ISTANBUL - The Turkish government's decision to ban alcohol sales as part of a nearly three-week lockdown to contain COVID-19 is causing a political storm, with opponents accusing the Islamic-rooted government of using the pandemic to pursue a religious agenda.
The alcohol ban is part of a national lockdown that took effect Thursday and will end on May 17.
The ban is stoking tensions and suspicion over the Islamist roots of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics accuse of seeking to undermine the 90-year-old secular state, said columnist Mehves Evin of the Duvar news portal.
"Erdogan's regime, it's like trying all the little ways to change the way, he thinks it's the right way for people to live. Meaning, for example, the way they are building up the Imam Hatip religious schools. The way they are encouraging more and more students to go to those schools, actually is social engineering. So with the alcohol ban, it is actually also the same thing," Evin said.
The government denies such accusations. But with the ban coinciding with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, such denials have done little to quell the controversy.
The head of Turkey's trader's association, Bendeki Palandoken, called for the ban's reversal, asking if is it possible to demand an alcohol ban in a developed and democratic country of law, which is integrated with Europe, and has many foreign customers, as well.
The ban is also being challenged in Turkey's high courts. But the government is vigorously defending the controls, noting that other countries, like South Africa, imposed similar restrictions.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Thursday there would be no exemptions and no backing down. The alcohol shops will endure this sacrifice, as everyone else will, he added.
But numerous shops are starting to challenge the ban by selling alcohol, with many people posting pictures of their purchases on social media. "Don't touch my alcohol" is among this week's Turkish Twitter top trending hashtags.