Erdogan is MENA’s most popular leader, Arab Barometer finds

Turkey’s promotion of cultural heritage, including through its tourism and entertainment sectors, is one reason for Erdogan’s popularity. However, the perception of the Ottoman legacy is gradually shifting from one of praise to one of condemnation toward Turkish policies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains MENA’s most popular leader, according to new survey data released by the Arab Barometer this week to Al-Monitor.

In an email to Al-Monitor, Abdul-Wahab Kayyali, senior research specialist at the public opinion research network, explained that Erdogan’s popularity among surveyed countries can be explained across several reasons including Turkey’s electoral legitimacy, increasing accessibility and Erdogan’s revival of the Ottoman heritage.

“Erdogan’s supporters overlook his authoritarian tendencies and his persecution of political and ethnic minorities in Turkey, to say nothing of his colonial practices in Syria, and believe him to be a positive representative of the global Muslim nation as he revives Islam’s imperial past and seeks to reconstitute its narrative of hegemony,” Kayyali wrote in November for Al-Jumhuriya.

Since 2006, the Arab Barometer has partnered with institutions across the MENA region to conduct public opinion surveys asking residents what they feel about issues such as religion, foreign policy, women’s rights, healthcare and migration.

The latest wave of survey data by the barometer interviewed 20,000 citizens between July 2020 and May 2021 (some surveys are still ongoing) and included dozens of studies. In its regional leadership study, six countries were included: Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

Respondents said Erdogan was more popular than his regional rivals including Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was voted the least popular. Despite these findings, though, less than half of respondents said they thought Erdogan’s foreign policies were any good.

One reason for the results, Kayyali says, is that Erdogan holds a transnational claim on leadership over the broader Muslim nation.

“Turkey has invested heavily in cultural production geared at reviving the Ottoman imperial heritage,” Kayyali wrote in the study. “While this has been contested in Turkey, it has been much better received in the Arab world where there is an exacerbated and sustained leadership crisis and where Islam’s imperial legacy is sorely missed.”..


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