Erdogan, though, apparently knows how to score points at the grass roots level. According to US dispatches, when his AKP suffered a painful defeat in the Trabzon mayoral election of 2004, he allegedly installed his close friend Faruk Nafiz Özak as the head of the local Trabzonspor football club. In accusations which have not been proven, informants told the US Embassy that Erdogan sent Özak millions of dollars from a secret government account. Özak was to use the money, states a dispatch dated June 2005, to buy better players in an effort to overshadow the mayor. Erdogan did not respond to SPIEGEL efforts to contact him, but said on Monday that the credibility of WikiLeaks was questionable.
According to US Embassy analysis, he has transformed the AKP into a party which works almost exclusively on his behalf. Many top AKP leaders including Erdogan and President Abdullah Gül are said to be members of a Muslim fraternity.
There is generally a "lack of technocratic depth" in the government, criticized US Ambassador Eric Edelman back in January 2004: "While some AK appointees appear to be capable of learning on the job, others are incompetent or seem to be pursuing private ... interests" or those of their religious congretations. "We hear constant anecdotal evidence ... that AK appointees at the national and provincial levels are incompetent or narrow-minded Islamists."
Many high-ranking state officials have told the Americans they are appalled by Erdogan's staff. Erdogan, one such official told US diplomats, appointed a man exhibiting "incompetence, prejudices and ignorance" as his undersecretary. Another informant told the US that Women's Minister Nimet Çubukçu, an advocate of criminalizing adultery, got her job because she is a friend Erdogan's wife, Emine. Another minister is accused of nepotism, links to heroin smuggling and a predeliction for underage girls.
Erdogan and the AKP are revered by the electorate. The prime minister is a "natural politician," US diplomats wrote in one dispatch from early 2004. He "possesses a common touch," is "charismatic" and has "street-fighter instincts." The prime minister grew up in Kasimpaa, a rough port district of Istanbul, and became involved in a radical Islamist organization as a young man before joining the conservative Order of the Nakibendye. Before entering government, he said: "Democracy is like a train. We shall get out when we arrive at the station we want."
As a young man he met Abdullah Gül, with whom he later orchestrated the rise of the AKP. A deep-seated rivalry now exists between the two. Again and again Gül has stirred up trouble against Erdogan, particularly when the prime minister is traveling abroad. In a report from March 2005 when Gül was Turkish foreign minister, US diplomats described this as Gül's attempt to undermine Erdogan's policies and gain more power in the party. Unlike Erdogan, Gül speaks English, say the diplomats, and presents himself as moderate and modern.