Cigars of the Pharaoh (II)

Cigars of the Pharaoh (II)

Arabia has always been difficult terrain for the Turks. The 21st century can hardly be an exception, although the “New Turks” have pinned too much hope on once again ruling Arab lands, this time through soft power. 

The New Turks wholeheartedly believe they possess the necessary ingredients for their presumed soft power: their record economic growth rates and newfound wealth; a “bon pour l’Orient” democracy; political Islam along strictly Sunni lines and its inevitable ingredients; the usual combination of deep hostility toward Israel and championing the holy cause that is Palestine. In addition, of course, to the popular Turkish soap operas aired on Arab screens. 

Nowadays, with their smiling faces and glittering promises, the Turks are knocking on the doors of the land of the Pharaoh, hoping to create – in the words of President Abdullah Gül – “an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan.” Once again, they misunderstand the Arabs. I am personally curious if Ankara will be on the side of the oppressed and condemn state violence against Egyptian protestors, like in Syria. On an optimistic note, we can assume the Turkish model is already working in Egypt: Systematic violence against protestors. 

Back in the lands of Arabia, we can ignore the Saudi columnist Abdulateef al-Mulhim, a retired commodore in the Royal Saudi Navy, who wrote: “No one knows to this day how many Kurds were killed by Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. And the ironic thing about those four countries is they are the ones who make the loudest noise when Israel uses its military might against the Palestinians.” Friendly criticism coming from a Muslim brother, no? 

But there are increasingly louder voices in Arabia telling the Turks to mind their own business. The Turks are free to cite “sectarian rivalry with Iran” and ignore Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s criticism, “Turkey has intervened in Iraqi politics too much.”

But speaking of the role model that is Turkey, Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, said: “It is not allowed for any non-Egyptian to interfere in our constitution. If I was to advise the Turks, I would advise them to crop the secular article in their constitution.” This is quite plain language. And Mr. Ghozlan said this in the same hours Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recommended secularism to thousands of Egyptians who greeted him like a rock star in Tahrir Square. 
More recently, Mr. Ghozlan told German magazine Der Spiegel that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political movement, did not wish to adopt the “Turkish model.” “In Turkey,” he said, “Homosexuality and adultery exist ... which we cannot tolerate.” Indeed, to add a touch of entertainment to his comments, Mr. Ghozlan also said, “We are open-minded people” before adding, “Shariah is the basis for everything.” That is very open-minded indeed! 

And most recently, Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League and presidential candidate in Egypt, said at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, “Turkey will not serve as a role model for the Arab world.” President Gül was one of the guest heads of state at the same conference. 
It must be a simple twist of fate that non-secular Turks are being viewed by the Arabs as too secular. Many Turks approvingly or disapprovingly think the New Turks are too pro-Arab in their foreign policy calculations, while many Arabs think they are too pro-Western, sometimes even accusing them of being the “American Trojan Horse on the Arab Street.” 

In a boring cliché, Western leaders often commend Turkey as a precious bridge between the West and the East. I would say the Crescent and Star is probably condemned to eternal habitation in purgatory. And it must be a heavenly joke that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu still insists that his “zero problems with neighbor’s policy” works!