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

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image of Central Asian Affairs

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.

Affiliations: 1: Syracuse University, NY


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