Turkey Alcohol Ban: Is Erdogan Legislating Islamic Morality?

Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey, approved a bill restricting the sale and advertising of alcohol on Monday. This debate about alcohol is considered one of the reasons Turks have taken to the streets in the Taksim Gezi Park protests. 

The bill, introduced by the Parliament's General Assembly on May 24, features many regulations similar to those imposed on the cigarette industry in Turkey since 2009. 

The sale of alcohol between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is prohibited and punishable by a fine, according to the bill. All advertising will be completely banned, including sponsored activities, festivals, and free giveaways. On television and in films images glorifying the consumption of alcohol will be banned and images of alcohol will be blurred.

Like cigarettes, all liquor bottles will have to display warning signs about the potential harms of alcohol.

Alcohol will be prohibited in health institutions, all sorts of education institutions, sports clubs, and gas stations.

Perhaps the most restricting part of the bill has to do with the acquisition of new alcohol licenses. All existing licenses will remain intact, but those who wish to get a license from the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority must be outside a 100-meter perimeter of educational and religious centers. 

According to the New York Times, non-drinkers are widely considered the majority in Turkey, but nevertheless protesters are enraged, saying the ban is a slight against their secular values. The ban is only one of many issues fueling the anti-government protests, but it feels like a direct stab at the Turkish identity as both sides have described the turmoil as a conflict between Islamic and secular values.  In Taksim Square in Istanbul, many exhausted protestors popped bottles of Efes beer and toasted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in response to the passing of the bill.  

Merve Vural, a 20-year-old college student, said that "We're students and we're always going to find ways to get alcohol. They are imposing their religion on us. They are doing it very slowly."

Turan Eronglu, a bar manager in the center of Isparta, compared the AKP to an oppressive Ottoman sultan from the 17th century. "We're going back to the time of Murad IV when alcohol was banned," he said. "The AKP is taking us back. This only happens in Iran. Now it happens in Turkey."

Erdogan said the bill is meant to protect public health, and is not an attempt to impose religious or moral values. "The regulation does not interfere with anyone's lifestyle," he said. "If you are going to drink, then get your drink and drink at home. We are not against it."

He has spoken against critics and used the Islamic prohibition of alcohol as justification for the legislation. "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? If religion orders something, will you object anyway?"

So is the Turkish government violating human rights with this bill? Amnesty International defines human rights as "basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language or other status." Considering this definition, it isn't necessarily clear whether alcohol regulations are a violation of human rights. Deciding whether or not the right to alcohol is a basic right is quite subjective, but the alienation of a population group based on religion is a clear-cut violation. So the debate is whether the bill is indeed being used as an affront to secular views.