The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently taken to having all of his food tested for chemicals and poison by a professional team of 5 scientists, who work in a lab in the presidential palace for 14 hours a day. The news of this comes as Mr. Erdogan has been facing increasing ridicule in recent months for his extravagance. Recently, Mr. Erdogan greeted the visiting President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, with a flank of 16 soldiers dressed in full Ottoman warrior garb, complete with shields, swords, and spears in what was dubbed an “Ottoman Circus” on some social media accounts.
In what the Guardian describes as “Increasing Megalomania,” Mr. Erdogan has lived lavishly in a country troubled by public unrest for the last 12 years of his rule. Accusations of extreme opulence, ranging from $1000 drinking glasses, to large slabs of meat at every meal come in stark contrast to the average Turkish citizen, who may not be able to afford any meat in his meals. Even the presidential palace is a symbol of egomania and extravagance, a $600 million mansion situated in the heart of Anakra is reminiscent of the palaces of old Ottoman sultans.
The New York Times points out that the founder of Modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had a personal food taster for fear of poison. It is rare, however, for the administration to publish the details of the President’s culinary diagnostics, especially amid such growing criticism.
Erdogan was criticized heavily in 2013 for his heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators who sought to preserve the historic Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in Istanbul. Police beat protestors and fired tear gas into crowds, setting off a media spectacle in Turkey and showing similarities to Egypt’s Tahrir square, which toppled Hosni Mubarak. The question then becomes: “Is Erdogan digging his own grave?”
The President of Turkey serves a term of 5 years and can be reelected only once. Erdogan had previously served as the country’s Prime Minister from 2003-2014, and was elected to the Presidency last year. If current trends continue, reelection for Mr. Erdogan looks dim in 2019.
President Erdogan has, notably, been wildly inconsistent in his political leanings, beginning his political career as a firebrand Islamist, sharply critical of Turkey’s secular order and falling through moderate and back to de-facto Autocrat, having declared his intention to rewrite the constitution in 2010 during his tenure as Prime Minister to create a presidential system of government, which he would take the helm of in 2014. The Constitution of Turkey was written in 1982, a mere decade before Erdogan began his political career.
The Republic of Turkey is a relatively infantile nation; born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1920, the country has been at the crossroads of Islamism and western capitalism since its founding. Turkey was one of the charter members of the United Nations and joined the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952. Turkish-U.S. relations have always been amicable, with a sharp decline in recent years as a result of the Iraq war. The Turks view the destabilization of Iraq as an impetus for Kurdistan to declare independence from the Republic and from Northern Iraq. A sticking point in the relations is the ongoing cold war between Turkey and Armenia, with Turkey refusing to admit any role in the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Turkey is deeply divided on the issue of normalization of relations with Armenia, and many have stressed that President Erdogan should fulfill the promise of former President Gül to normalize relations between the two countries, but so far efforts have failed.
Turkey’s Semi-Presidential system of government has both a prime minister and a President. Technically, Russia also has a Semi-Presidential government, but President Putin, for all intents and purposes, is essentially the sole leader of the country. The parallels between Putin and Erdogan are staggering, with excessive displays of opulence and extravagance, and a thirst for control that cannot be quenched.
Which brings us full circle: Erdogan may just have gone too far by creating a food testing laboratory in the Presidential palace, one of many examples of abuse of power and governmental waste, despite the increasing number of starving citizens in Turkey, who can’t eat, much less have their food tested for poisons.