- By Marya Hannun<p> Marya Hannun is a researcher at Foreign Policy. </p>
What do Texas and Turkey have in common? Aside from sharing the same first letter, probably not too much. But starting today, they will be able to add something else to the list: similar alcohol policies.
On Friday, after a marathon debate lasting well past midnight, Turkey’s parliament adopted a proposal restricting the sale of alcohol in the country.
The move has been a source of tension in the week leading up to the vote. On Tuesday, members of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mocked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s suggestion that ayran — a salty non-alcoholic yogurt drink — is enough to satisfy the Turkish people by passing out the beverage while exchanging barbs with members of the ruling party. As Hurriyet, Turkey’s leading English-language daily, reported, things quickly got heated:
However, tension soon rose during the session, despite the fact that it started with witty japes. The row between Tanal and Bilgiç grew following a break in the session, when the two had to be separated by other deputies after reportedly coming close to exchanging blows.
Critics have suggested that the legislation is an infringement on individual liberty and an attempt by Erdogan’s party to impose an Islamic agenda on the country. "No one can be forced to drink or not to drink. This is a religious and ideological imposition," stated Musa Cam, of the CHP. "This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to [the ruling party’s] beliefs and lifestyle." Turkish columnist Mehves Evin even went so far as to accuse the government of "alcohol McCarthyism."
And while Americans might bristle at the comparison, it’s worth noting that Turkey’s alcohol restrictions bear some similarities to restrictions in several U.S. states. Take Texas.
Turkey’s law shrinks the window during which it is legal to purchase alcoholic beverages from retailers to the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. In Texas, there’s a slightly longer window: 7 a.m. to midnight on weekdays for stores selling beer and wine, and a shorter timeframe for liquor stores. On Sunday, limits are even greater, with no liquor stores open across the state. The state also boasts 19 dry counties where the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
True, the Turkish bill includes some other rules that are less comparable to laws in the United States — including strict prohibitions on advertising alcohol and selling alcohol near mosques. But when it comes to one of the law’s odder provisions — banning the sale of alcohol in vending machines — Texas did it first. In 1998, the Lone Star State’s attorney general ordered the removal of vending machines that dispensed adult beverages.
Members of Erdogan’s party have been quick to point out that the new law is simply in keeping with Western norms. "In Sweden, [the retail sale of alcohol] is forbidden after 7 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 24 hours on Sundays," Lutfu Elvan, the head of Turkey’s Planning and Budget Commission noted. "There are similar restrictions in all Scandinavian countries." As far as we can tell, he did not go on to mention Texas.