lesser put it in an analysis published yesterday, “Ankara faces some troubling cold wars, new and old, that will shape the strategic environment and the nature of Turkey’s security partnerships.”
Westerners have been conspicuously slow in understanding just what a threat Erdogan presents; one can only hope that his second decade will prompt more understanding than the first.