August 21, 2013, Wednesday

Erdoğan, Israel and Egypt

Erdoğan, Israel and Egypt
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo: Cihan, Mevlüt Karabulut)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's statement implying that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt is a reflection of a rising and troubling trend of anti-Western sentiment among government officials and the public.

Widespread anti-Western feeling has been on the rise, especially since the Taksim-linked protests, when Erdoğan bashed the Western media and global interest lobby daily for instigating instability in Turkey. His harsh criticism of the West helped encourage anti-Western rhetoric among the public, and Erdoğan has even demonized those who he alleged were conspiring with the West to overthrow the prime minister.

When the Egyptian army, which has held the same ideology for five decades, ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Erdoğan described Egypt as a playground of "dark forces" that don't want prosperity in the Muslim world. Last week, he spoke about a global plot against the Muslim world and blamed the West for many of the woes these countries face.

On Tuesday, he implied that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt, citing a statement by Bernard-Henri Levy, a French Jew, as a proof of his argument.

These statements have definitely helped Erdoğan unite his ranks and strengthen his electoral base just ahead of three key elections next year. The rough anti-Western rhetoric of the prime minister created an illusion among his followers that the fall of the West is imminent and that the "glorious triumph of Turkey" is at hand.

These statements have also deepened divisions in Turkey, prompting government apologists to demonize those who have shown signs of sympathy with the West. The polarization that these remarks have caused in the society is immense.

Hours after Erdoğan's Egypt comments, which prompted condemnation from Washington, some of Erdoğan's advisers as well as pro-government journalists and activists started to claim in social media that the prime minister didn't say that Israel was behind the coup. This single fact illustrates that Erdoğan's statements are targeted for domestic consumption and have little to do with Ankara's foreign policy agenda.

Israel's role in some of the events in Egypt is undeniable. The main reason for the world's relative silence regarding the coup is concern about Israel's security. Washington fears alienating the Egyptian military, which has kept its promise to remain friendly to Israel for three decades in exchange for some $60 billion, and so has avoided publicly confronting the army despite its brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters. A number of reports also suggested that Israeli diplomats are working full time in Western capitals to make sure the Egyptian army gets the kind of support it needs. These omens are not enough, however, to conclude that Israel was behind the coup in Egypt.

It is unclear to what extent Erdoğan will ramp up his harsh rhetoric against the West, but it is obvious that this rhetoric is harmful both at home and abroad. Constantly sending a signal to the West that "I hate you and I will make sure that my people hate you too" is not a smart idea for a country seeking to become a part of the Euro-Atlantic political and economic structure. Instead of bashing the West for its role or inertia in the deepening political turmoil in Egypt, Turkey could use its influence to convince Western capitals that the era of benefiting from the rule of army-backed governments in the most populous Arab country is over.

You can follow the author on Twitter @MahirZeynalov (English) and @MahirZeynalov_ (Turkish).