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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Who is Emine Erdogan, Turkey’s first lady?

Sunday's landmark vote cemented her place at the forefront of Turkish political life

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan greet supporters at the AKP headquarters in Ankara, Turkey June 25, 2018. Adem Altan / AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan greet supporters at the AKP headquarters in Ankara, Turkey June 25, 2018. Adem Altan / AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have emerged victorious from Sunday’s presidential elections, but there is another figure whose place at the forefront of public life was also cemented: his wife, Emine.

Originally from Siirt, a city in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, Mrs Erdogan dedicated her early life to social projects, meeting President Erdogan through her Idealist Women’s Association in the 1970s.

After his election to office in 2002, she worked towards good causes such as opposing child marriage. However, much like her husband, she is no stranger to controversy.

During the 2016 trial of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarab, who was charged with evading US sanctions on Iran, it was claimed that the Turkish leader had supported and profited from Mr Zarab’s actions.

It was also alleged that he had donated almost $5 million (Dh 18.4m) to Mrs Erdogan’s TOGEM-DER foundation, which assists the mentally and physically disabled.

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In the same year, Mrs Erdogan set the international press alight when she said in a speech in the Turkish capital, Ankara, that harems – groups of wives, servants and female relatives living in a secluded area of an Ottoman Sultan's household – were “a school for members of the Ottoman dynasty and an educational establishment preparing women for life”.

The comments came one day after her husband’s infamous claim that “a woman is above all else a mother” during a speech that marked International Women’s Day, sparking protests across the country.

Beyond their penchant for divisive rhetoric, the Erdogans have also been criticised for their lavish lifestyle, with some claiming it contradicts their preferred public image as humble and pious.

Last month, Mrs Erdogan sported a limited edition Hermes Birkin patent leather handbag during her trip to the UK, which reportedly costs $50,000. Social media users pointed out that the cost of the bag equalled 11 years’ salary for those on minimum wage in the country.

It was also previously reported that a mall in Brussels was once closed so she could go on a designer shopping spree and while accompanying her husband on an official visit to Warsaw, Poland, she allegedly spent more than $49,000 in an antiques bazaar.