After giving a nice fake pass and suggesting he may veto the controversial new alcohol law recently signed by parliament, Turkish President Abdullah Gul today went ahead and signed the new bill, a move that will likely only increase tensions in Turkey.
The Hurriyet Daily News gives a rundown of the new law's restrictions, here. Among its main features are a complete ban on retail alcohol sales between 10pm and 6am, an almost complete ban on the advertising of alcoholic beverages, a restriction that requires establishments selling alcohol to be 100 meters away from "religious and educational" facilities and a ban on screening images in films and on television that show (or even "glorify") the consumption of alcohol. (A similar provision in an anti-smoking law passed in Turkey several years ago forced broadcasters to blur out the screen any time someone lit up.)
Obviously, the ongoing protest movement in Turkey against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its heavy-handed leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is about much more than a new law limiting alcohol sales. But the way the law came into effect says a lot about why people are out there protesting Erdogan and his government. With little advance notice or public consultation, the alcohol bill was rammed through parliament in a matter of a few weeks, leaving a vocal segment of the population feeling completely railroaded and further marginalized. It's the same kind of "we know best" approach that the Erdogan government had toward the redevelopment of downtown Istanbul's Taksim Square, now the heart of the current protests against the PM.
Since alcohol abuse is not really an issue in Turkey (a government study found that 83 percent of adults never even touch a drink and only one percent have a drink every day), at its heart the new alcohol law is a political move, aimed at wooing and mobilizing the AKP's conservative base ahead of local and national elections that will take place in the coming two years. As a story in today New York Times suggests, drinking booze is now becoming a form of anti-government protest for some Turks, which is just what Erdogan would like for this new law to do. We are fighting for your democratic rights, he will tell his voters, while "they" are fighting for the right to drink.