Government urged to act with caution vis-à-vis Egypt turmoil

February 01, 2011, Tuesday/ 17:39:00/ AYŞE KARABAT

Following a phone call by US President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about developments in Egypt and their decision to act in concert, experts suggest caution for Turkish policymakers in treading unchartered waters in Egypt amidst domestic turmoil while acknowledging there might be potential for Turkey to play a constructive role.

Obama initiated a telephone conversation with Erdoğan on Saturday and both he and Prime Minister Erdoğan have agreed that peoples’ demands for “legitimate and natural democratic rights” should be recognized by their leaders, as political upheaval continues to rock the Middle East, from Egypt to Tunisia and from Lebanon to Yemen.

Obama stated that he “attaches importance to assessing new developments in the region with Prime Minister Erdoğan as the leader of Turkey, which has strong democratic customs in the region,” and as a leader “who came to power by gaining successful election results many times,” according to the Turkish Prime Ministry office. The same statement noted that the two leaders reached consensus that the legitimate and natural rights of the people of the region should be provided for and their calls for democracy should be heeded.

It is expected that Erdoğan will make reassessments about developments in Egypt on Tuesday while addressing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group. His remarks are awaited with curiosity not only in Egypt, but also in the whole region.

Sateh Noureddine, the managing editor of Lebanese newspaper Assafir, speaking to Today’s Zaman said there is a power vacuum in the region and that if Turkey acts carefully regarding the developments in Egypt, Ankara can fill this power vacuum. “The advice and help of Turkey will have very important meaning for the masses in Egypt. To show solidarity with them will be embraced, but Turkey should act very carefully and should not give the impression that it is interfering in the internal affairs of Egypt. It should not give the impression that it is lecturing,” he explained.

Noureddine added that Turkey should act immediately and that it might invite some leaders in the Middle East to exchange views about developments in and the future of the region. “Turkey was already a reference country and this will be underlined if it acts on time and carefully, and this reference will be helpful for the region to get out the mess that it is living in now,” he underlined.

Professor Samir Sahla, an expert on Middle East affairs, reiterated that the situation in Egypt is not clear yet and that Turkey should not fall into the trap of being a “model country,” but should do as it is doing now and act carefully and cautiously. “Turkey should not present itself as a model country, but should just show solidarity with the Egyptian people and watch the developments very carefully, it should not give the impression that it is acting in accordance with the wishes of the US,” he said.

Salha speaking to Today’s Zaman added that whatever the US does, it will create suspicions as long as it keeps its current policy towards Israel. “It is not enough to say that ‘I want democracy,’ the US should revise its policy towards Israel to convince the masses,” he said.

Professor Hasan Köni from Culture University also suggested that it is time to act cautiously. He added that for a long time while the US, for several reasons that included contributing to the security of Israel, was giving financial aid to the Egypt while at the same time it supported civil society organizations in the country as well. “It is not clear what will come out of these developments. The corrupt leadership and the new forms of communication mean tense economic situations in Middle Eastern countries. The WikiLeaks documents, which harmed the already bad reputation of some Arab leaders, of course, are the initiating force behind this social unrest, but I still have suspicions that these developments in the Middle East are pre-planned, but the question is why. Does it mean that we should except an extraordinary move from Israel? We still don’t know, so it is better to act cautiously,” he told Today’s Zaman.

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