Fulya ÖZERKAN Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review
Turkey’s strong challenge to Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak before he resigned Friday will give the country a boost in regional prestige, especially among the Arab public, experts say, while cautioning this outcome depends on how the regime changes in Cairo.
“Ankara’s early reaction to the developments in Egypt could be in Turkey’s interest; the regime change in Egypt would undoubtedly raise Turkey’s growing prestige on the Arab streets,” Professor Mensur Akgün told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review earlier on Friday.
Mubarak resigned as president and handed control to the military Friday evening after 29 years in power, bowing to a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands, The Associated Press reported.
A grim-faced and ashen Vice President Omar Suleiman announced the handover on state television after an extraordinary national outpouring of rage brought more than a million furious demonstrators onto the streets. Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his authority to Suleiman on Thursday while keeping his title, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
Amid speculation that the crisis in Egypt was bringing a rivalry for regional leadership between Turkey and Egypt out in the open, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s calls for Mubarak to go immediately have been well-received by the Egyptian activists gathered in Cairo’s central Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
“Turkey will benefit from the position it has adopted on the uprising in Egypt. The prime minister will not keep the points in his pocket alone. That demonstrates that Turkish politics are being embraced by the countries in the region,” said Akgün.
Support for Turkey in the Arab world increased by 5 percent points in 2010, up from 75 percent in 2009, according to a recent survey, Akgün said.
The Arab response to Erdoğan’s support for the Egyptian protesters’ demands does not necessarily mean, however, that there is an endorsement of Turkey’s regional leadership, said Recep Boztemur, head of the Middle East Studies Center at Middle East Technical University. “These are two separate issues,” he told the Daily News.
Earlier on Friday, the 82-year-old strongman had flown out of Cairo to his holiday retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, his ruling party said. As news spread cries of "Allahu Akbar" - God is greatest! - and howls of victory rang out in the streets of the capital and firecrackers exploded.
Anti-Israeli rhetoric“The Islamist-leaning politicians in Turkey have been trying to win points with anti-Israeli rhetoric since 1969. This was the case with the now-defunct Welfare Party [RP] and the Felicity Party [SP],” said Boztemur. He said Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is playing to the Arab street by giving strong backing to the Palestinian cause and targeting Israeli policies.
“Prime Minister Erdoğan has been addressing the populace. He did this during the government crisis in Lebanon last month and also in the Egypt crisis. However, receiving public support and playing a leadership role are two different things,” he said.
İhsan Bal from the Ankara-based think tank USAK disagreed, saying Turkey’s position on the Egyptian unrest and its and clear messages to Mubarak augment the active foreign policy being employed by the Turkish government.
“There is serious sympathy toward Erdoğan on the Arab street. This does not only have to do with the ‘one-minute’ incident,” Bal said, recalling Erdoğan’s verbal sparring in January 2009 with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“In recent years, Turkey has begun to pursue policies outside its traditional ones and raised its regional leadership. This is the last string of a number of proactive policies, including Turkey’s efforts to bring together Serbians and Bosnians, its involvement in the Russia-Georgian war, the Iran nuclear crisis and Syria-Israel mediation,” he said.
“The dynamic of the Turkish movement is actually the streets. Erdoğan is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Arab people, who do not show any reaction to Turkish government’s rhetoric,” Bal said. “Turkey is competing not with the streets but with the administrations that are split from their people. For example, Turkey was criticizing the Gaza blockade while Egypt was defending it.”
Erdoğan’s repeated calls for Mubarak to step down have angered the Egyptian administration, despite receiving support from much of the population. Egypt’s ambassador to Ankara conveyed his government’s letter to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and then Turkey sent a counter-letter to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmet Aboul Gheit.