He looked like an Italian with his eyeglasses. He adopted the Italian name Leonardo di Cervo, to look and sound Sicilian perhaps. His name was Zakeer Shah. He is a Pakistani, working in Italy during the tourist season. He sells handmade outfits on beaches, perambulating under the sun, carrying his merchandise among hundreds of tourists spending their vacations in Italy.
His wife and two daughters live in Karachi, where he meets them in the winter, after having worked in Italy during the summer season, and they live all the year on what Zakeer earns abroad. He came to us to engage in a conversation; he asked us where we were from. When he was told "Turkey," he hesitated for a brief moment, then asked us what we thought about Tayyip Erdoğan. When he was told that we liked the prime minister, his face lit up all of a sudden. He put all his belongings down, and started to talk with us. He definitely was a true supporter of Prime Minister Erdoğan, his tirade concerning the latter was sincere, and came from the heart. "He is very important, very valuable for all of us," he said. "There is a place for all the Muslims in his heart. He is the only one who speaks loudly and stands up in the Muslim world. He stands by his words, not at all like Arab leaders, who by the way do not say anything." Zakeer stays with us; he forgets for a moment that he should try to sell to the other tourists. He has been frustrated for recent weeks by other Turkish tourists opposing Erdoğan.
His eloquence gets better as he talks. He asks us why there is such a staunch opposition against the prime minister. We have immense difficulty trying to explain him the political situation in Turkey and the existence of parallel organizations within the judiciary and security forces. We have enough presence of mind not to ask him whether he reads "Der Spiegel" and "New York Times," whether he can see largely orchestrated and financed campaigns detrimental to the prime minister. Such issues are not part of Zakeer's world. He and hundreds of millions like him do support and love Prime Minister Erdoğan because they have been despised abroad, they have suffered at home under regimes they did not deserve nor want, and they have not been allowed to speak their opinion. They see in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a leader who speaks their language, who translates into words and deeds their feelings. The last meeting held by the prime minister in İstanbul gathered almost one-fifth of the total population of the immense city, more than two and a half million supporters.
Zakeer would like to continue to sell his items, but he searches in his numerous bags and comes up with a nice shawl he gifts to us. We insist on paying him, he plainly refuses. "This is a small gift for Erdoğan," he says. This is a gift to Prime Minister Erdoğan from Zakeer, who works all day under the Mediterranean sun in Italy to sell garments to tourists in order to feed his family back in Karachi. In the meantime, he shares with us a sorrowful anecdote. He met some Turks during Ramadan, and he thought they were fasting as well. But apparently the people were not fasting and not thinking about doing so in the future, so they slightly snubbed him. He remains sorry; he thought he was saying something really polite to them. He goes away, with his stuff. Having his gift been accepted with gratitude, he walks more confidently under the sun.
The upcoming Turkish Presidential election will be followed by hundreds of millions like Zakeer. If the presidential candidate Erdoğan wins the elections, they will be very happy, in a life that does not reserve much happiness. They will regain some of their dignity back. Let us not underestimate Erdoğan's radiance in the world. For hundreds of millions all around the world, he remains a world leader.