Erdogan is to Turkey what Ziaul Haq is to Pakistan

Published: July 26, 2016

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: REUTERS

When Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited the following verses whilst serving as the Mayor of Istanbul back in 1999;

“The mosques are our barracks,
The domes our helmets,
The minarets our bayonets,
And the faithful our soldiers…”

Turkish citizens should have known better than to vote him in as prime minister for 11 consecutive years, and eventually, the president of Turkey.

Known to the world of politics since decades, Erdogan isn’t a stranger to how the political clock ticks. He created the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, which raised him to unprecedented heights. To date, his status within the party remains undefeated, with no internal rival whatsoever, and no opposition party strong enough to take on a political giant like Erdogan.

Known as a hero in the municipal history of Istanbul, he was quick to emulate his past feats. He glorified democracy, made an earnest effort to prevent corruption (later to be involved in a corruption case himself), lowered state debt, increased trade and developed infrastructure. Political pundits termed this period of progression the ‘Silent Revolution’.

A membership in the revered NATO and his effort to get European Union members to grant Turkish citizens visa free travel within the Schengen zone further strengthened his role as a political maestro.

One can see why Erdogan gained unparalleled popularity amongst his people. He was rooting for all the right things.

But just as nearly every man sows the seeds of his own downfall, Erdogan, too, began setting the stage for his eventual downfall.

Seen as a threat to Kemal Ataturk’s secular policies by many in the judiciary, Erdogan, a ‘patient Islamist,’ enjoys a solid 12% support of hard-core Islamists and conservative voters. He is known to promote the Islamisation of education and social behaviour, and is stated to have said he wants to witness “the growth of a religious generation”. One of his party members even went to the extent of stating AKP may be foregoing secularism in order to implement a religious constitution.

This was met with extreme backlash, for obvious reasons. Promoting Islamisation in a region surrounded by an ISIS stronghold isn’t the greatest of policies. An attack on a music store in Istanbul in June 2016 by extremists may have very well been the outcome of Erdogan’s ever-growing stance on the Islamisation of the Turkish state. What was more alarming, though, was how protestors rallying against this attack were dispersed with tear gas and water cannons and a law prohibiting protests was implemented thereafter.

Echoes of his Islamisation policies were also witnessed in the outcome of the recent failed coup. Supporters of Erdogan gathered at Taksim square, chanting ‘Allah o Akbar’, verses were read from the Holy Quran, appeals from imams at mosques were made in order to garner support for Erdogan and appeals of execution for the coup plotters reverberated throughout the square. These scenes were an eerie re-embodiment of Sultan Suleiman’s reign, where treason was punishable through execution.

An Islamist state may very well also serve as a breeding ground for ISIS soldiers and attacks, as witnessed in the recent Istanbul Ataturk Airport – though that doesn’t seem to trouble Erdogan much. His foremost concern is towards the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

Kurds in Turkey have undergone a cultural genocide, been brutally repressed by successive governments and were made to forcibly integrate into the state as a minority. Erdogan is known to use the war against Kurds to selfishly further his presidential agenda, but he is also aware of the fact that PKK is backed by strongholds in Iraq (Rojava) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Therefore, Erdogan cannot afford to escalate the war against them or even fathom pushing the war beyond his borders.

What he’s more anxious about is the Independent Syrian Kurdistan party helping Turkish Kurds in plotting a revolutionary war within his dominion. Seeing how this matter is progressing, the only panacea to his fear regarding PKK is to sign a peace agreement and call for a ceasefire.

This option would have seemed plausible to many, but to Erdogan, it seems to translate into a sign of weakness.

In his rise to absolute power, evident through his wish to draft a new constitution granting him executive powers, he has managed to root out any sign of opposition, as seen with the PKK, followed by the army and the censorship of media and journalism.

In 2012, with the help of Fethullah Gulen, a former ally and a present arch nemesis, he conducted a witch hunt which witnessed the removal of army officers, falsely accused of plotting a coup against the government. It is rumoured Gulen may have set up his loyalists in place of the sacked officers, and these very same loyalists may have been the same men who planned the recent coup.

Erdogan’s panic and apprehension towards the army may have been the outcome of Turkey’s turbulent history with coups, in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

Meanwhile, Erdogan, slowly, yet steadily, marched on towards supremacy.

In the past year, he came down hard on news organisations, taking over one of Turkey’s main newspaper, Zaman, imprisoned journalists and banned Twitter and YouTube. Freedom, a vital foundation of democracy, began shrinking and Erodgan’s authoritarian power kept growing.

The recent coup will only feed Erdogan’s fears and suspicions and will further fortify his resolve to crush any parallel state wishing and waiting to evolve. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Erdogan is waiting to pounce on any sign of rebellion, just as he is currently doing.

Throwing a childlike tantrum, Erdogan has blamed Gulen and Gulen loyalists for the failed coup, declared a state of emergency, demanded the American government to extradite Gulen and shut all institutions linked to Gulen. He ordered the arrests of thousands of judges and officers. The arrests are in vast numbers, so much so, prisons have run out of space and lower ranking officers have been imprisoned in schools and gymnasiums. It seems the failed coup has given Erdogan a blank cheque to dismiss basic human and democratic rights, something which most countries are outraged about – especially members of NATO.

Turkey had the right amount of secularism and was on its path to liberal development; a country which could very well serve as a role model for most Islamic countries, but Erdogan is adamant on destroying Turkey’s progressive image. What he needs is a reality check – the thousands of supporters who came out on the streets in an effort to avert the coup – were ardent supporters of democracy, not Erdogan.

Erodgan is on a rampage, a colossal beast no one dares stop.

It is only a matter of time before Erdogan tumbles off his throne, just like our very own despot, Ziaul Haq. Maybe he could take a page out of our history books and not repeat the same mistake. But ominous clouds are hovering above him and we can only wait and watch how another mighty man will crumble in his quest for absolute authority.

Mushal Zaman

Mushal Zaman

The author is a sub-editor at Tribune. She tweets as @MushalZ90 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • rizwan

    who gave you the right to malign someone who is loved by majority and voted and elected as their successful president who has done a great job for TurkeyRecommend

  • king

    “The thousands of supporters who came out on the streets in an effort to avert the coup – were ardent supporters of democracy, not Erdogan”
    Did you interview all those supporters to establish this fact? What a baseless claim.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Comparing Erdogan to Zia was way, way off the mark .Recommend

  • Fahim

    Love the sentence “He is known to promote the Islamisation of education and social behaviour, and is stated to have said he wants to witness “the growth of a religious generation”.”

    My admiration has been increasedRecommend

  • Kiren Baloch

    People need to stop making equivalencies between Pakistan and Turkey. And to make a comparison between erdogan and Zia is just silly – the title is click bait. So easy and convenient to blame Zia when it has been over 30 YEARS since the man has died. Islamization did not happen overnight, and people in your generation need to stop turning Zia into the bogeyman and look at the decade that followed. It was Ms. Bhutto, after all, the daughter of a so-called ‘secular’ and ‘progressive’ prime minister, who recognized the Taliban regime and wore the dupatta as though she was a pious woman. Why? If the Bhuttos and the other so-called ‘liberals’ liked it when Pakistan was an ‘open’ country, why did she wear it? Why didn’t she legalize alcohol, banned under her own FATHER’s reigme? It was her father who put us on the road to destruction, and to blame Zia is just an easy easy thing that people who weren’t even born at the time seem to do. I recall that silly and immature ‘letter to Zia’ that was written for these blog pages. It should have been addressed to Bhutto, both father and daughteer, for the mess they put us in. Anybody who remembers the 80s remembers it as a much more peaceful decade than the highly-repressive 70s and bhutto’s terror, and the terrible 1990s when Benazir turned Karachi into her personal playground. Get out of your pak studies textbooks and read a real history of Pakistan.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Note that posting the picture leading this article would get you a long prison sentence in Turkey, since Erdogon is know to have a microscopically thin skin when it comes to criticism!
    All can go to Wikipedia and search for “list of arrested journalists in Turkey”!Recommend

  • shiraz

    very poorly analysed with a little understanding of timeline of Erdogan’s rule or history of Turkey. For those interested reader’s, I suggest Orhan Pamuk’s The White Castle and Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s Huzur and Time Regulation Institute. In his review of Time Regulation Institute for Guardian Pankaj Mishra writes: “the basic assumption, shared by many western readers, that societies must modernise and become more secular and rational, relegating their premodern past to museums or, in the case of religion, to private life. The idea that modernisation makes for enhanced national power and rapid progress and helps everyone achieve greater happiness has its origins in the astonishing political, economic and military successes of western Europe in the 19th century. It was subsequently adopted in tradition-minded societies by powerful men ranging from autocrats such as Atatürk and Mao Zedong to the more democratically inclined, if paternalistic, Jawaharlal Nehru.”Recommend

  • Orakzai

    Erdogan, a democratically elected leader, is more like Modi than anyone else. It must burn the secularistas that the AKP is winning on all fronts: against the terrorist PKK, against the despotic Kemalists, and against the “progressive” EU; all with a growing economy that Europe and Turkey’s enemies envy. Hence the frustration and dimmed glee at the coup attempt.Recommend

  • babu

    Erdogan is the Democraticly Elected Leader of Turkey. The Authoritarian Secular Liberal Minority in Turkey was oppressing the Muslim Majority Just like Pakistani Liberals tried to push “enlighted moderation” garbage in Musharraf era. If you do not like Erdogan then try to defeat him in Democratic Elections. Writing propaganda articles like this wont help your radical liberal cause.Recommend

  • American

    Erdogan is following in Pakistan’s foot steps…Syria is his Afghanistan…Recommend

  • Wajahat Husain

    You are just another liberal sulking at the fact that Erdogan is popular and elected by his people. There is no comparison between Ziaul Haq and Erdogan and it defies all logic for you to even bring it up. An elected leader vs. an army general?!?! What school did you go to? and what democratic ideals are you trying to uphold? If you have a love affair with Ataturk, know that he is dead. Liberals like you have no principles or shame.Recommend



  • Samiullah Khan

    I am sorry. Ms Zaman displays her ignorance by comparing Mr. Erdogan with General Zia. Mr. Erdogan represents the people of Turkey. He was elected unlike Mr. Zia who hanged an elected prime minister. Do we have an editor at the Tribune who checks the article for facts.Recommend

  • Intellectual.pseudo

    You Mushal Zaman are to muslim world what Marcus Brutus was to Julius Caesar.Recommend

  • Nauman

    @Mushal Zaman “One does not simply write a whole article on the basis of …is know to do this , is known to do that.” Some facts would have been nice!Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    Just as you cannot force religion down peoples throats, you cannot force secularism. Mustafa Kamal did worse than Erdogan – a dictator is a dictator, and unfortunately we pick our critiques based on our preferences.Recommend

  • Manoj Kaul

    This is a very well written article indeed. Turkey was until recently the secular role model for countries/regions where Muslms are a pre-dominant majority. Looks like Erdogan is trying to change that quickly. Its long term impact is likely to be bad for the world in general and for Turkey in particular .Recommend

  • vinsin

    Zia came by military coup whereas Erdogan by will of the people. By democractic standards Erdogan is right and Islamization is what Turkish people want and voted for.
    Armenian Genocide is example of Turkish were never secular and it is an imposed system by dictators in military uniforms.Recommend

  • Mississauga_Dad

    Let us not forget in all of these historical musings that Bhutto was not a ‘democratically’ elected leader as the ‘history books’ would like us to believe. He was instilled in power by a military coup led by a certain Brigadier General who only some 18 months or so later tried to remove him in a second coup – all of this before Zia was successful in his own coup. The second coup failed but Zia – like Erdogan – when he came to power immediately not only murdered Bhutto but rounded up all the military officers who attempted the coup before him and sentence them to death. History is nothing if not ironically repetitive so Erdogan had perhaps better check and recall Zia’s final fate.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    its disconcerting to see how the young kids are quick to dismiss Islamic rhetoric as absurd, barbaric and impractical.Recommend

  • asad

    I humbly disagree with the writer… First of all Zia was a self imposed dictator, Erdogan is elected. Therefore we could use the democracy rhetoric against Zia but here we should respect the choice of people of turkey who elected him. Secondly the bombing done by the coup leaders on the people calls for strict and immediate action anyone who opposes it in the name of “Erdogan being a dictator or people’s rights” is supporting the militancy.Recommend

  • Awais Imran

    A very balanced take on Turkey’s current dilemma. However, just a small correction the forceful integration of the Kurdish minority began with the reforms introduced by Ataturk himself. Such integration was not limited to the Kurds but there was an overall drive to introduce an unquestionable national identity for all Turks in modern Turkey.

    Erdogan is just a carrier of the nationalistic policies that have been in place since the inception of modern Turkey. His take on secularism however is what is troubling. It must also be understood that for decades the Islamic movements within Turkey were kept out of power though force and secularism was imposed on the Turkish society much in the same manner as Islamization is being enforced today.

    The solution I believe is a free system where both right and left, Islamist and secular are free to campaign for their ideals and let the people decide the direction they want Turkey to take.
    Cheers :)Recommend

  • Sheraz Khalid

    Finally someone with Truth! Kudoos to you lady!Recommend

  • Arsalan Khan

    WOW was i reading a tribune article or an article on Fox News! ” An Islamist state may very well also serve as a breeding ground for ISIS” we live in a Muslim country too. Yes we have many issues too but if you never noticed that for once it was the people who came out to protect Turkey. True democracy can never exist is state surrounded by proxy wars! i am sure people saw how the Arab Spring turned out for Libya, Syria , Iraq… and they did not want that fate. They have a powerful economy that has paid close to all its loans to IMF. You talk about attacks well have you noticed what is going on in rest of Europe?

    It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: It is obligatory for you to listen to the ruler and obey him in adversity and prosperity, in pleasure and displeasure, and even when another person is given (rather undue) preference over you.

    We have forgotten the true meaning of this Hadith and want a perfect democratic leader. well here is the fact there is no perfect leader but if he can put the country on the right path socially politically and economically what is the issue?

    Basically what he has done is gotten the people behind him and that is what the west did not see coming. This is one country that Pakistani get decent amount of respect when we go their so please let them handle their state of affairs.Recommend

  • Asad Ullah Randhawa

    There is a hell lot of difference on Zia ul Haq and Erdogan he was a dictator and Erdogan is Elected president to whom the masses love…
    Miss Mushal actually your problem is Islam and you have nothing to do with Democracy or Marshall law Recommend

  • AbuBakr Cheema

    An article can be gravely misinformed, virulently biased or starkly incompetent. Congratulations Ms. Mushal, you’ve managed all 3.Recommend

  • AbuBakr Cheema

    Nothing balanced about this article, sir. Your comment, however is much more so.Recommend

  • NZ

    The writer’s reason for Turkey’s eventual downfall under Edrogan is Islamisation similar to Pakistan’s in Zia’s regime. A very trigger happy insinuation this without delving in depth into the whole paraphernalia of events, push and pull factors and history.
    Please don’t make this a new narrative with Edrogan the same way we have made with Zia in recent years; attributing anything and everything wrong with Pakistan to the Zia regime and his Islamic overtones. History doesn’t start from Bhutto’s hanging; there was a lot of wrong happening before that and lot of wrong happened after the C130 crash. We have simply chosen to ignore all that and appropriate all the blame on one Boogeyman. There have been lots of them and we are again building a dangerous narrative by ignoring the others…Recommend

  • Ayesha Khan

    Very immature blog… Based on assumptions and comparing a right with wrong and present with past.Recommend

  • Syed

    You can easily get job in Fox news.Recommend

  • wb

    Do you understand how ridiculously irrational you’re? Do you understand Secularism? Secularism is not an ideology like a religion. Secularism is separating state from religion.Recommend

  • Syed Abubakar

    Dear Miss Mushal..I disagree with you,like many other commentators. Erdogan is elected by people of Turkey and if he is implementing Islamic policies then it means he is representing the will of people. If people have been voting him for last 11 years and trust him and go to streets on his ONE SINGLE CALL then what does it mean?It is democracy na? The same problem you had in Egypt. When an elected govt. tries to implement Islamic policies you have bitter words for them but if Ata Turk forcefully secularism and bans Namaz, Azan you have no problem..DOUBLE STANDARSRecommend

  • Ravian

    You may hate Erdogan and you may hate Zia, but there is no comparison. Zia was a US stooge, whose drama of islamization was to create war fodder for US’s revenge war against USSR in Afghanistan. Erdogan is a popular leader, elected to power by people (despite the west’s disapproval). He has earned what he has while Zia was a usurper.Recommend

  • Babar Ahmed

    Great Going MushalRecommend

  • khan

    ok, comparison of Zia n Erdogan is not the best match, however i totally agree wit u that he is turnin out to be a sweet n silent dictator, which others who have left there comments are completely ignorin it…

    Erdogan has taken a very route since 2013, his greed of power, his vicious tactics r all visible, but i guess masses of muslim world r not able to see it…

    this is not democracy for crying out loud!!!

    and anyone who thinks this article is wrong, think again, observe, and remember, we have our politicians doing the same thing, maybe not this extreme coz they fear our military…

    ur article may not be precise, but i understand what ur stating…Recommend

  • Fahim

    Bulls eyeRecommend

  • Fahim

    do you even understand the meaning of rationality and ideology?

    You said “Secularism is separating state from religion.” from where this concept started ? It started from an idea and ideals!

    What is ideology ? ideology is the system of ideas and ideals!Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    I understand what secularism is, and you should understand that what Mustafa Kamal did wasn’t just separating state from religion. Changing your languages script to get rid of your heritage, banning religious dresses, azaans, beards, these aren’t secular acts – these are Stalinesque extremist acts on the other side of the spectrum. Secularism is what George Washington and the founding fathers of the United States did with America.Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    Now that’s a more balanced comparison. I fear that our critiques are motivated by personal preferences which are almost always defined by our religion and/or sect.Recommend

  • Razi Mallick

    I find no relevance of comparing the two personalities. One was a military dictator whereas the other is a democratically elected president. Erdogan popularity has increased over the last thirteen years from 35 percent in 2003 to 52 percent in the last election. Turkey economy has flourished and poverty level declined drastically. As per World Bank April 2016 update, per capita income of Turkey has nearly tripled to $10,500 in less than a decade, and extreme poverty level declined from 13 to 4.5 percent in the same period. Turkey as a country has gained a status at the world stage.
    People from all shades of the political and ideological spectrum supported him against the military insurgency. Yes, they came out to the streets to save democracy, because despite of ideological differences people’s belief has increased on democracy during his governance. They are tasting fruits of democracy.
    I am trying to figure out what was the motive of writing this article. No evidence has been provided to prove the claim. I could not find any commonality except one that both claimed to be Islamist and Erdogan not toeing secular stance of Kamal Ataturk. I do not think that this should be the valid reason to dress the two in the same type of clothes.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    I take it as compliment to the Late Gen Zia ul haq. Islam will be islam. Edrogan is an Islamist and those around him are also Islamist. Just too bad some do not think and act as Allah SWT has directed us to do.Recommend

  • rizi

    16 TV channels, 45 papers and 15 magazines, 1,700 members of the armed forces, 21,000 staff working in private schools, more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry, 9,000 police, 2,745 judges sacked and you still have got guts to call it democracy…Recommend

  • rizi

    For your knowledge, the coup leaders could have asked to kill anyone resisting the coup, but they did not. They stopped when they saw civilians.
    They were not out of ammunition when they let go of their arms.
    They are much more civil than our own armed forces, which killed thousands of civilians in Bangladesh when they were attempting to get the country free.Recommend

  • rizi

    What kind of an elected president sacks thousands of judges?
    Ok, let me tell you, the one who fears that his actions will be challenged by the sane judges…Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    You are a Maulana by mindset with a taste for “Being cool”, just another Pakistani.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Even this was a western conspiracy?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    That’s the problem, she is in such a minority.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Good luck with your caliphate.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Sir, I agree Islam is Islam, what did Zia achieve though?Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Ten years of Bliss.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Thanks, when it will come then we will progress againRecommend

  • Ex Tribune reader

    Miss mushal, and what about bashar-ul-assad??? can you please share your valuable views regarding him?Recommend

  • Stealthy

    Erdogan is certainly not the “right” one. He is to be blamed for all this mess in syria.Recommend

  • asad

    Get your head clear first… Do you even have a serious argument??? You are being a pro coup person by saying they could have killed anyone but they didn’t… ohhhhh how cute they are !!! they just dropped three bombs and unlimited number of gunship helicopter rounds on civilians. But they could have killed all, not just 265 people. And the way you are comparing one wrong with another is pretty shameful tooRecommend

  • asad

    You are again giving your stupid comments without logic and just for the sake of yelling… Sacking of judges is a reaction to what they did to destabilize a great country. Tell me what was wrong with Turkey when coup leaders tried to overthrow the Government, was that even democratic.Recommend

  • Agha

    Good joke.Recommend

  • p r sharma

    Do you mean to say that all 2745 judges( sacked and imprisoned by Erdogan) were in connivance with the coup leaders and engaged in destabilizing own country per your version. your comment is per your belief rather than rationale.Recommend

  • p r sharma

    Another state is in the making of a Islamic country . ISIS has found a new shelter and breeding ground for its recruit. Apprehend more casualty and bloody fight in Syria and Iraq.Recommend

  • LS

    You are barking at the wrong tree.. he isn’t questioning what is idea or ideology.. he is simply separating an ideology like religion from an ideology like secularism… typical – reaction from a pakistani with lack of comprehension skills.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Buy eye glasses and read again “Secularism is not an ideology like a religion.” Recommend

  • Jayman

    Few Islamic nations, have thriving democracies. The Muslim mindset only respects force and power. A benign and benevolent democrat will be thrown out in no time. Ruling Islamic nations requires an iron fist.Recommend

  • Anoop

    Turkey was the last known exception in the 57 strong Muslim majority nations. Recommend

  • Anoop

    ZAB was elected. He outlawed Ahmadis as Muslims.

    Pakistanis usually blame Zia, but poor guy only accelerated the Islamist drive that others before him had kicked off. But, he gets all the blame.Recommend