The saying that politics makes for strange bedfellows has never been truer when it comes to Turkey’s prime minister and his latest inroads in the Arab world.
It is indeed rather ironic, but who would have ever imagined that a Turkish leader would be seen as a hero in the lands once ruled by the Ottoman Turks for more
than 600 years.
And memories in this region linger long. But this is what happened to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, since the recent war between Israel and Hamas, has emerged as the only Middle Eastern leader to stand up and vociferously state his opinion regarding Israel and regarding Hamas.
As a result he has become even more popular in the Arab world where his popularity shot up and where his verbal support of Hamas was hailed by the Arab street, particularly given the lack of support extended to Hamas from traditional Arab leaders; at times it seemed as though the silence from Arab capitals was almost as deafening as the bombing itself.
According to a close aide to the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan was told while on a recent visit to Syria by President Bashar Assad that he was even more popular in Syria than Syria’s
Only a few years ago the Turks had seriously strained relations with the Syrians over territorial and water issues. What a difference a war makes! The recent conflict in Gaza revealed a number of unexpected twists and turns in Middle East politics.
First, it expanded the Middle East conflict beyond its traditional borders, which was until not too long ago limited to the Arab world (and more recently Iran) to now include Turkey. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, that depends on one’s point of view.
From Hamas’ point of view, that is of course a very positive development. To have a country with the prestige that Turkey carries defend its cause in the West is of course very advantageous. Indeed, if Hamas is ever to join the political process, it can only do so as a political party, and not as an armed militia. And that is one issue which the Turks have been pounding into Hamas every chance they get.
At every meeting that members of Turkey’s governing party, the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) held with the Palestinian Islamic Movement, the Turks emphasised to the Palestinians the urgency of giving up the gun in exchange for a peaceful dialogue.
Cuneyt Yuksel, a Turkish parliamentarian and vice president of the political and legal affairs department of Turkey’s ruling AK Party told this reporter during a recent visit in Washington, DC that Turkey’s interest is to promote a peaceful understanding in the region.
“Turkey only wants to ensure that there will be peace and prosperity in the Middle East,” said Yuksel.
Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan’s message to the Palestinians in Hamas is that “they must forget the gun. They must abandon the gun.
“Second, from Israel’s perspective, and from the perspective of many Turks, they would have much preferred to see Turkey remain well away from the Middle East headaches.
Many Turks regard their country’s interference in the Middle East as deviation from Kemalist philosophy, that of moving away from the Arab world and assuming a greater European identity.
The Arab leaders, for their part, have decried the interference “of non-Arab countries in Arab affairs.”
And while this criticism was aimed primarily at Iran, it no doubt was also intended for the ears of the Turkish prime minister.
Third, from the Western perspective, Turkey’s getting involved in the Middle East issue should be received positively for the simple reason that Turkey, as a Muslim nation (although officially secularist) will have an easier time convincing Hamas to abandon
the armed struggle in favour of politics and the ballot.
And as for the Arabs, who have not had much success in convincing Hamas, they should be glad to get all the help they can from Turkey.
As for Iran, who has been supplying weapons and funds to Hamas, it is an entirely different ballgame. Every rocket Hamas fires at Israel only serves to further delay the peace process.
Every delay in the peace process
allows further developments of
Every development of new Israeli settlements further complicates the peace process. In essence, Erdogan’s entry onto the Middle East stage should be welcomed.
Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst based