Getting drunk in Turkey? Think twice

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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When I was 10, I was one of four close friends in my neighborhood. We always played and spent our free time together. One morning, I went to Nilüfer’s house, the most beautiful of all of us four with her pale pink skin and raven hair. When I arrived at Nilüfer’s home, many people from the neighborhood were there, crying. The night before, Nilüfer, her older sister, and her dad were out to visit one of their relatives. Her dad was drunk, and driving. They had an accident. Nilufer died—on the spot. My friend was no more. Her dad survived and the older sister was left paralyzed for the rest of her life.

Every year thousands of people in Turkey lose their lives in traffic accidents. Only last year 131,845 accidents took place in Turkey involving death and personal injury. 38% of these accidents, 65 % of all traffic accidents happen because of driving drunk. And in Turkey, the reason for:
85% of the homicides
50% of the rapes
50% of the violence crimes
70% of the domestic violence
60% of the mental diseases arise from alcohol usage mainly at night.

Last week, new regulations on alcohol sales in Turkey created a new stir. The measure bans the advertising of alcohol, prohibits the RETAIL selling of it in shops between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. -- except in tourist areas -- forbids it be sold to anyone under 18, which means if you are an adult, you can still buy alcohol at a bar or a restaurant after 10 pm.

We see a classic example of overreaction, especially in the Western media, against the Erdogan government simply because the AKP is a political party of practicing Muslims.

Ceylan Ozbudak

Turkey’s political opposition flared up against Erdogan after the legislative session, accusing him of having a hidden Islamic agenda and meddling in peoples’ lifestyles. The main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said: “I would actually expect the AKP to entirely ban alcohol production in Turkey; why didn’t they?” The Leader of the nationalist front, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli assisted the passing of regulatory laws in the parliament and said: “While respecting the area of personal freedom, we agree that strengthening the spiritual, bodily and mental health of our future generations is an essential mission.”

Is the new regulation of sales of alcoholic drinks really about banning alcohol in Turkey for religious reasons? Or is this just another excuse for the opposition to steal the public eye, and attack Erdogan? For starters, it is nothing close to an outright ban, as so many politicians and media outlets both here and abroad, seem to be insinuating. It is a ban only on retail sales of alcohol in the middle of the night. It will not prohibit the sale at bars, clubs, restaurants, or tourist locations. In actuality, it restricts very little. Similar laws in other nations have been shown to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and the rate of alcohol related crimes during these late hours. Surely there is no way that any responsible political party could oppose legislation designed with the intent to save and improve the lives of both Turkish citizens and the foreign tourists who visit Turkey. Those who would call these laws RELIGIOUSLY MOTIVATED are themselves POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. Whether popular or not, these new laws are a necessary change. The best medicine is not always the easiest to take, but for Turkey this is a dosage long overdue. It will come too late to save those I cared for so much in my youth. Fortunately so many others will never need to know the suffering felt by those families and for this, we should all be thankful. The next life saved could be yours.

Around the world

It is surprising to see how many Western media outlets report the new regulations as a restriction of private life and identities while regulations in their own countries are much stricter than the ones AK Party is implementing.

For instance, in Switzerland, especially in the last two years, drinking has led to many undesired incidents and therefore the government has introduced a law that completely restricts the sales of alcohol in the supermarkets and retail points from 10.00 pm until 06.00 am. In Russia, as of January 1, 2013, selling alcoholic beer during the night time is banned. The retail shops cannot sell beer from 11.00 pm until 08.00 am. In Finland, it is banned to promote light alcoholic beverages from 07.00 am until 08.00 pm, promoting strong alcoholic beverages is banned totally. Only beer and wine advertisements are allowed on billboards. In Holland, it is banned to promote alcoholic beverages from 06.00 am until 09.00 pm. Also, the alcoholic beverage producers are not allowed to sponsor TV programs aired between 06.00 am and 09.00 pm.

In the United States, the regulations vary depending on the locality, as no federal guideline exists. While the overwhelming majority of the counties ban the sales of alcoholic beverages on Sundays before noon and at nights, in some counties, selling alcohol is banned completely. In England, it is not permitted to drink outside except in the premises of a club or a restaurant and governmental media centers are not allowed to promote and advertise alcoholic beverages. We see many similar regulations in European countries and even stricter ones in America. And none of these stem from a religious background or an ideological one.

Yes, that’s right, Europe, Russia and America have more stringent rules to regulate alcohol sales than Turkey.

However, it’s not the same in some other Middle Eastern nations. In Libya, the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned. The sale and consumption of alcohol in Egypt is legal but only allowed to licensed dealers and tourist areas such as hotels, restaurants and bars. Egyptians are prohibited from buying alcoholic drinks anywhere during the month of Ramadan. In Yemen, it is forbidden to sell or consume alcohol except for some places in the south that were former communist areas such as the port city of Aden. In the United Arab Emirates, alcohol is banned but many resorts and hotels sell alcohol to their customers.

In sum? We see a classic example of overreaction, especially in the Western media, against the Erdogan government simply because the AKP is a political party of practicing Muslims. When this government pays our debt to IMF, they say “But the debt in the private sector still exists”. When they start building a third bridge to the Bosphorus, they complain about the name. When they make peace with the PKK without giving up on any value Turkey stands for, they say, “But they negotiated with them and let them go alive”. Even when they are right, they are wrong.

This opposition is not based in reasonable logic or concern for the public good, but an attempt to win elections, a strategy which has not worked for the last several decades. The last time CHP was in power alone as a political party and not as a coalition was in 1946. Alcohol restrictions will never be overwhelmingly popular in a secular society such as Turkey's. Are the CHP and others in the opposition really willing to sacrifice lives and the welfare of the people to win more votes? The role of government is first and foremost to protect and preserve the best interests of the people and the nation. Prime Minister Erdoğan's AKP should once again be applauded for doing the right thing, even when it is not the popular thing, and for putting the public good ahead of their own personal ambitions. This resolve to do good when possible and to do right when necessary represents genuine leadership, an element lacking in the governments of so many other nations. Our friends in the West would be better advised, therefore, to understand Erdogan’s balanced, pragmatic approach to religion and politics and to help promote this Turkish model to other Middle Eastern nations, rather than trying to find faults and complain.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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