A few months ago I wrote about the political fortunes of Galatasaray legend Hakan Şükür. On July 17th Mr. Şükür was once again in the news, this time in the context of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign for the presidency.
At a rally for Mr. Erdoğan’s presidential campaign in the Adapazarı district of Sakarya province (Mr. Şükür’s home town) there was an interesting poster serving as the backdrop of the stage from which Mr. Erdoğan was to speak. It was a picture taken most likely in parliament: Mr. Şükür wears a worried look with his hand on his forehead resembling a man who has shown up at an airport having forgotten his passport. The back of Mr. Erdoğan’s head is visible in the foreground, looking down on Mr. Şükür, who has a comment bubble above his head that reads “Abi ben Sakaryalıların yüzüne nasıl bakarım?”—“Brother, how will I look Sakaryans in the eye?”.
This is, of course, a not so subtle strike at Mr. Şükür, a hometown hero to many Sakaryans as a man who made it out of provincial Turkey to play football at the highest levels in Italy, England, and at the World Cup. As has been Mr. Şükür’s custom, his reply came via twitter:
“Hırsızlığımız, arsızlığmız, yolsuzluğumuz yok. Sakaryalılarında, mılletimin de yüzüne bakarız çok şükür. Allah’ın yüzüne baka bilmek önemli.”
“We have no theft, insolence, or corruption. I can look Sakaryans and my country in the eye thankfully. It is important to be able to look Allah in the eye.”
While the ongoing rhetorical battle between the Prime Minister and ex-footballer is amusing, it also points to deeper issues within the Turkish political scene. Mr. Şükür is a former AKP member and supporter of the “cemaat”, led by preacher Fethullah Gülen, and that is the fissure that lies on the surface. Below that, however, is a Prime Minister that repeatedly resorts to the crudest of measures so as to prove his leadership abilities. When a leader campaigning to be the president of a nation resorts to tactics more befitting of a schoolyard bully—such as demeaning his fellow citizens (political opponents or not) –it does not bode well for the democratic future of that nation.