Instead of leading the post-Arab Spring Middle East, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting a sad new standard for gratuitous intolerance. Three weeks ago, Turkey’s dominant political figure took time out of his busy schedule to threaten the makers of Turkey’s most popular soap opera.
The program ‑ “Magnificent Century” ‑ is a titillating weekly series that exaggerates the romance, intrigue and sex life of Suleiman the Magnificent, a revered 16th century Ottoman leader. Hugely popular in Turkey and the Middle East, the show is broadcast in 43 countries and watched by 200 million people.
This spring, I interviewed the directors and actors who create “Magnificent Century,” toured their lavish set and lauded the program and other Turkish soap operas for creating new roles, new heroes and new cultural norms in a rapidly changing region. Erdogan views the program as seditious.
“I’m condemning both the director of that series as well as the owner of the television station,” Erdogan said in a bizarre speech at the opening of an airport in western Turkey last month. “We have already alerted authorities about this and we are still waiting for a judicial action.”
Erdogan’s liberal political critics erupted at the comment and accused him of authoritarianism. “The prime minister must be jealous of the series’ popularity,” said Muharrem Ince, the deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party. “Erdogan wants to be the only sultan.”