Erdoğan receives hero's welcome in Cairo
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greeted Egyptian crowd who gathered in Cairo airport to welcome him in Arabic. (Photo: Today's Zaman) (Click on the picture to see more photos from PM Erdoğan's visit to Egypt.)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was greeted by tens of thousands of Egyptians who flocked into Cairo airport to welcome the Turkish prime minister while Cairo's streets were decorated with posters of Erdoğan.
At least 20,000 Egyptians holding posters of Erdoğan and chanting slogans welcomed Erdoğan in Cairo airport late on Monday, according to the account of Today's Zaman reporter in Cairo. "And thousands are on their way to the airport," the correspondent reported.
In İstanbul, Erdoğan said Turkey is ready to lend any kind of support to Egypt to pass this critical, difficult period ahead of his first visit to post-revolution Egypt as part of his tour to so-called Arab Spring countries.
Erdoğan made the comments before departing for a visit to Egypt later on Monday, where he will seek to boost his government's already high standing in the Arab world - a position he has achieved in part by challenging Israel on the world stage.
Erdoğan, the most popular public figure across the Arab world, intent on broadening Turkey's influence in the Middle East and the Arab world, will also visit Tunisia and Libya, two other countries where popular uprisings have ousted autocratic leaders.
Erdoğan's visit to Egypt coincides with increasingly troubled ties between Cairo and Israel following an attack on the Israeli embassy there. Israel fears that it is being left increasingly isolated by the Arab Spring, which is changing the power dynamics in the region, alongside tense relations former ally Turkey.
A statement earlier in the day from Erdoğan's office said Turkey would emphasize its support to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in their transition to democracy.
Despite a pre-scheduled speech in Cairo’s historic Tahrir square, which had been a flashpoint for Egyptian revolution earlier this year, Erdoğan said his speech was canceled in Tahrir square to avoid provocation and putting what he said “Egypt’s future in danger,” without further elaborating.
He said he believes his keynote speech at the Arab League summit on Tuesday will be listened by “Egyptian brothers” and the entire world.
In Egypt, Erdoğan will oversee the signing of an agreement to establish a joint council to lead efforts toward a closer "strategic partnership," as well as deals to encourage cooperation, investments and trade, a statement from the Turkish prime minister's office said.
Erdoğan had hoped to be able to cross into Gaza from Egypt, but government officials said Sunday his scheduled would be limited to the three countries.
"Right now, there is no question of my visiting Gaza," Erdoğan told a news conference in İstanbul before flying to Cairo on Monday night. "But I would like to clearly say that I am longing to visit Gaza. I am longing to visit to Gaza as soon as possible." He did not elaborate.
In his interview with Al-Jazeera two days ago, Erdoğan also said he knows that his brothers in Gaza are waiting for him. “I too long for Gaza," Erdoğan said. "Sooner or later, if God allows it, I will go to Gaza.
Erdoğan travels to Tunisia on Wednesday and to Libya on Thursday.
Turkey is also eager to resume investments in Libya, where Turkish contractors were involved in 214 building projects worth more than $15 billion before the rebellion that ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Bilateral trade with Libya was $2.4 billion in Turkey's favor before the uprising.
Asked about his earlier remarks on Al-Jazeera where he said Israeli flotilla raid is a cause of war, Erdoğan said a state has no authority to intervene to an aid ship no matter where it goes, Gaza or Egypt.
Erdoğan told Al-Jazeera television in a recent interview that the Israeli raid, which killed eight Turks and an American on board a Turkish ship trying to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, occurred in international waters and was "unlawful." His comments were carried by Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency late Sunday.
"It is a cause for war, but we decided to act in line with Turkey's grandeur and showed patience," Erdoğan said.
A UN report into the raid, released earlier this month, said Israel's naval blockade was legitimate but accused Israel of using "excessive and unreasonable" force in the raid.
Turkey has been angered over Israel's refusal to apologize for the raid.
In response, Turkey this month suspended its military ties with Israel, expelled top Israeli diplomats, pledged to campaign in support of the Palestinians' statehood bid and vowed to send the Turkish navy to escort Gaza-bound aid ships in the future.
“Israel has made such a mistake. It, sadly, committed such a barbaric act. It now faces paying off for this mistake,” Erdoğan told reporters in İstanbul.
Erdoğan also reached out to Jewish citizens of Turkey and said Turkey’s problem is not with Israeli people or Jewish citizens in Turkey. “Turkey’s problem is with a self-contradictory Israeli government,” Erdoğan stressed, adding that unless Israel apologizes to Turkey, pay compensation and lift Gaza blockade, it should not expect normalization from Turkey.
Cumali Önal from the Cairo airport contributed to the reporting.