Challenger in Türkiye Presidential Race Offers Sharp Contrast

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
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Challenger in Türkiye Presidential Race Offers Sharp Contrast

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Republican People's Party press office, Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman and Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) and his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu pose during a rally in Izmir, Türkiye, on April 30, 2023. (Handout / Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Service / AFP)

The main challenger trying to unseat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this month's presidential election cuts a starkly different figure than the incumbent who has ruled the country for two decades.

Where Erdogan is a mesmerizing orator, the unassuming Kemal Kilicdaroglu is soft spoken. Erdogan is also a master campaigner who uses state resources and events to reach supporters while Kilicdaroglu talks to voters in videos recorded in his kitchen. As the polarizing Erdogan has grown increasingly authoritarian, Kilicdaroglu has built a reputation as a bridge builder and vows to restore democracy.

The contrasts are reflected in the two men's political paths. Erdogan’s staying power has kept him in office first as prime minister then as president since 2003. Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) has not won a general election since taking the helm of his secular, center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, in 2010.

But that could change on May 14, when Türkiye holds its most hotly contested presidential election in years. Opinion surveys give Kilicdaroglu, 74, a slight lead over Erdogan, even though analysts warn of the perils of writing off a president with potent political skills. If neither candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, the election will go to a May 28 runoff.

Divisions within the opposition have long helped the 69-year-old Erdogan hold on to power, but this time around Kilicdaroglu is running as the candidate of a united bloc known as the Nation Alliance, which unified six diverse parties, including nationalists and Islamists. Kilicdaroglu has also clinched the pro-Kurdish party’s tacit support.

Adding to Kilicdaroglu’s chances for victory are a faltering economy and high inflation that have been blamed on Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies. Another factor is the devastating earthquake in February that killed more than 50,000 people and exposed years of government negligence.

Erdal Karatas, a barber in Istanbul, used to support Erdogan but has switched allegiances amid the economic downturn and inflation and will vote for Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan’s “first 10 years were really successful, but in the last 10 years he has veered off course. We can call it power-poisoning,” he said. “We take out loans to pay for debts and credit cards. Our income does not cover our expenses.”

The Nation Alliance has vowed to roll back Erdogan's efforts to concentrate vast powers in the president's hands. The coalition has also pledged to reinstate a parliamentary democracy with checks and balances, to return to more conventional economic policies and to fight corruption.

“These elections are about rebuilding Türkiye, ensuring that no child goes to bed hungry. They are about ensuring gender equality,” Kilicdaroglu said at a rally in the CHP stronghold of Izmir, in western Türkiye. “These elections are about reconciliation and not conflict. And these elections are about bringing democracy to Türkiye.”

In another stark difference with the incumbent, Kilicdaroglu has said he aims to serve just one term and then retire to spend time with his three grandchildren. If elected, he plans to move to the modest presidential palace in Ankara that was home to past presidents, instead of the 1,150-room palace that Erdogan built.

Under Kilicdaroglu, analysts say, Türkiye is likely to adopt a more pro-European and pro-NATO stance, while still preserving Türkiye’s economic ties with Russia.

Erdogan Toprak, a CHP legislator and longtime friend of Kilicdaroglu, said without Kilicdaroglu's patience and consensus-building skills, a united opposition would not have emerged. The bloc includes former Erdogan allies.

“He does not hold grudges,” Toprak said. “He attaches great importance to compromise, and he displays tolerance. That’s what created the Nation Alliance."

Forming the alliance “required a lot of patience and self-sacrifice.” Kilicdaroglu "showed the self-sacrifice and patience ... even though he got a lot of criticism from within the party."

The social democrat politician who has built a reputation for honesty and integrity was born in 1948 in Tunceli province, in eastern Türkiye, to a deed officer father and a homemaker mother.

He is the fourth of seven children from an Alevi family. An economist by training, Kilicdaroglu headed Türkiye’s social security organization before joining the CHP and winning a seat in parliament in 2002 — the same year Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party came to power.

He grabbed public attention after exposing corruption allegations against ruling party members and became CHP’s leader after the resignation of former party head Deniz Baykal, who died this year.

Under Kilicdaroglu’s leadership, the CHP, which was established in 1923 by the modern Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has shed its rigid secular, nationalist stance and recently opened up to minority Kurds and to more conservative sections of society. It has assured pious women that their rights to wear Islamic-style headscarves will be upheld.

Steered by Kilicdaroglu, the party managed to unseat ruling party mayors in Istanbul and Ankara in 2019 by launching an effective local election campaign. Until then, the party had lost all parliamentary and presidential elections under Kilicdaroglu. The popular mayors of Ankara and Istanbul have campaigned on his behalf.

Kilicdaroglu is prone to fumbles, however. On April 1, he was forced to apologize after he was photographed accidentally treading on a prayer rug. Erdogan, who has relentless mocked Kilicdaroglu over the years, used the incident to portray his rival as disrespectful to religious values.

Erdogan frequently refers to Kilicdaroglu as “Bay Kemal” or “Mr. Kemal” to portray him as a elitist political figure who is out of touch with people from Türkiye’s conservative, impoverished heartland, even though Kilicdaroglu comes from a low-income background. Kilicdaroglu has embraced the nickname in response, frequently referring to himself as “Bay Kemal.”

Many have speculated that his Alevi background could cost him votes. Kilicdaroglu spoke about his Alevi heritage for the first time in a video address in April, when he called on young voters to put an end to divisive sectarianism politics.

Unlike Erdogan, whose control of mainstream media allows him to dominate the airwaves, Kilicdaroglu has been trying to woo voters with videos recorded from his modest kitchen and posted on social media. Images of his kitchen are now being used as background for video conference calls.

In 2017, Kilicdaroglu grabbed international attention when he walked for 25 days from Ankara to Istanbul in a “March for Justice” to protest the conviction of one of his lawmakers and a large-scale government crackdown on critics following a 2016 coup attempt.

The politician survived an attack in 2016 when Kurdish rebels fired a missile at a convoy he was traveling in. Three years later, he escaped another attack by suspected Erdogan supporters while attending the funeral of a soldier slain in clashes with the rebels.

“Türkiye is going through a difficult period,” Toprak said. Kilicdaroglu, “who is not power-hungry, will overcome this troubled period through reconciliation and tolerance. The country has a one-man rule problem. That will go away.”



For Over a Century: Saudi Success in Hajj Management

Hajj pilgrims’ camps at the beginning of the Saudi era (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Hajj pilgrims’ camps at the beginning of the Saudi era (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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For Over a Century: Saudi Success in Hajj Management

Hajj pilgrims’ camps at the beginning of the Saudi era (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Hajj pilgrims’ camps at the beginning of the Saudi era (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Arabia’s connection with Hajj is a long-standing tradition marked by significant achievements. This journey began with the first pilgrimage under the reign of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz, soon after he entered Makkah in December 1924.
While Hajj is a great honor for Saudi Arabia, it also comes with immense responsibility.
King Abdulaziz Calls on Muslims to Join Hajj
King Abdulaziz has invited Muslims from around the world to join the Hajj pilgrimage. He promised to ensure their comfort, security, and rights.
Due to ongoing unrest in Jeddah at the time, pilgrims were directed to travel to the holy city of Makkah through the ports of Rabigh, Al Lith, and Al Qunfudhah.
In his message, King Abdulaziz said: “We warmly welcome pilgrims from all Muslim nations. We are committed to their comfort and safety, and we will facilitate their journey to Makkah from Rabigh, Al Lith, or Al Qunfudhah. Our forces have secured these areas, and we will take all necessary measures to ensure the pilgrims’ comfort.”
King Abdulaziz Welcomes Charitable Initiatives
King Abdulaziz announced that all previous barriers to charitable and economic projects have been removed. He invited everyone to undertake such efforts, assuring that the gates of Hijaz are open and the local government is ready to provide full support and facilities for these initiatives.
Challenges of Hajj Before Saudi Rule
On February 25, 1925, Sultan Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud issued a call to Muslims, inviting them to perform Hajj. This was before he was declared King of Hijaz. How did he organize the first Hajj season, and what conditions did pilgrims face? Security was a major concern, along with disease, mistreatment by local authorities, and lack of services.
British documents reveal a lack of clear policies. One document notes the anger of Bengali Muslims due to the poor treatment of their pilgrims in the 1924 Hajj season. Another document states that Indian Muslims found the arrangements in Makkah very poor.
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Rifaat Pasha, who performed Hajj in 1901 and 1908, documented his experiences.
In 1901, he noted, “The ruler of Makkah imposed a tax for the railway, charging each pilgrim one riyal. Pilgrims who refused to pay were detained in Makkah for seven days after Hajj.”
“Some Moroccan pilgrims complained to the governor about being detained. The governor sent a representative, but the pilgrims were beaten by the ruler’s guards and returned empty-handed. A rightful complaint was met with harsh humiliation,” added Pasha.
Pasha also warned that if this injustice continues, people will avoid Hajj, which would harm the Arab economy and Islam.
“Hajj connects Muslims worldwide. Without it, Muslims would be easy prey for colonizers,” he cautioned.
He described the chaos as pilgrims left Makkah, “Pilgrims were stopped to pay another tax of one riyal per camel. The congestion was severe, with harsh enforcement by guards. People fell, bones broke, and luggage was lost or damaged.”
“The sounds of women wailing, children crying, and men arguing filled the air. There was no police to maintain order. This chaos was due to poor tax collection. The government could have appointed more collectors and scheduled departures by caravan to ensure a calm and safe journey for the pilgrims,” concluded Pasha.
King Abdulaziz Acts to Secure Pilgrims
King Abdulaziz faced various challenges and waited several years before annexing Hijaz. Despite having a clear path forward, he avoided actions that might provoke foreign intervention.
He pursued a patient approach, issuing statements and communications to clarify his position regarding the Hijaz government’s treatment of pilgrims, which justified his eventual annexation decision.
However, he delayed due to recognizing the significant difficulties in Hijaz needing comprehensive solutions.
While annexing Hijaz was pivotal for his unification efforts, King Abdulaziz’s primary aim was to protect the holy sites, ensure safe access, establish peace, and address injustices faced by pilgrims.
His vision prioritized swiftly providing essential services and enforcing justice based on Islamic principles. Despite resource constraints, wartime conditions, the siege of Jeddah, and international criticism, King Abdulaziz felt deeply responsible for fulfilling this mission.
Inaugurating the First Hajj Season under Saudi Rule
King Abdulaziz successfully oversaw the inaugural Hajj season during his reign, a milestone achieved through divine guidance, clear vision, and meticulous planning aimed at ensuring security, justice, and enhanced services.
This responsibility was immense, but King Abdulaziz fully grasped its importance, closely monitored its execution, and personally supervised the details. The successful management of the Hajj pilgrimage in the early years of the Saudi state underscored his effective leadership.
Security
After declaring the restoration of security in the Hijaz shortly after entering Makkah, King Abdulaziz moved quickly to enforce order. He warned of severe punishments for anyone endangering security, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage.
He deployed patrols to hunt down criminals targeting pilgrims, ensuring their swift justice. Tribal leaders were cautioned against disrupting pilgrim caravans and held responsible for crimes in their territories. This firm stance deterred further criminal activity.
Health and Municipal Services
Upon arriving in Makkah, King Abdulaziz swiftly appointed his personal physician, Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Hamouda, to oversee public health.
He took immediate steps to organize health services and educate the public through articles in the early editions of “Um Al-Qura” newspaper. Addressing prevalent diseases and epidemics became a top priority after ensuring security.
Key initiatives included verifying causes of death and issuing weekly statistical reports.
Before the Hajj season, proactive health measures were implemented to prevent diseases, proposing suitable medical teams with a strong focus on prevention.
Several hospitals and health centers were prepared to operate during Hajj. Food and beverage sales, bakery cleanliness, and health guidelines for barbers were monitored closely, with strict penalties for violations.
The cleansing of holy sites and preparation of sacrificial areas were also part of the comprehensive preparations.
Post-Hajj, a health report confirmed the absence of epidemic diseases and a decrease in mortality rates compared to previous years, accompanied by several recommendations.
Water and Food
King Abdulaziz prioritized the maintenance of Ayn Zubaydah’s water channels, ensuring it remained clear to prevent pilgrim thirst, a lesson learned from past Hajj seasons.
Early in Dhu al-Qi’dah, the operation of a water pump was announced to transport water to Mina, with efforts to fill reservoirs ensuring water availability for pilgrims. The King entrusted his advisor, Hafiz Wahba, to oversee these operations, inspecting pumping machinery and reservoirs in Mina and Arafat and reporting back.
Before the Hajj season, efforts to clean and sterilize water channels, reservoirs, and public basins in Mina were completed.
King Abdulaziz also took proactive measures to secure food supplies from various regions, opening markets and ensuring staples like dates, meat, ghee, honey, wheat, barley, corn, and sesame were available from Najd, Asir, Jazan, and Taif.
He appointed Abdullah Al-Fadl to procure goods early from Aden and India, resulting in several ships arriving before Hajj carrying flour, sugar, barley, and kerosene. Caravans of camels also delivered provisions.
Announcements regarding food availability, price monitoring, and weekly price lists were made, with actions taken against monopolistic traders. Some companies advertised affordable food options, ensuring accessibility for all pilgrims.