From selling lemons on streets to becoming Turkey’s ‘Sultan’

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who rose from selling lemons on the streets to become Turkey’s most powerful modern leader, is hailed by supporters as the saviour of his country, but has become an increasingly polarising figure. The religiously devout but charismatic prime minister is now seeking to extend his 11-year domination of Turkey by standing in a presidential election that would make him Turkey’s longest serving ruler since its founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

But the man dubbed the ‘Sultan’ is enduring the most turbulent phase of his career, accused of being an autocrat and lashing out erratically at critics, from former allies to Twitter users. Months of political turmoil in the wake of the Gezi street protests have cast a shadow over Erdogan, once hailed as an emerging global player after Turkey’s decade of unprecedented growth.

‘I am not a dictator. It is not even in my blood,’ he said last year. But as tales of official graft and sleaze spread through social networks, the 60-year-old has become increasingly irritable and combative, branding his critics ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’. The anger come to a head over his response to the mine tragedy in the western town of Soma in May that claimed 301 lives, when he apparently attempted to downplay the incident by comparing it to mining disasters in 19th-century Britain.
Yet he can still count on solid support among rural Turks as well as many religious business people who have prospered under his rule.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, said Erdogan’s economic record and effective use of his image as an ‘authoritarian underdog’ would likely see him win the elections.
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