Erdogan’s son-in-law is a rising cabinet star
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Erdogan’s son-in-law is a rising cabinet star

Berat Albayrak, named as finance minister in new Turkish cabinet, made 2016 trip to Israel to discuss joint natural gas pipeline project

Then Turkish Minister of Energy Berat Albayrak addresses the media in Ankara,  July 27, 2016. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP)
Then Turkish Minister of Energy Berat Albayrak addresses the media in Ankara, July 27, 2016. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP)

Berat Albayrak, named 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.

In 2016 Albayrak held a crucial first ice-breaking meeting with an Israeli minister, his then-counterpart Yuval Steinitz, after an agreement with the Jewish state to normalize ties.

Albayrak’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 favoritism that have long surrounded the Erdogan family.

But observers close to the authorities describe Albayrak 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 Albayrak’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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces the new Turkish cabinet after taking oath as the first president under ש new government system in Ankara, on July 9, 2018. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP)

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, Albayrak 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 rationalize 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 defense 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 Albayrak as a “shadow” prime minister together with the outgoing premier Binali Yildirim.

Some reports have pointed to tensions between Albayrak and hardline Interior Minister Suleyman 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, Albayrak 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.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem,
May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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, Albayrak regularly wrote columns for the Sabah daily.

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

Several world leaders attended Albayrak’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 Albayrak 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 Albayrak smilingly signed an agreement on the construction of a Russian gas pipeline to Turkey in October 2016, a symbol of the two countries’ reconciliation.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, left, and his Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak shake hands after signing an agreement in Istanbul October 10, 2016. (AFP/OZAN KOSE)

Albayrak 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.

Albayrak’s 2016 visit to Israel was to discuss a project for an undersea gas pipeline to pump Israeli natural gas to Turkish consumers and on to Europe. In July 2017 Steinitz said he hoped Albayrak would return by the end of the year for further talks, but the meeting never materialized.

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