Accueil > Rubriques > Paix et Justice - Géopolitique > President Abbas defends Egypt against Turkish vilification


President Abbas defends Egypt against Turkish vilification

Par Semih Idiz - Dimanche, 10 janvier 2010 - 20h15

dimanche 10 janvier 2010


There is anger and indignation in Turkey directed at Egypt because it would not initially let an aid convoy go through the Rafah border gate to Gaza earlier this week.

Turkish public opinion was quick off the mark with its gut reaction against Cairo, after clashes between Egyptian police and members of the convoy – during which one Egyptian soldier was killed by a shot fired from the Hamas controlled Gaza.

We had a similar situation last year following the events in the Xinjiang province of China. Overnight China became an object of hate for Turkish Islamists and nationalists. Ironically China was for the same groups a country to be admired a week before these events for the way it was standing up to the West, and competing with it in every sphere.
Fickle as ever, those Turks who turned on China overnight did not bother to question the reasons for what was happening in Urumchi. It was again an instant gut reaction, with Islamic and nationalist sympathies coming to the surface in an automatic and Pavlovian manner.

We had to opportunity on Thursday to ask Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a few questions about all this, during his visit to Ankara for high-level talks about the latest developments in the Middle East.

Their papers having carried the anger against Egypt to their main headlines, some of the reporters in attendance were curious about what the Palestinian president had to say about the events at Rafah.

His answer indicated that he too will become an object of hatred in Turkey, where Hamas – regardless of all its terrorism – is the better-loved side of the Palestinian divide. The reason why he will become so is clear.

Contrary to expectations in Turkey, he did not allow Egypt to be blamed here, placing the blame squarely on Hamas’ shoulders.
Indicating that like all sovereign countries, Egypt too had a right to protect its borders, President Abbas also reminded that many aid convoys to Gaza had gone over this country in the past

Abbas said that the latest problem arose when those in the convoy - headed by the maverick British politician and former Labour MP George Galloway – insisted on going into Gaza over Egypt through a route they selected themselves, refusing to use the route Cairo had determined for them.

Abbas said that Egypt, as a sovereign state, had a right to guard and protect its borders as it wants. He also indicated in so many words that it was Egypt that was the key player in the region, not just in terms of the Middle East peace process, but also in terms of the attempts to bring about a rapprochement between estranged Palestinians.

Abbas pointed out that it was Hamas, after all, that had taken the steps that ended with the closing of the Rafah border gate, and the imposition of an embargo on the region. He also agreed that Hamas was trying to force open the Rafah gate under its control with a view to gaining some kind of international recognition a separate independent entity.

President Abbas made it clear, however, that as the legitimate Palestinian administration, they would never accept this. The Palestinian leader also made it clear that their principle priority at the present time was to get Hamas to accept general elections in Palestine.

Abbas said that while Hamas was elected democratically in 2006, it seemed now ( ! ! !) that it did not want to leave power by democratic means and so was opposing the holding of elections, which it had initially agreed on under Egyptian auspices.

He also made it clear that this was the point at which he wants Turkey to intervene, in order to use its ties with Hamas to convince this organization to accept the holding of general elections.

Put in perspective, the grand role that Turkey sees itself playing in the Middle East peace process was not exactly reflected in Abbas’ remarks. According to him, it is Egypt that is up front in this respect, and that is the way they want it to stay, no matter what Turkey or Turks may feel about that country at the present time.

We found Abbas’ remarks useful in terms of shattering some illusions that the Turkish public has because of being generally ill-informed about the intricacies of Middle East politics.

It was also telling that the convoy that caused so much trouble at the Rafah border gate, had at least four deputies from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

This alone was enough to show where the government’s real sympathies lie when it comes to the divide between the Palestinians.

Behind all of this, of course, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s by now famous reprimand of Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos last year.

That made Erdoğan an instant hero, not just in Turkey but also in the streets of the Middle East – and especially in Gaza.

Even George Galloway complimented Erdoğan during the incident at the Rafah crossing this week. He said his wish was that all Arab countries, and his country the United Kingdom, would one day have leaders like Erdoğan.

Given his fondness for populism, these remarks were undoubtedly music to Erdoğan’s ears. However, that is about all they represent. Because the Middle East being the place it is, Erdoğan’s interlocutors are not the masses that admire him today, but the leaders of the various countries that look on some of his behavior with misgivings.

The simple fact is that most of these leaders today are against Hamas, a fact that Turkish public opinion is not fully aware of until something like the incident at Rafah happens. Now that portraits of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are being burned across Turkey, and Egypt is being vilified nationwide alongside Israel, it is unlikely that these leaders, starting from Mubarak, are going to be very pleased.

President Abbas’ strong endorsement of Egypt as the key player in the region goes to show that the Erdoğan government is not fully in tune with the established “powers that be” in the Middle East. Neither is his strong endorsement of Iran enamoring him much to some of these regional powers, since they too have serious concerns about Tehran’s efforts to enrich uranium.

Turkey has alienated Israel and lost its chance, for all intents and purposes, to mediate between that country and Syria.

Turkey is now in the process of alienating the other key regional power, namely Egypt.

From President Abbas’ remarks it is also clear that there is little role for Turkey in trying to mediate between Hamas and the PLO.

Put another way, all that is expected from Ankara in this respect is to try and convince Hamas, with whom it enjoys good ties, to accept general elections in Palestine.

This appears, however, to be no more than a messenger’s role, and does not provide the image of “proactivity” that Ankara is trying to project concerning its involvement in the Middle East.

The fact that the government did nothing to calm Turkish public opinion this week against Egypt - by trying to explain what was going on in Rafah - and instead allowed the reputation of an important country like Egypt, a traditional friend, to be dragged in the gutter will clearly not be forgotten easily in some quarters in the Middle East.