Anti-Booze Laws Fuel Turkish Protests

By Tony O'Neill 06/03/13

The Turkish Prime Minister's strict new alcohol laws are seen by protesters as symptoms of creeping autocracy.

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Turkish protesters Photo via

New restrictions on the sale and marketing of alcohol have added fuel to rising protests in Turkey against the moderately Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the biggest populist movement the nation has seen in years, Turks are protesting deteriorating press freedoms, the mass arrests of Kurdish activists, a recent ban on abortion and an environmentally "reckless" construction boom—as well as new alcohol laws. As of last Friday, many Istanbul cafes must remove their outside tables and many restaurants nearby schools or mosques will have to stop serving alcohol entirely. The bans also forbid retailers from displaying alcoholic products where they would be visible outside, and prevent retail sales between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. Although mainstream Turkish media is refusing to cover the protests, social media sources report that the Prime Minister "insulted" those who drink alcohol and called them alcoholics. “I don’t drink alcohol,” said Hasan Gumus, a 77-year old man who came to support the protesters, “But who are you to tell me not to drink? Are you my father, my grandfather? You can’t tell me how to live.”

According to a report the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the anti-alcohol law is likely to incite further outrage. “This isn’t because the opposition opposes restricting alcohol sales—but because the law is perceived as another in a series of steps aimed at promoting Erdogan’s religious agenda,” the paper reports. Some have claimed that the protests are large enough to potentially topple the government. But Erdogan shows no sign of budging. “When two drunkards make a law, you respect it,” he said, “But when we make a law for something that faith orders, you reject it. Why?” The Prime Minister dismissed the protesters as “marginal groups” and ordered them to back down. “If you use provocative words, our people will never forgive you," he warned them last week. "If it comes down to making a meeting, if you gather 100,000 people, I can gather a million."

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.

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