March 25, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3705

Articles in Arab Press: Erdogan's Position on the Arab Uprisings Stems from His Bid for Regional Influence

March 25, 2011
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 3705

Recent articles in the Arab press have criticized Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his inconsistent position on the uprisings in the Arab world, namely his support for the Egyptian uprising versus his indifference, or even opposition, to the protests in Libya and Iran. Columnists wrote that this inconsistency stemmed from the fact that his positions were not based on moral ideals or concern for the suffering of the peoples, but rather on bare political interests, primarily his desire to increase Turkey's influence and establish it as a key regional player.

The following are excerpts from two articles on this issue; both articles were also translated and published by the liberal Turkish daily Radikal.

Article in UAE Daily: "The Fall of Mubarak... Is a Beginning to the Consolidation of Muslim Brotherhood Influence in Egypt... This is a Trump Card for the Exertion of Turkish Pressure"

An article in the UAE daily Al-Bayan stated: "Not only is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the most popular diplomat in his [own] country, but he undoubtedly won first place in the hearts and minds of the Arabs and the Muslims, when he confronted Israeli President Shimon Peres with harsh words at the Davos [World Economic] Forum two years ago, storming off the speakers' podium to protest the inhuman aggression of the Israeli forces against the residents of the Gaza Strip. This courageous stance of Erdogan is embraced by the Arabs. [They] are pleased with this leader, who is viewed by the Arabs and Muslims not only as a Turkish leader, but also as a Muslim knight who defends the Arabs against the Israeli infractions perpetrated against the helpless Palestinian people. Everybody in the Arab and Muslim world [also] applauded his adamant position vis-à-vis the Israeli aggression against the Freedom Flotilla, which was conveying humanitarian aid to the Gazans under siege. Erdogan became more than just a Muslim leader, with some viewing him as the leader of the Arabs or even as the 'awaited Mahdi.'

"It is no secret that I was among those who sought inspiration from Erdogan's position against the terrorist Peres... I took my hat off to [Erdogan] out of honor and esteem... After the developments in the Middle East, however, I have found that my [high opinion] of Erdogan has diminished drastically in light of the political reality and [his pursuit of his] interests, which are a far cry from the [purported] morality and idealism of [his] policy. This [change in my attitude] is due to the negative position taken by Erdogan with regard to events in Libya – where the Libyan people are being abused by the forces of an illegitimate leader. Whereas Erdogan took a courageous and strong position in [support] of the rebels in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak's regime, and leveled criticism against the president, calling upon him to step down and to give the people the opportunity to make their own decisions about their [future], today he hardly says a word about what is going on in Libya, and when he does say something, his statements are feeble, lacking the strength and forcefulness that characterized his statements to the ousted Egyptian president.

"Even before this, [Erdogan] did not... have a word to say in support of the Iranian people, which protested the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Moreover, he was in Tehran during the student protests and witnessed the violent treatment they received at the hand of the authorities. This, however, did not awaken him from his coma, and he remained [of the opinion] that different people deserve different rights.

"This inconsistency generated the impression that the basic factors underlying Erdogan's positions are [political] interests, rather than human considerations. Egypt's policy in the days of the previous regime was not in keeping with Erdogan's line, which aimed to consolidate Hamas in Palestine through Turkish aid. Hamas is more in line with the thinking of Erdogan than other [movements] – how could it not be? After all, their common denominator is the Islamic political thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime is a beginning to the consolidation of Muslim Brotherhood influence in Egypt, and consequently, in Palestine as well. This is a trump card for the exertion of [Turkish] pressure – a trump card that may be exploited by Turkey in its dealings with Israel and the West. Turkey knows that its role as a key player in the region will not be fruitful without its bargaining chips [i.e., its allies] in the region. The same holds true for Iran, which has managed to gain a position of influence in the region through Hizbullah.

"Thus, we find Erdogan baring his teeth against the regime of Hosni Mubarak and supporting the revolution of change of the Egyptian people. Libya, on the other hand, does not represent strategic depth for Turkey, through which it could fulfill an influential role in the Middle East, since the true realm of influence lies in the Arab Gulf region, in Egypt, and in Syria.

"The clamor of the Libyan people did not shake Erdogan from his arrogance, as did the clamor of the Palestinian people in Gaza – as if Al-Qadhafi's deeds against the Muslim Libyan people do not constitute acts of aggression and massacre. Moreover, the only aggression and the only massacre – in the eyes of Erdogan – is the [aggression] perpetrated against the Gazans. As for what is perpetrated against others – these are different matters, which should not bother Erdogan or make him think he should return the Al-Qadhafi International Prize for Human Rights, awarded to him by the Libyan leader several months ago..."[1]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Erdogan Seeking to Establish Turkey as the "Neo-Ottoman" Leader of the Region

The editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, wrote that the difference in Erdogan's policy vis-à-vis the revolutions in Libya and Egypt stemmed from his desire to set up Turkey as the "neo-Ottoman" leader of the region. The following are excerpts from his editorial, as it appeared in the daily's English-language edition:[2]

"Those who believe that Erdogan is acting in this regard according to Turkey's commercial interests are wrong. Erdogan is defending Al-Qadhafi despite all the crimes that the Libyan leader has committed against his own people, whereas previously he was one of the first world leaders to criticize the Hosni Mubarak regime during the January 25 revolution in Egypt. However, he did not take either of these positions for commercial reasons.

"Erdogan has responded in a different manner to the events in Libya and Egypt because he is searching for leadership for his country, namely a neo-Ottoman leadership. In Egypt, Erdogan is aware that it would be easy for him to ally himself with the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore he viewed the Egyptian revolution as an opportunity to support change and thereby strengthen Turkey's role in Egypt. However, in Libya, Erdogan seems to be certain that Al-Qadhafi will crush his people and emerge victorious. Therefore he is seeking to help resolve the Libyan impasse, in order to strengthen the Turkish role, especially in light of the almost complete break in Arab–Libyan relations, with the exception of only two or three Arab states.

"These are the goals of Erdogan's Turkey, namely [to strengthen the] neo-Ottoman leadership, rather than to protect Istanbul's commercial interests. If the Turkish Prime Minister were so concerned about his country's commercial interests, he would have supported the U.S. against Saddam Hussein, and indeed against Iran with regards to Tehran's nuclear file. If Erdogan were truly concerned about his country's commercial interests he would not have increased the tensions in Istanbul's relations with Tel Aviv, as good relations with Israel would have guaranteed Turkey numerous trade agreements, as well as support for Istanbul's attempts to join the European Union. If this was just about commercial interests, it would have been in Turkey's interests to support the Arab Gulf states, instead of criticizing the entry of the GCC Peninsula Shield Force into Bahrain.

"Therefore, all Erdogan wants to do is to strengthen Turkey's role, in search of a neo-Ottoman role [in the region], and this is something that can be described as political opportunism. Indeed, what is happening in the Gulf seems to have confused friends and foes alike, whether they are Arab or Islamic, like Turkey and Iran, or Western, like the U.S. The consensus and joint action taken by the Gulf states is the last thing that Iran or Turkey wants to see, and this is the truth. Therefore the entire issue is one of leadership, and of searching for a role. For if Turkey is so concerned about democracy, why has it allied itself with Syria? And if it is so concerned about minorities, why has it allied itself with Iran?"


[1] Al-Bayan (UAE), March 13, 2011.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 18, 2011. The original English has been lightly edited for clarity.

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