THE ROVING EYE Turkey takes over the Arab Spring
By Pepe Escobar
Finally. Crystal clear. Someone finally said it - what the whole world, except
Washington and Tel Aviv, knows in its collective heart; the recognition of a
Palestinian state is "not an option but an obligation".
It did wonders that the man who said it was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, in Cairo, at the Arab League, in front of all Arab foreign ministers
and with virtually the whole Arab world glued to satellite networks
scrutinizing his every word.
The current Erdogan Arab Spring tour - as it was billed by the Turkish press -
comprising Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, has already rocketed him to the status of
a geopolitical cross between U2's
Bono and Barcelona's superstar Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.
Erdogan received a rock/soccer star welcome at Cairo's airport - complete with
"Hero Erdogan" banners brandished by the Muslim Brotherhood. He even addressed
the crowd in Arabic (from "Greetings to the Egyptian youth and people, how are
you?" to "Peace be upon you").
Erdogan repeatedly stressed, "Egypt and Turkey are hand-in-hand." But it's the
subtext that is even more incendiary. While Israel's former good friends Egypt
and Turkey are now hand-in-hand, Israel is left isolated facing a wall. There
could not be a more earth-shattering development in the Levant - unheard of
since the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978.
A model campaigner
Erdogan's tour is a realpolitik master class. He's positioning Turkey as the
forefront supporter of the Palestinian cause. He's also positioning Turkey at
the core of the Arab Spring - as a supporter and as an inspirational model,
even though there have been no full-fledged revolutions so far. He's
emphasizing solid Turkish-Arab unity - for instance planning a strategic
cooperation council between Egypt and Turkey.
Plus the whole thing makes good business sense. Erdogan's caravan includes six
ministers and nearly 200 Turkish businessmen - bent on investing heavily all
across northern Africa. In Egypt, they may not match the billions of dollars
already committed by the House of Saud to the military junta led by Air
Marshall Mohammed Tantawi. But in 2010, Turkish trade with the Middle East and
North Africa was already at $30 billion, representing 27% of Turkish exports.
Over 250 Turkish companies have already invested $1.5 billion in Egypt.
Crucially, Erdogan told Egyptian TV channel Dream, "Do not be wary of
secularism. I hope there will be a secular state in Egypt." Erdogan was subtly
referring to Turkey's secular constitution; and at the same time he was very
careful to remind Egyptians that secularism is compatible with Islam.
The current Turkish model is enormously popular among the Egyptian street,
featuring a moderate Islamic party (the Justice and Development Party - AKP) in
power; a secular constitution; the military - albeit strong - back in the
barracks; and an ongoing economic boom (Turkey was the world's fastest growing
economy in the first half of 2001). 
This model is not exactly what the regressive House of Saud wants. They would
prefer a heavily Islamist government controlled by the most conservative
factions of the Muslim Brotherhood. Worse; as far as Libya is concerned, the
House of Saud would love to have a friendly emirate, or at least a government
peppered with Islamic fundamentalists.
Erdogan also stressed that the "aggressiveness" of Israel "threatens the future
of the Israeli people". That's music for the Arab street. Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas met Erdogan in Cairo - and confirmed he'll go ahead with
Palestine's bid to be fully recognized as a state by the United Nations
Security Council later this month.
Palestine will definitely be accepted as a non-voting state by the UN General
Assembly floor. The problem is the extremely non-representative Security
Council - which sanctions full UN membership with state voting rights. It's a
done deal that Washington will veto it. The fractured European Union (EU), true
to its character, still has not decided on a unified vote. There's a strong
possibility Britain and France will also veto the Palestinian bid at the
Yet even with the consolation price of "only" becoming a non-voting state,
Palestine strikes a moral victory - aligned with world public opinion.
Moreover, Palestine can become a member of the International Criminal Curt and
sue the hell out of Israel over its serial violations of international law.
Follow the leader
Turkey's game goes way beyond "neo-Ottomanism" - or nostalgia to revive the
superpower days of the 16th and 17th centuries. It's a natural development of
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's policy of "zero problems with our neighbors"
- moving to forge deeper bonds with most of these neighbors, and consolidating
what Davutoglu himself defines as Turkey's strategic destiny (see
Turkey: the sultans of swing Asia Times Online, April 7, 2011).
Turkey, for some years now, had decisively abandoned an isolationist brand of
Turkish nationalism. The country seems to have finally surmounted the trauma
associated to its dream of joining the EU; for all practical purposes the dream
was shattered by France and Germany.
As for the Israeli-Turkey alliance, in fact it kept the Arab world at bay and
confined Turkey to a passive role of ineffective outsider in the Middle East.
Not anymore. Erdogan can now afford to send multiple simultaneous messages to
Israel, the US, the EU, assorted Arab leaders and most of all the Arab street.
Davutoglu has been relatively magnanimous towards Israel, saying it is "out of
touch with the region and unable to perceive the changes taking place, which
makes it impossible for the country to have healthy relations with its
What he could have added is with "friends" like that - Benjamin Netanyahu as
prime minister, former Moldova bouncer Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister,
rabid settlers dictating policy - Israel does not need enemies; or rather
fabricates enemies en masse. It is the Israeli government itself that
accelerated Turkey's rapprochement with Egypt - which is leaving Israel totally
The touch of genius in the whole process is that Erdogan represents a democracy
in a Muslim majority country strongly supporting both the Palestinians and the
real pro-democrats in the Arab Spring. This provides a direct connection
between the Palestinian tragedy and the spirit of the Arab Spring (which has
nothing to do, it must be stressed, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) bombing Libya or a military junta running Egypt).
It will be crucial to watch Erdogan's Islam-rooted AKP's follow-up. It's
virtually certain that in the next Egyptian elections the Muslim Brotherhood
will come out swinging. It's also virtually certain the Brotherhood will press
for a minimalist relationship with Israel, including a full revision of the
Camp David accords. In theory, Turkey would be fully behind it.
Then there's the Libya front. In his first public address in Tripoli, the
chairman of the dodgy Transitional National Council (TNC), Mustafa Abdel
Jailil, stressed Islamic sharia law would be the main source of
legislation. But he crucially added, "We will not accept any extremist
ideology, on the right or the left. We are a Muslim people, for a moderate
There's no evidence yet the TNC will be even able to hold the country together,
not to mention promote "moderate Islam". The (foreign) vultures continue
circling. NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has been warning
that Libya is in danger of falling into the hands of Islamic extremists who
would "try to exploit" the current power vacuum. It's unclear what role Turkey
- a key NATO member - would have inside a NATO fully implanted in Libya.
Heavy metal birth pangs
And all this while the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies - horrified by the Arab
Spring - have proposed $2 billion in annual direct aid to Jordan so it will
become part of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, also known as the Gulf
Counter-revolutionary Club. As a monarchical club, the GCC wants Jordan and
Morocco as new members. The icing on the cake, though, would be a monarchical
On a parallel track, the counter-revolutionaries have been forced by Turkey to
step up - at least verbally - their support for Palestine. Even Jordan's King
Abdullah, staunch US ally and Israel's only "friend" left in the Middle East,
has claimed that "the future Palestine are stronger than Israel is today".
Well, Israel did look for it - after the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the
massacre in Gaza in 2008 and the attack on the Turkish flotilla in 2010. In
terms of world public opinion, Israel is toast - and even the Arab
counter-revolution had to notice.
That includes the House of Saud. None other than former Saudi intelligence
supremo Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote a New York Times op-ed piece stating
outright, "Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to
adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy" if the US vetoes the
Palestinian bid at the Security Council.
Prince Turki also stressed that everything must evolve around a two-state
solution based on the pre-1967 borders, which every grain of sand in the Sinai
knows Israel will never accept.
In the event of a US veto, Prince Turki threatened Saudi Arabia would be
"opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq" and would
"part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well".
Now imagine the House of Saud lavishly funding a double guerrilla war all
across the Pentagon's "arc of instability" - Sunnis against Shi'ites in Iraq
plus the already turbocharged Taliban in Afghanistan - while lobbying for an
Islamist government in both Egypt and Turkey; and this while Egypt and Turkey
for their part fully collide with an isolated and angry Israel. Now that's what
the "birth pangs of the new Middle East" are all about.