Thanks to Joshua Keating at the Passport blog at foreignpolicy.com, I can confirm that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most formidable, dynamic, and adroit politician in the Greater Middle East — if not the world — today. Here’s what Keating reported Erdogan as saying on Turkish national television last night regarding the situation in Egypt.
“From here, I would like to make a very sincere suggestion to Egyptian President Mr. Husni Mubarak and caution him: We are human beings. We are mortal. We are not immortal. We will all die and be questioned for what we have done in our lives. As Muslims, we will all end up in two-cubic meter holes. We are all mortals. What is immortal is the legacy we leave behind; what is important is to be remembered with respect; it is to be remembered with benediction. We exist for the people. We fulfil our duties for our people. When the imam comes to us as we die, he will not address us as the president, as the head of state, as the prime minister, or as the minister. I am now talking to the trillionaires: the imam will not address you as trillionaires. He will address us all as simple men or women. What will come with you will only be the shroud. Nothing else. Therefore we must know the value of that shroud; we must listen to the voice of our conscience and to! the voice of our people; we must be ready either for our people’s prayers or for their malediction. Therefore, I say that you must listen, and we must listen, to the people’s outcry, to their extremely humanitarian demands. Meet the people’s desire for change with no hesitation.
I am saying this clearly: You must be the first to take a step for Egypt’s peace, security, and stability, without allowing exploiters, dirty circles, and circles that have dark scenarios over Egypt to take initiative. Take steps that will satisfy the people.
In our world today, freedoms can no longer be postponed or ignored.”
Erdogan, who was named most frequently by respondents in Shibley Telhami’s 2010 Arab Public Opinion poll published last August as their most admired world leader (20 percent of the nearly 4,000 respondents across the Arab world, including Egypt, named him — up from four percent in the 2009 survey, no doubt due in major part to widespread approval of his strong stand over the Gaza flotilla crisis), is clearly making a bid to enhance his popularity — and influence — throughout the region in what is a very conscious effort to pursue what is sometimes called a neo-Ottoman foreign policy. And it’s worth noting that he’s doing it in a way that effectively overshadows whatever Iran (which must be very worried about the possible demonstration effects of the scenes that are being broadcast from Cairo over the last week) may have to say at this point.
I should mention that I spent eight days in Turkey in December (I haven’t written about it for IPS because I don’t believe in “parachute journalism”) and was very impressed with virtually all of the officials (national, regional, and local), parliamentarians (both AKP and non-AKP), foreign-policy think tankers and pundits with whom I met in terms of their confidence, their shared strategic perspective, and how well briefed they were. If I were Obama, I would be coordinating very closely with Erdogan (it was notable that Erdogan was mentioned first, ahead of Netanyahu, by the White House among the leaders with whom Obama had consulted personally last weekend), and I would be putting a lot of pressure on Israel to comply with his demands for a formal apology and compensation for the families of the victims in the flotilla incident.