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What's behind Erdogan’s promise of free coffeehouses?

The Turkish president’s election pledge for free coffeehouses has earned him much ridicule ahead of the June 24 polls, but some warn the project is no laughing matter.
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During an election rally June 7, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged a new public service that astounded voters and journalists alike. Erdogan’s promise, which has earned him much ridicule from political opponents, was to open free coffeehouses across the country. “In the many elections I have followed over a quarter of a century, I have never heard such a pledge,” Hurriyet columnist Deniz Zeyrek wrote after the rally.

Unlike the trendy coffee shops in urban areas, cheap, traditional coffeehouses — a fixture in every neighborhood in Turkey — are frequented almost exclusively by men who spend time chatting, playing cards or watching television. They are usually associated with idleness and are often places jobless men go to kill time for cheap. And at a time when Turkey has more than 3 million jobless and is grappling with serious economic woes, Erdogan’s “nation’s coffeehouses” project gave the opposition easy ammunition to argue that the president has no viable solution to economic problems and is instead offering free tea and muffins to the jobless.

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