Turkish PM Tours Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

The Daily Star16.09.2011 Turkey
Turkish PM Tours Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

Turkish PM Tours Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

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Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw Turkey's weight behind a Palestinian bid for statehood and criticized Israel in an address to Arab states meeting in Cairo earlier this week.


Erdogan is touring Arab states to capitalize on Arab regard for Turkey's blend of Islam and democracy as a model for movements that have toppled several Arab Autocrats, and on popular Arab support for his sparring with Israel.      

His 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.      

He told the Arab Ministers that international recognition of a Palestinian state was "not an option but an obligation."      

"It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. 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," he said.      

Palestinians will bid for full membership of the United Nations later this month, a move opposed by the United States which has a veto. Arab states endorsed it at the Cairo meeting.      
"While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other," said Erdogan, who is locked in a feud with the Jewish state, an erstwhile ally.      

Turkey expelled the Israeli Ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and under blockade by Israel.      

Erdogan told Al Jazeera this month that the incident was a "cause for war" but said Turkey acted with "patience", according to a transcript.      

While winning over ordinary Arabs, particularly because of non-Arab Turkey's tough line towards Israel, Erdogan's growing popularity and clout could be a headache for more cautious Arab leaders who could see their own influence overshadowed.      

"Turkey wants to play a regional role, especially when Egypt is busy with the revolution. Turkey thinks it's best placed to play this leadership role," said Adel Soliman, Head of Cairo's International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies.      

Egypt has traditionally seen itself as the leading diplomatic player in the Arab region. But its position has been eroded by wealthy Gulf countries, such as Qatar, and lately overshadowed by Turkey, with its fast expanding economy.      

Erdogan met Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt's Military Council which took over after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by mass street demonstrations in February. Egypt has also been embroiled in a dispute with Israel after Israel shot dead five Egyptian border guards in repelling cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian militants.

But Egypt's Generals have faced popular criticism for not taking a firmer line. Cairo said it would expel Israel's Ambassador but did not follow through with threat.      

Protesters attacked Israel's Embassy in Cairo last week, prompting the Ambassador to fly home and an embarrassed Egyptian government to affirm to Washington, its major aid donor, that it remained committed to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.      

Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid since making peace with the Jewish state, so the military council faces a difficult balancing act when responding to public calls for a more assertive policy towards Israel.

 

Source: The Daily Star

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