Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Mideast’s new hero?

Op-ed: Turkey’s Erdogan seeks to become regional leader, show Arabs the ‘right path’

“Welcome, Salah al-Din” – this is how tens of thousands of enthused Egyptians received Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who in his own eyes is emerging as the next Arab leader with every passing day.


The “Turkish Sultan,” who initiated a head-on clash with Israel, greeted the welcoming youngsters in Cairo in Arabic. The young Egyptians embraced him, but Arab leaders may soon develop a dislike for the leader who talks to the masses above their heads.


Some 5,000 people have joined the Facebook page calling for a warm welcome to Erdogan. This page and the photos from the Cairo airport are precisely the kind of images he seeks to display: In a period where large parts of the Arab world are entering a vacuum or paralysis following the regional upheaval, Turkey’s PM wants to show that he is the only regional leader who travels freely and can offer his patronage.


Not only did Erdogan recently win a third election campaign in Turkey, he also represents a regional power boasting great economic growth while the world faces a financial crisis. He has a powerful army, massive domestic support and the kind of influence that allows him undertake regional moves vis-à-vis Israel, Syria, the Palestinians the Kurds and Libya.


The new Nasser?

Under the current state of affairs, it is no surprise that more Arab media outlets endorse the view that Erdogan seeks to enter the leadership vacuum in the Arab world and turn into a pan-Arabic and pan-Islamic figure – a sort of modern-day version of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who sought to unite Arab states under his pan-Arabism and mostly under his leadership.


However, reality is cruel to Egypt. Instead of Cairo leading the way, it hosts a regional, non-Arab leader (this carries great weight) who seeks to assume a leadership role and show Egypt and its sisters the “right path. In an interview with Egyptian TV, Erdogan stressed that “Turkey constitutes the model for a proper secular state.”


While the substance of Erdogan’s suggestions is important, the tone is even more significant. Turkey’s leader toured three states that recently toppled their leaders – Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – while offering many recommendations, and mostly one word of advice: Follow me, I’ll show you the way.


Erdogan’s tips

Speaking at a special Arab League convention, Erdogan also took the liberty to offer his tips to Arab states. “Recognizing the Palestinian state is a right, not a duty,” he reprimanded them. He also resorted to his customary habit, slamming Israel as the masses cheer.


Indeed, Turkey’s leader portrays himself as the only one who can pose a significant threat to Israel and put the “West’s spoiled child” in its place.


Mideastern leaders are likely unhappy to hear Erdogan’s zealous declarations. However, in the climate created in the region, many people buy into the Turkish PM’s arrogant statements. Over time, Arab leaders may not be willing to play into the hands of the “Muslim lecturer” who wishes to bring them under his leadership.


Yet until that time, Erdogan shall continue to take pleasure in the flattering headlines. And what will come next? This depends on the crises to follow in the region. In any case, the Turkish prime minister will be lying in wait in order to score more political and leadership points.



פרסום ראשון: 09.15.11, 11:05
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