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Turkey moves to restrict alcohol sales in sign of politicized religious debate

May 25, 2013 1:05 am

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While the moves do signal an increasingly conservative government, they’re not too different from laws in many European countries and U.S. states that limit where and when alcohol can be purchased.

— Dennis Schaal

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Turkey is to restrict the sale and advertising of alcohol, prompting outcry from citizens concerned about the creeping Islamisation of the country.

Members of Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have approved legislation, which is awaiting presidential approval, which will see the sale of alcohol in shops prohibited from 10pm to 6am.

Although similar restrictions are in place in some European countries, including Britain, the legislation also bans the advertising of alcohol. Broadcasters will even need to blur out bottles and glasses of alcohol consumed by TV characters.

Alcoholic beverage companies will also not be allowed to sponsor events where their drinks can be sold, such as concerts or football matches. New liquor licenses will not be issued to establishments within 330 feet (100 metres) of a school or religious institution.

The manager of one liquor shop in Istanbul’s central Beyoglu district, famed for its boozy nightlife, called the ban “Islamic fascism.”

If the restrictions are enforced, posters on the front of his shop advertising Chilean wine and European beer will need to come down, possibly impacting his business for the worst.

“This is a problem for all of Turkey,” he said, asking that his name and shop be withheld for fear of repercussions.

Erdeniz Ucan, 28, accused the government of being “anti-secularist” and wanting to “manipulate society”.”Smoking is bad, drinking alcohol is bad, praying is good…I think they will continue brainwashing people with these regulations,” he said.

While 99 per cent of Turkey’s citizens are Muslim, the establishment has always fiercely promoted secularism and kept a close watch on religious movements.

However, a decade of rule by Mr Erdogan and his popular Justice and Development Party (AKP), has eroded the power of secularists and pushed the role of Islam to the forefront of the national debate.

Mr Erdogan hit out at critics, saying the restrictions are good for Turkey’s youth.

“We do not want a generation that drinks night and day, that walks around merry. They have to be awake, they have to be sharp, they have to be equipped with knowledge. We want such a generation and we are taking steps in this regard,” he said, according to local media.

It remains unclear if the restrictions will make foreign tourists stay away. More than 30 million foreigners visit Turkey every year, with around 2.5 million from Britain.

In Egypt, tourism authorities have sought to reassure travellers about the future of the country as a holiday destination, with the emergence of the Islamist-led government of Mohammed Morsi leading to fears of a curb on alcohol.

Ghislain Sireilles, of Cachet Travel, a London-based tourism operator that works in Turkey, said that while Mr Erdogan has taken many positive steps for Turkey, there is another side that is a “bit worrying,” such as the restrictions on alcohol.

“Yes, it makes Turkey look a little more fundamentalist, maybe more conservative, losing a bit of freedom, yes,” Mr Sireilles said.

However, he doubted that the alcohol restrictions will make Turkey a less attractive holiday destination.

“Our clients are not going to Turkey just to drink. They are going to Turkey to see the sites…the archeology and the history Turkey has to offer.”

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