Al Bayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and rising cabinet star

Critics say his rise smacks of the claims of nepotism and favouritism that have long surrounded Turkey’s first family

Istanbul: Berat Al Bayrak, named on Monday to the crucial post of finance minister in Turkey’s new cabinet, is the youthful son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has enjoyed a stellar rise to the top political ranks.

The 40-year-old husband of Erdogan’s eldest daughter Esra was handed the key job of energy minister in November 2015 after winning a seat in parliament in June that year. Al Bayrak’s surprise appointment as treasury and finance minister gives him the task of managing Turkey’s fast-growing but imbalanced economy and winning back the trust of markets. Critics say his rise smacks of the claims of nepotism and favouritism that have long surrounded the Erdogan family. But observers close to the authorities describe Al Bayrak as one of the most capable figures in government, able to rapidly master a brief and impress foreign colleagues with his perfect command of English. He is often simply known as the “damat” — the son-in-law.

‘Shadow PM’

In a sign of Al Bayrak’s proximity to Erdogan, he was holidaying with the president and closest family in the southern resort of Marmaris during the attempted coup of July 15, 2016.

He then accompanied the president on a potentially dangerous flight back to Istanbul, sitting at his side at a news conference at the city’s main airport that marked the turning of the tide against the coup plotters. In a rare meeting with foreign reporters a week later, Al Bayrak said the attempted putsch had taken the Turkish leadership by surprise. “We received the first phone call from a civilian from the Istanbul area — you cannot rationalise something based on one phone call,” he said.

It was only after Erdogan was unable to reach important figures like chief of staff Hulusi Akar — who was named as defence minister in the new cabinet — that the gravity of the situation became clear.

The head of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, even once branded Al Bayrak as a “shadow” prime minister together with the outgoing premier Binali Yildirim.

Some reports have pointed to tensions between Al Bayrak and hardline interior minister Sulaiman Soylu, who stays on in the new cabinet, in a sign of a power struggle within the elite.

Soylu however dismissed the speculation in a television interview ahead of the June 24 presidential elections and said: “Mr Berat is a friend of mine, a good friend of mine.”

Inner circle

Until late 2013, Al Bayrak was chief executive of the Calik Holding conglomerate, which has interests in textiles, energy, but also notably media, and owns the pro-government Sabah daily and the A-Haber TV channel.

Quietly spoken but confident, he has a Master’s degree from New York’s Pace University and earned a doctorate with his thesis on the ‘Financing of renewable energy resources.’

Before becoming a minister, Al Bayrak regularly wrote columns for the Sabah daily.

Erdogan is considered very close to the Al Bayrak family, in particular to Berat Al Bayrak’s father Sadik.

Several world leaders attended Al Bayrak’s marriage to Esra Erdogan in July 2004.

At the peak of the crisis with Russia after Turkey shot down one of its warplanes in November 2015, Moscow explicitly accused Al Bayrak and Erdogan’s close family of participating in illicit oil smuggling trade in Syria.

The claims were vehemently denied by Erdogan and Turkish officials.

Face of diplomacy

But any bitterness was soon forgotten when Al Bayrak smilingly signed an agreement on the construction of a Russian gas pipeline to Turkey in October 2016, a symbol of the two countries’ reconciliation. It was also Al Bayrak who held a crucial first ice-breaking meeting with an Israeli minister, his then counterpart Yuval Steinitz, after an agreement with the Jewish state to normalise ties.

Al Bayrak has frequently accompanied Erdogan on foreign trips and policy meetings with world leaders, including summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile observers are also watching the career of Erdogan’s second son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar, who in 2016 married the president’s youngest daughter Sumeyye and is a top executive at the company that has made Turkey’s first domestically-produced drone.

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