Turkey refocuses its Middle East Policy

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Turkish Political Expert
Monday, September 12th, 2011
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the ruling AK party, arrives in Cairo on Monday marking the first day of his 'Arab Spring tour' a series of visits to Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

The goal of the diplomatic tour is to strengthen relations in places where a wave of populist uprisings are transforming regional politics.

The tour also comes amid rising tensions with Israel as it continues to refuse to apologize for the shooting deaths of nine Turkish activists attempting to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza last year.

The recent sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo underscores the changing dynamic in the region.

In preparation for this week's visit The Caravan contacted Professor Ahmet Uysal, founder of the Arab-Turkish Conference of Social Science and a former AUC student, for an interview that sheds light on Erdogan’s strategy and support at home.

Ahmet Uysal

Professor Ahmet Uysal, Founder of the Arab-Turkish Conference of Social Science and visiting scholar.

Caravan: Why is Erdogan strengthening ties with Egypt’s military council who is supposed to be leaving power? Should he wait until Egypt has an elected government in place?

Professor Ahmet Uysal: Erdogan sees the democratization of Egypt as an important factor in improving Ankara's relations with Cairo.

It also sees the Egyptian leadership (military or civilian) as an institution representative of the Egyptian people. Erdogan’s support for democracy is well known in Egypt and this visit can be a good opportunity to promote democracy in the country.

The Turkish-Egyptian relations are above short-term political concerns, and promise a good future.

How are Turk’s viewing Erdogan’s recent foreign policy decisions regarding Israel?

Erdogan’s foreign policy is a result of the public opinion that is angry at the unjust Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and the unjust killing of the Peaceful Mavi Marmara activists.

He is not provoking the conflict but he is responding to the people's demand for justice. Of course, some opposition parties, like CHP (Republican People's Party), like to criticize the government but I think the public is pretty much with the government.

Will Israeli Turkish ties normalize if Israel apologizes?

It will normalize because Turkey with its government and it’s people do not want to aggravate the tension. But Israel is behaving arrogantly because of the blunt American support in the background.

It is wrong and will cause more isolation internationally in the long run.

How can Erdogan sympathize with Palestinians yet still be seen as oppressing the Kurds?

First, Erdogan is not oppressing the Kurds but fighting the armed communist group who struggle for an independent state.

Erdogan’s power comes from the democratization and it’s success in Turkey. He manages to attract a good portion of the Kurdish population for his party.

So the while PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) receives support from a third of the Kurds, Erdogan gets the other two thirds.

Since the PKK does not depend on or seek to move to democracy and away from armed struggle, it fell behind the democratic mood and reforms Erdogan achieved in the country.

Therefore, Erdogan has no problem with supporting democracy and human right for the Turks and the Kurds at home and Arabs outside the country including the Palestinians.

The Turkish Prime Minister is expected to sign military and economic agreements with Egypt’s cabinet ministers who have the approval of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.