The “Personality Cult” Problematic: Personalism and Mosques Memorializing the “Father of the Nation” in Turkmenistan and the uae

in Central Asian Affairs
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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.

The “Personality Cult” Problematic: Personalism and Mosques Memorializing the “Father of the Nation” in Turkmenistan and the uae

in Central Asian Affairs

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Figures

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    Sheikh Zayed Mosque. December 2012.

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    Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque. May 2014.

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    Reflection pools in front of Sheikh Zayed Mosque. December 2012.

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    Water fountains in front of the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque. May 2014.

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    Interior view of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, including the world’s third largest chandelier at center. December 2012.

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    Entry arch at the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, reading in Turkmen: “The Ruhnama is the holiest book – the Quran is the book of God”. May 2014.

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    Saparmurat Niyazov’s mausoleum adjacent to the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque. May 2014.

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    Screenshot from the interior of Niyazov’s mausoleum from the Bouygues website.

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