In 1989, a small Islamist party called Refah, or “Welfare,” holds a conference titled “National Consciousness.” In the crowd are mustached men with lean faces; many of them are old, wearing skullcaps Muslims use during prayer. Soon, a tall, thin young man dressed in a well-tailored suit rises to speak. “May the peace of God be upon all believers,” he says. His polite bearing, however, belies his firm message. He invokes the ur-enemies of Turkishness— *“Agop,” the Armenians, and “Jacques” and “Hans,” a reference to the Europeans. They distribute birth control to the villages, corrupt the youth, and scoop up Turkey’s national wealth, he claims, adding that Turkey’s bureaucrats, farmers, widowers, and orphans are all forced to pay them interest, “that which will facilitate the reign of the Jew.” Meanwhile, the ruling class lies around on nude beaches, sips fancy alcohol, and gawks at exotic dancers from the far corners of the earth, he says. All the evil, theft, and corruption in the country, the man says, can be traced to a mentality of surrender to the West. But Turkey’s true heirs will eventually take their country back. “You must love,” he says, “you must be possessed with the idea that holy justice will reign in this country.”
In the years to come, the young man, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, would be elected mayor of Istanbul, prime minister of Turkey, and, in 2014, president. Today, he is reconfiguring the very DNA of the state. Last year, he redrafted the constitution to create a super presidency that will allow him to reshape the state apparatus over the next decade. First, he’ll need to win one more election, the first round of which will be held on June 24.