Turkey's prime minister is that rarest of blends in the Islamic world: a deeply religious man with a talent for the rough and tumble of democratic politics. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says John Esposito of Georgetown University, is a "bridge builder."
Before he came to power in 2003, Erdogan's opponents warned that his devout Islamic beliefs would spell trouble. But as Prime Minister, Erdogan has kept religion off the agenda. He banned alcohol in city-run cafés while mayor of Istanbul, and yet as Prime Minister has done nothing to limit drinking. During his election campaign, he spoke of the injustice of laws banning the Muslim head scarf in public buildings, but has left those laws intact.
And Erdogan has vigorously pursued ties with the West, campaigning to get his country admitted to the European Union and for a deal to reunite Cyprus. When terrorists struck Istanbul in November, he said the culprits would account for their acts in "both worlds." Western leaders have been scouring the Muslim world for moderate politicians who see their future in democracy and pluralism. Erdogan may be the best find yet.
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