A polarizing figure, he will face the most competitive election of his career on Sunday. He has presided over soaring inflation, and his government has come under heavy criticism in recent months for its response to earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey earlier this year.
While in office, he deepened restrictions on speech and expression, and under his government, the judiciary has jailed or brought charges against opponents. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, his most prominent challenger, has vowed that “because you blame me, nothing will happen to you, never will.”
Here are some Highlights of Erdogan’s career as a public servant and player on the world stage trace his path from popular Istanbul mayor to entrenched personal rule.
1994: Already involved in local politics, Erdogan ran for mayor of Istanbul, winning with roughly 25 percent of the vote as a member of the Welfare Party. As mayor, Erdogan focuses on modernizing public goods and services – including privatization. In his constituency: rural-urban migrants as an alternative to the entrenched secular establishment.
1997: Erdogan was accused of inciting religious hatred after reciting a passage from a poem containing militant religious imagery – “Minarets are our bayonets” – which violates Turkey’s laws enforcing secularism. As a social conservative from the Islamic political tradition, he seeks greater political representation for religious Muslims.
1998: Forced to resign as mayor, Erdogan served a four-month prison sentence in early 1999 for recitation. His imprisonment raises his profile.
2001: Erdogan founded the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. In the early 2000s, he and his allies calculated that an outright Islamist party would never take power in Turkey. AKP positions itself as conservative and respects Islamic tradition. “I am a Muslim,” Erdogan said TIME Magazine In 2002. “But I believe in a secular state.”
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2003: Erdogan becomes prime minister after his party wins power in parliament and some legal changes allow him to serve despite being in prison. In that role, and as Turkey pursues EU membership, Erdogan’s government is pursuing reforms, including sweeping changes to the penal code, more money allocated to education spending, and laws expanding freedom of expression and religion. These come with a more conservative agenda, including efforts to restrict alcohol sales, which Erdogan has pursued as mayor of Istanbul.
2009: President Barack Obama has chosen Turkey as the destination for his first foreign bilateral diplomatic trip. His arrival confirms Turkey’s vision of charting a path to a form of Islamism that would be acceptable in the West and seemingly tied to EU membership. “I am here because of my belief in Turkey’s democracy and culture and the important role Turkey plays in the region and the world,” Obama said. opinions At a student roundtable during that visit, he noted “productive” conversations with Erdogan.
200s: EU accession talks starting in 2005 stalled late, with many world leaders expressing frustration at the pace of negotiations.
2010s: Regionally, Erdogan won praise for Turkey’s leadership throughout the Arab Spring, when uprisings rocked the Arab world, according to the Brookings Institution. 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll. Of the 3,000 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, Brookings writes that “Turkey is seen as having played a ‘most constructive’ role in Arab events.” Among the respondents, “those who envision a new president for Egypt want the new president to look like Erdogan,” the letter said.
At the same time, in late 2010, Erdogan and the AKP won a constitutional referendum that curbed the power of the military and replaced the presidential election with a national one, instead of a parliamentary one.
2013: Massive anti-government protests in Istanbul were sparked by public opposition to an Erdogan-backed construction project. Gezi Park marks a turning point in Erdogan’s political path. Activists start a sit-in, followed by a police response that creates a wider movement and, in turn, an even wider crackdown.
In the same year, a major corruption scandal implicated members of the AKP in bribery, money laundering, and fraud cases, resulting in the resignation of numerous politicians, including members of Erdogan’s cabinet. Audio recordings leaked via social media also appear to capture Erdogan Discusses bribery with his son. Erdogan dismisses the records as fabrications, part of an international conspiracy to oust him from power.
2014: Erdogan became president after winning Turkey’s first presidential election based on a national referendum.
2016: In March, Erdogan reached a deal with the European Union to allow people fleeing westward to return to Turkey amid a regional migration crisis. The agreement “turns Turkey into the region’s refugee camp and leaves untold thousands stranded in a country with a poor human rights record,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
After a failed military coup attempt on July 15 that plunged the country into brief but violent chaos, Erdogan is consolidating power. He oversees strict restrictions on a free and critical press. (The New York-based Project Journalists’ Group named Turkey as one High profile prisons for journalists.) Erdogan is launching a series of purges, expelling foreign NGOs from the country, expelling thousands of people, including former allies, from politics, academia, the judiciary and the military. The purge has targeted many followers of Erdoğan’s former ally, the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.
2017: Voters approve constitutional reforms proposed by Erdogan that change Turkey’s form of government, eliminating the post of prime minister and giving power to an executive president. The following year, Erdogan was re-elected president, a role that gives him significantly more power than in 2014.
After becoming president, Erdogan imposed restrictions on social media platforms and websites including Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia, and significantly curtailed independent media through arrests and purges while propping up tightly controlled pro-government outlets. Regarding Turkey’s moves towards EU membership, European Council President Charles Michael says the country’s government often takes “one step in the right direction and then two in the wrong direction”.
2018: Following the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkish authorities obtained audio recordings, Erdogan said. Seems to push For distant relations between Riyadh and Washington. “Where is Khashoggi’s body? … Who gave the order to kill this dear soul? Unfortunately, Saudi officials refuse to answer those questions,” Erdogan writes in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
2019: AKP candidate loses in Istanbul mayoral election. The position is filled by Ekrem Imamoglu of the opposition Republican Party. A popular mayor, Imamoglu, was jailed in 2022 on charges of “insulting public figures”, undermining his chances of standing against Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election and casting doubt on Erdogan’s willingness to allow fair elections.
In October, Turkey launched an offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The move puts NATO forces at odds in the fight against Islamic State.
2021-2022: Amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, Erdogan is using Turkey’s status as a NATO member with ties to Russia to position himself as a mediator. In 2022, Turkey and the United States are facilitating an agreement between Russia and Ukraine to restore commercial exports of grain banned by Russia in the Black Sea, in exchange for relaxed restrictions on some Russian exports. He supports Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, saying the country harbors “terrorists” hostile to Turkey’s national security.