Istanbul -

A stroke of genius in political image-making? A subtle tribute to the prophet Mohammed? Or crude plagiarising from US President Barack Obama's election campaign?

Whatever the truth, the logo for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential election campaign has already stoked controversy over a month ahead of the August 10 poll, in a sign of how divisive the election risks being.

The logo - a semi-circle representing the rising sun with a road zig-zagging into the distance and the word Erdogan below - is displayed behind the prime minister at every rally and on all campaign material.

To the surprise of many, a prominent cabinet minister said the shape also spelt out the name of the Prophet Mohammed written in Arabic.

“Did you know that 'Mohammed' in Arabic is used in the logo of our presidential candidate, Erdogan?” Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek wrote on Twitter.

The logo has been the subject of much-heated debate since it was unveiled last week, with many suggesting that it bears a strong resemblance to the one used in US President Barack Obama's campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

But Simsek's tweet sparked criticism that Erdogan - who relies on massive support from pious supporters - was using the religion as a propaganda tool in the run-up to presidential elections in August in which he is a clear favourite.

“By saying Erdogan's logo includes prophet's name, (at)memetsimsek implies that Erdogan's election opponents are infidels,” one user, Ebubekir Isik, wrote on Twitter.

Former culture minister Ertugrul Gunay also asked Simsek on Twitter: “Would this not be considered as an abuse of religion as well as an insult to the Prophet?

Writing on his political blog for the online Radikal newspaper, Haluk Temel called on Erdogan to change his logo “because it violates a rule of the electoral code that prohibits candidates from using the Turkish flag and religious symbols on campaign materials”.

The ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials were quoted as saying by the Turkish media that the logo is meant to convey a “light at the end of the tunnel,” with the sun symbolising hope and the zig-zagging road representing “Erdogan's journey in life”.

The opposition accuses Erdogan of endangering the secular legacy of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk by imposing a gradual Islamisation of society and allowing religion to creep into the politics of the officially secular state.

Analysts say Erdogan's planned ascent to the presidency risks further exacerbating divisions in Turkish society after deadly protests against his rule last year. - Sapa-AFP