Ah, the Turkish President – what would we do without him eh?
Every country needs a figure of fun and although Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on power is not threatened by polling numbers, at least increasing numbers of half of the population are allowing themselves a smile at his antics.
However, behind the smiles is real anger, and a concern that under him women’s rights, and rights in general, are endangered.
For his latest trick Mr Erdogan appears to have made a gross sexual innuendo, and slur, about women conducting a fairly straightforward protest against him.
This week the President’s campaign bus was passing through a town in eastern Turkey when a group of women turned their backs on it in a protest against his policies.
So far, so a not particularly newsworthy item about a man who is on record as believing that the feet of woman who are mothers smell of heaven. Then, displaying his increasingly ugly tin ear, the outraged President decided to make something out of it, but ended up making himself something of a laughing stock.
At his next stop he made a speech and condemned the action saying “ I beg your pardon but my decency does not permit me to put it in another way… they turned their backs on me”.
In case anyone wasn’t sure what he was getting at he warmed to his theme at the next rally, this time saying
“I beg your pardon, but they have all turned their well-known backs while we were passing by. Of course, my decency does not permit me to tell you what [this move] means.”
‘Well known backs’? ‘What this move means’? What can he have been suggesting about this group of women who happened to be Kurdish?
An official of the People’s Democratic party, which supports Kurdish rights said the remarks were a vulgar, immoral insult.”
Mr Erdogan, never content with saying one crass thing, when there’s time to say two, also displayed his views on women’s right to protest saying “If you have a modicum of politeness, honour and ability, then the place for politics is parliament,”
Tens of thousands of Turkish women, and also some men, began posting pictures to Twitter showing them turning their backs, most accompanied by remarks critical of the president. The hashtag #SirtimiziDonuyoruz (We turn our backs) topped the trending topics list. By Wednesday there were over 130,000 pictures posted.
The President has form. At a summit on equality he submitted the opinion that women are not equal to men “Because it goes against the laws of nature”.
61 year old Mr Erdogan leads a country of 75 million people . Under him it has grown in power, strengthened its armed forces, and modernized its economic base. However, on issues such as religious and women’s rights it has gone backwards.
The President knows remarks such as those above damage him in the eyes of Turkish liberals, and many westerners, but also that such views do not undermine support among his core electorate, the conservative, religious majority of the country.
Foreign visitors to the glittering streets of Istanbul sometimes mistake the country’s biggest city for Turkey itself , but most of Turkey is in Asia and it borders Syria and Iraq – it remains closer in spirit to the Middle East than it does to Europe.
The President’s grip on power is not in danger, but he called the current election thinking his party, the AKP, would win so many parliamentary seats, it could then force through measures giving him extra powers. A late surge by Kurdish parties is now threatening to block that scenario, however, lovers of colourful political characters can rest easy – he won’t be turning his well-known back on the Presidency for some time.