A topic that has not received the attention it deserves during Azerbaijan’s presidential election campaign is the role of Islam in society.
President Ilham Aliyev is currently trying to have it both ways, embracing Islam when it suits his administration’s political purposes, while playing the extremist card against any believer who is not in lockstep with his agenda.
Azerbaijan for much of the post-Soviet era, especially during Heidar Aliyev’s tenure in power, embraced a staunchly secular outlook. But Ilham Aliyev – Heidar’s son and political heir – lately has been denouncing unspecified “Islamophobic forces” that, along with the so-called Armenian lobby, are supposedly conducting a “dirty campaign” to tarnish Azerbaijan’s image. Taking a cue from his boss, Ali Hasanov, a top presidential aide, recently announced that Azerbaijan will allocate funds to promote “Islamic morality and to fight Islamophobia.” Hasanov also claimed that “governance in most Islamic countries is better than in Europe.”
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Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament, who writes in his personal capacity.