This article analyzes the role of mosques dedicated to the “father of the nation” under two personalistic authoritarian systems: Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan and Sheikh Zayed in the United Arab Emirates ( uae ). Critiquing “cult of personality” narratives as Orientalist and analytically weak, I emphasize the constructed nature of charisma, asking how such personalistic regimes produce the image of a coherent figurehead—and to what end. As a discursive device, the personalistic leader-as-icon appears in a range of authoritarian regimes, and it is materially inscribed in the symbolic landscapes to create the impression of unity among elites and the masses. To illustrate how this works, I draw on research in Turkmenistan and the uae from 2012 through 2014, including landscape analysis of two mosques memorializing the countries’ founding fathers: the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque in the outskirts of Ashgabat, and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, in the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
Central Asian Affairs – Brill
Published: Oct 3, 2016
Keywords: personalism; cult of personality; charisma; mosques; symbolic landscapes; authoritarianism; nationalism; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates
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