ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered the new strong man in the Middle East and the most powerful leader in the Muslim world.
After winning Turkey's national elections for the third time since 2002, Erdogan is also the man the U.S. and Israel will have to contend with for at least the next four years.
On Sunday, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) party won 50 percent of the vote and 325 seats in Turkey's parliament.
While the election left the party with a big majority, it didn't give them the two-thirds majority needed to independently rewrite the country's constitution -- their main goal.
Many feared if that if the AKP won enough seats in parliament, they'd re-write the constitution and institute Sharia law.
Still, the results do accelerate the nation's growing influence in the region. With Turkey literally straddling Europe and Asia, the Turks see themselves as a nation of bridges.
The government is also building political bridges in the Muslim world, positioning itself to fill a power void left by declining U.S. influence in the Middle East.
"Believe me, Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul," Erdogan said following Sunday's victory. "Beirut won as much as Izmir. Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, (and) the West Bank. Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir."
The government insists its agenda is to implement Western-style democracy, but some see a number of warning signs behind that claim.
More journalists are in jail in Turkey than most any other nation, and the government plans to restrict Internet use in August.
Another concern -- the AKP and Ergogan are closely linked to the Fetullah Gülen movement, whose agenda is to achieve world domination through Islam.
Finally, Middle East expert Daniel Pipes warned Sunday's election might be the last fair and free ones in Turkey.