Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has loomed over his nation's politics for a generation. A liberal reformer who turned into an autocratic nationalist, he is the most transformative and influential figure in the history of the Turkish republic since its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan is gearing up for pivotal presidential and parliamentary elections in May, where voters will decide whether to extend his 20-year rule and that of his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Much seems to hang in the balance, with inflation soaring, the value of the Turkish lira collapsing and, if you listen to Erdogan's critics, the future of Turkey's democracy itself hanging by a thread.
Then, on Monday, a disaster of unprecedented scale struck. Rescuers and relief workers are still sifting through the debris created by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors that ripped through a wide swath of southern Turkey and northwestern Syria. In Turkey alone, more than 5,800 people have died and more than 34,800 have been injured. Thousands more are feared to be still trapped beneath the rubble, either dead or dying as severe winter conditions hamper rescue efforts.