Turkish Leader Begins 'Arab Spring' Tour Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan is visiting the three Arab countries that this year ousted long-time authoritarian leaders — Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Turkey is playing an increasingly prominent role in the region and is looking to start on good terms with the new leaders in these countries.
NPR logo

Turkish Leader Begins 'Arab Spring' Tour

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140407429/140409293" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Turkish Leader Begins 'Arab Spring' Tour

Turkish Leader Begins 'Arab Spring' Tour

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140407429/140409293" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began an Arab Spring tour today in Egypt. He'll also visit Libya and Tunisia. Erdogan's trip comes at a difficult time for Israel.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul, Israel is trying to find its place in the new order that came as a result of the Arab Spring. And relations with Turkey and Egypt, once key allies, are now severely strained.

PETER KENYON: With Israel reeling from the expulsion of its ambassador to Turkey and the emergency evacuation of its diplomatic staff in the face of a mob assault on its embassy in Cairo, the Turkish leader is moving quickly to take advantage of surging anti-Israel popular sentiment. In one interview last week, Erdogan called Israel's attack on a Gaza aid ship last year a cause for war, and in another, he was scornful of Israel's behavior on the world stage.

Prime Minister RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKEY: (Through Translator) Up until now, Israel has played the role of a spoiled child in the face of all of the decisions taken against it by the United Nations. And no doubt they thought this behavior could continue.

KENYON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's subdued response to the Egyptian crisis was seen by some as a sign that Israel recognized that hard-line rhetoric would not be helpful at this moment. By contrast, says Hurriyet Daily News columnist Barcin Yinanc, Erdogan seems intent on underscoring Israel's unpopularity at the start of his north Africa tour.

BARCIN YINANC: The fact that there will be thousands of Arabs in the streets will boost the confidence of the Turkish prime minister. It will also serve as a message to Israel that it is being further isolated.

KENYON: Turkish analysts say Israel's efforts to catch up with the volatile and fast-moving changes, brought by the Arab Spring have thrown a harsh spotlight on its largely right-wing governing coalition.

Bulent Kenes is editor in chief of Today's Zaman, Turkey's largest English language daily. He says it took the Muslim world a long time to launch the kind of political awakening that spread across Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But he says as slow as these countries, including Turkey, were to change, Israel has been even slower to recognize that change.

BULENT KENES: Today, Israel is giving the impression that it is resisting against the flow of the history.

KENYON: Kenes says regarding Turkey, but especially when it comes to Egypt, Israel would do well to adjust its thinking and its tactics. But he's not sure that's possible under the current Israeli government.

KENES: There is no way other than accepting the rising expectations of the Egyptian people. I hope Israeli people could manage to establish a new government, otherwise this tension will not reduce.

KENYON: There are signs that Israel is now fully engaged with the upheavals in the Arab world, as the Palestinians prepare to bring their case for recognition as a state to the United Nations. The center-left Ha'aretz newspaper reported that Israeli military, intelligence, and foreign affairs officials have all circulated documents recently recommending a return to negotiations with the Palestinians, some of which call the current climate an opportunity for progress.

Meanwhile, says Turkish columnist Barcin Yinanc, Turkey will continue to cement ties with the emerging regimes in North Africa, in the process, spreading its example of a governing party inspired by Islam that tolerates other religious beliefs and a secular population.

YINANC: Although in Turkey sometimes we don't like to use this reference as Turkey as a model, we are, in the world, one of the few democracies with a majority Muslim population. And at times, culture matters.

KENYON: She cautions, however, that this is a political investment that will likely take years to show a return. In the meantime, Erdogan will also be looking to build economic and trade ties with the new leaders in North Africa, which could begin paying dividends sooner.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.