14 Eylül 2011 Çarşamba

Erdogan in Cairo: Israel is undermining its own legitimacy


Oren KESSLER     The Jerusalem Post 

Receiving hero’s welcome, Turkish PM tells Arab League representatives that int'l recognition of Palestinian state “not an option but an obligation.”

Israel’s actions are undermining its own legitimacy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Arab League representatives in Cairo on Tuesday, adding that international recognition of a Palestinian state is “not an option but an obligation.”

“While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps that unsettle its legitimacy on the other,” Erdogan told Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital, his first stop on a Middle East tour intended to bolster Turkey’s role as a rising regional power player.

The Turkish premier received a hero’s welcome in Cairo, with hundreds of raucous Egyptians chanting his name outside the Arab League headquarters.

“Erdogan has turned into an Arab hero,” said a Syrian protester standing outside the Arab League building.
“It’s time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations,” Erdogan said. “Let’s raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East. Let’s contribute to securing well-deserved peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Asked about Turkey on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suggested to avoid getting “caught up in statements.”

“I think common sense and cold reason will eventually win out on all sides,” he said.

“People are definitely working overtime on our side, and I don’t think only on our side,” Netanyahu said without elaborating.

The prime minister’s comments came as he was visiting the Egyptian border area to oversee construction of a new section of the security fence there.

Many of the Egyptians gathered to welcome Erdogan appeared to be religious conservatives eager to imitate his AKP party’s success in bringing traditional Islam into mainstream politics.

“Erdogan, Erdogan – a big welcome from the Brothers!” one protester’s banner said, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Pro-Erdogan – and anti- Israel – sentiment did not, however, appear confined to the Brotherhood and its Islamist ilk.

“We need to preserve our relations with Turkey and all the countries that want to help the Arab world and take advantage of them to create a stronger political front to enhance the Arab states’ position against Israel,” said Muhammad Adel of the April 6 movement, which helped lead the revolt to oust Hosni Mubarak.

Introducing Erdogan, Arab League secretary-general Nabil Elaraby said, “All the Arab peoples appreciate what you are doing. We consider that there is a strong friendly state who is always standing on the side of justice.”

The Turkish leader’s destinations on the tour – Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – have all witnessed the fall of entrenched leaders to grassroots revolts this year, challenging the old order across the region.

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on the Mavi Marmara flotilla bound to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Erdogan told leading pan- Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera this month that the incident was a “cause for war,” but said Turkey acted with “patience,” according to a transcript.

“All [Turkey’s] moves against Israel are only meant to promote itself as a political power in the Arab region and spread its influence on the new generation of the Arab youth who are longing for change and power,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah of Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Adel Soliman, another Egyptian analyst, said that for all its verbal barbs at Israel, Ankara would not break with its former ally and, as a NATO member, remained aligned with the West.

Turkey’s press has been fixated with Erdogan’s visit.

On Monday, the Islamistleaning Sabah newspaper quoted the prime minister in its lead headline, which stated, “My heart in Gaza, my voice in Tahrir” – while another conservative daily, the Star Gazette, led with “Tahrir welcomes Erdogan at the airport.”

The secularist press has been less enthused.

“Poor Arabs! How should they know the guy who’s advising them on democracy actually only sees it as a vehicle, a means of achieving his own goals, and getting off the vehicle once this has been done?” wrote Cuneyt Arcayurek in Cumhuriyet, calling Erdogan the “Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Republic.”

While winning over ordinary Arabs – particularly because of non-Arab Turkey’s tough line toward Israel – Erdogan’s growing popularity and clout could be a headache for more cautious Arab leaders who could see their own influence overshadowed. A recent Pew Research Center poll found 78 percent of Egyptians had a positive view of Erdogan, compared to just 5% of Israelis.

Egypt has traditionally seen itself as the leading diplomatic player in the Arab region. But its position has been eroded by wealthy Gulf countries, and in recent years has been overshadowed by Turkey’s own fast-expanding economy.

The visiting leader met with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf as well as Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt’s military council, which took over after Mubarak was ousted by mass-street demonstrations in February.



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