Champagne corks are not popping in Turkey. On the contrary, Turkey took one more step on May 24 towards becoming an Islamic republic. In the early hours of the morning, Turkey's governing AKP [Justice and Development Party] took advantage of its parliamentary majority to rush through Parliament a bill which will impose severe restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in Turkey.
However, this comes as no surprise: Prime Minister Erdogan has made clear his personal dislike of alcohol, and recommended that people eat fruit instead of drinking it.
At the Global Alcohol Symposium held in Istanbul in April, Erdogan warned that his government would introduce new measures to reduce alcohol consumption. He also stated that, as Turkey does not have any oil wells, the Special Consumption Tax on alcohol is Turkey's most important source of income.
The Prime Minister also claimed that he was mandated by Article 58 of the Constitution to protect the youth from alcoholism. Article 58 states that the state shall take measures to ensure the training and development of the youth in the light of contemporary science, and in line with the principles and reforms of Turkey's first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The article also states that the state shall take necessary measures to protect the youth from addiction to alcohol, drugs, crime as well as gambling and similar vices -- and ignorance.
In view of the not especially scientific shift that teaching creationism is on the way in at Turkish schools, and that the teaching of Atatürk's principles is on the way out, Erdogan's reference to the Constitution is characteristically selective.
Since 2003, a year after the AKP came to power, the consumer price index has risen 132%, while the prices of alcoholic beverages have risen 346%. This can also be seen in the present cost of beer, wine and spirits. For example, at the grocer's a bottle (50 cl.) of the popular Efes beer costs $2.25, Turkish table wine from $8 - $11 and a better Turkish wine from $16 upwards. A bottle of raki (70 cl.), the Turkish version of Greek ouzo or French absinthe, is $30. Imported wine and spirits cost considerably more. Consequently, the flourishing Turkish wine industry with its 7,000 years of history is struggling to survive.
This heavy taxation has already had an effect: the Istanbul think tank BETAM has estimated that alcohol consumption fell by a third from 2003-2008. According to one survey, only around 6 percent of Turkish households consume alcohol; another found that 83 percent of Turkish adults never drink alcohol. Perhaps it would be a shot in the dark to claim that much of the Turkish government's opposition is to be found among the 17 percent who do. Interestingly, only 193 of the AKP's 327 parliamentary deputies voted for the new law.
Among the new restrictions that have been imposed is a ban on the retail sale of alcohol between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and there will be no new licenses for the sale of alcohol within 100 metres of a school or mosque. Since Erdogan came to power, 17,000 new mosques have been built -- there are now 93,000 -- and there are 67,000 schools.