After nearly two decades in power, first as prime minister then as president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has towered over modern Turkey. His mystique at home has been eroded by authoritarianism and a decreasing ability to provide his pious and conservative followers with prosperity. In local elections in 2019 he lost the country’s great cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, proving he is politically mortal.
Yet even if Erdogan is losing some of his magic in Turkey, he is by far the most popular leader in most of the Arab world, according to an Arab Barometer poll released last week.
This may seem a paradox. Many have believed no leader of Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Empire that ruled Arab lands for more than four centuries, could possibly enjoy this level of Arab esteem. That might seem doubly so in the case of Erdogan, who regularly indulges in flights of neo-Ottoman fancy — illustrated on occasion by maps detailing Turkey’s claims to swaths of Syria and Iraq — and has occupied four enclaves in northern Syria since 2016.
But Arab Barometer, an established research network in a region with dodgy statistics, consistently reveals top marks for Erdogan, and has just polled more than 20,000 people to confirm it. His main regional rivals, crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, trail way behind him. Some possible reasons for this are positive; others are worrying.
So often disempowered by autocratic rulers, Arab citizens have shown a weakness for populist heroes. The legendary Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, for instance, mesmerised the Arab world with his pan-Arab nationalist mirage, between his seizure of the Suez Canal in 1956 and the Arabs’ ignominious defeat in the 1967 Six Day war with Israel…Read full article at Financial Times