Profile: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan campaigning in front of a mosque Mr Erdogan has strong Islamic support but says he backs secularism

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is arguably the most successful leader in Turkey's democratic history.

Over the past 11 years he has dominated the political landscape, and has steered his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development (AK) Party party to three election victories.

He has also brought economic and political stability to a country that not long ago lurched from one crisis to another. During his premiership the economy has grown strongly and Turkey is becoming a manufacturing and export powerhouse.

He has also faced down an army which once stepped into politics - and overthrew elected governments - whenever it felt the need.

With the tide apparently turning in Turkey, and the strictly secularist establishment losing ground to a more overtly Muslim political consciousness, Mr Erdogan has ridden the crest of the wave.

However, his critics have increasingly accused him of brooking no dissent and harbouring a secret agenda to turn Turkey into a religious society.

In early June 2013, resentment against his rule boiled over into mass protests by those who did not vote for the AK party in the June 2011 general election.

Mr Erdogan's main ambition in his current third term is to rewrite the constitution. There is speculation that he wants to concentrate more power in the hands of the president - and then move into that post himself.

He has denied wanting to impose Islamic values on his countrymen. He has said he is committed to secularism - although he does not think it should be at the expense of Turks who want to express their religious beliefs more openly.

And that includes his wife Emine, who wears a headscarf. The garment has long been outlawed in government offices, schools and universities - but that has not stopped Mrs Erdogan wearing hers to official functions.

Critics also point to his failed bid to criminalise adultery, and his attempts to introduce "alcohol-free zones", as evidence of his alleged Islamist intentions.

Brush with the law

Born in 1954, he is the son of a coastguard in the city of Rize on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

Mr Erdogan was 13 when his father decided to move to Istanbul, hoping to give his five children a better upbringing.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife greet supporters in Ankara (12 June 2011) Some secularist critics bristle at the sight of Mr Erdogan's wife in a headscarf

As a teenager, he sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul's rougher districts to earn extra cash.

He attended an Islamic school before obtaining a degree in management from Istanbul's Marmara University - and playing professional football.

While at university, he met Necmettin Erbakan - who went on to become the country's first Islamist prime minister - and entered Turkey's Islamist movement.

Mr Erdogan's first brush with the law came after the military coup of 1980, while he was working for Istanbul's transport authority.

His boss, a retired colonel, told him to shave off his moustache. Mr Erdogan refused and had to quit the job.

His political career in the Welfare Party, as the Islamists' party was known until it was banned in 1998, was developing fast.

In 1994, Mr Erdogan became the mayor of Istanbul.

Even his critics admit that he did a good job, making Istanbul cleaner and greener - although a decision to ban alcohol in city cafes did not please secularists.

He also won admiration from the many who felt he was not corrupt - unlike many other Turkish politicians.

His background and commitment to Islamic values appealed to most of the devout Muslim Turks who were alienated by the state.

But his pro-Islamist sympathies earned him a conviction in 1998 for inciting religious hatred.

He had publicly read an Islamic poem including the lines: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers."

He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, but was freed after four.

Combative charisma

Mr Erdogan's AK Party, which was formed by a breakaway group of the Virtue Party, after it was banned by the courts in 2001 because of its "anti-secular" activities, won a landslide election victory in 2002.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walks with the army chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug Mr Erdogan has not been afraid to take on the army - seen as guardian of the secular constitution

Mr Erdogan was leader of the party but was unable to join his colleagues in parliament because he was banned from holding political office.

But a speedy change in the law cleared the way for Mr Erdogan to run for parliament - and within days of his victory he had been named as prime minister.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says that on the international stage, the prime minister often cuts an awkward, slightly defensive figure - tall, but stiff and unsmiling.

On his home turf, though, he comes alive, responding with jokes, sarcasm and even poetry to the crowds of supporters who pack his rallies.

He has the combative charisma that Turks of the teeming cities or small Anatolian towns love.

His willingness to condemn Israel - previously a strong ally of Turkey - over its treatment of the Palestinians has not only galvanised his Islamic base, but has also made him a hugely popular leader across the Middle East.

He has taken the lead in supporting Syria's opposition in its armed revolt against the government in Damascus, though the policy has raised fears that the violence might spill over on to Turkish territory, particularly after a deadly car bomb attack on the town of Reyhanli.

Mr Erdogan has been credited with making peace overtures to the Kurdish minority, a process which saw militants pulling back to bases in Iraq this year.

But, for all his popularity, he is a polarising figure who, in his second term, has lost the support of many Turkish liberals and intellectuals who once saw him as a democratic pioneer, pushing back the militaristic state that ruled the country for most of the 20th Century.

One of the dominant developments of recent years has been the crackdown on the so-called Ergenekon network - which allegedly involved arch-secularists from the military, judiciary, media and academia plotting to stir up civil unrest that would justify a military coup and the overthrow of the "anti-secular" government.

With Turkey's history of coups and deep-state intrigue, many observers were prepared to believe this account and applauded the government for confronting previously untouchable institutions.

But as the number of those arrested and put on trial rose from the dozens to the hundreds, and included many journalists critical of the AKP, the prime minister found himself accused of directing the crackdown for his own ends, and simply attempting to silence dissent.

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