ISTANBUL — In his time in power, more than a decade now, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has alienated large portions of the population for his seeming intrusions into private lives. He has told women how many children they should have, has sought to outlaw abortion and adultery, to limit alcohol consumption and once, oddly, went on a public tirade against white bread.
Many Turks who had once supported Erdogan’s democratic reforms, such as securing civilian control over the military, came to see such pronouncements as grating and abrasive, even evidence of a rising authoritarian style. That contributed to the sweeping anti-government protests in the summer that presented the gravest crisis to the rule of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP.
Now Erdogan, who had largely tempered his divisive language in the months after the protests, is again triggering a rising storm of protest. He said this week that he wants to outlaw coed dormitories at state universities, and extend the crackdown to off-campus housing shared by male and female students.
Again, Erdogan, with his words, has elevated Turkey’s culture wars to the fore. It illustrated the deep divisions between the secular and religious, and prompted the sort of controversy many within his own party had hoped to avoid just before Turkey enters an election cycle.
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Invoking his credentials as a conservative and saying the government receives “intelligence” about what goes on inside coeducational housing facilities, Erdogan was quoted in the Turkish news media as saying to a weekly meeting of his party’s lawmakers: “Anything can happen. Then parents cry out, saying, ‘Where is the state?’ These steps are being taken in order to show that the state is there. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene.”
On Tuesday, political talk shows that normally take on a number of issues devoted much of their broadcasts to the dispute set off by Erdogan’s comments. Some newspaper columnists seemed to relish the topic and the return of Erdogan’s words whipping up the cultural currents.
“We are face to face with a prime minister who thinks it is his right to impose his moral sentiment into our homes, and control our personal space with his governors and his police,” wrote Ezgi Basaran, a columnist in the daily, left-leaning newspaper Radikal.