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

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.

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