At one time, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had won over many hearts in the Arab region. Arabs saw him as an honest and successful political figure who sympathized with their causes; however, their love did not last long. Erdoğan’s loss of Arab support can mainly be attributed to his failure to stop the massacres in Syria at the hands of Assad regime, and his failure to avenge innocent Turkish citizens killed by Israelis. Instead, he accepted the blood money.
His former pro-Qaddafi stance in the Libyan revolution alienated many in the region, especially since Qaddafi was despised in the Arab world. His loss of Arab support can also be attributed to his description of events in Bahrain as a “second Karbala” and his support for extremist protesters. Despite all this, many in the Arab world still have respect for Erdoğan and some do not blame him, realizing that it is difficult to address the Syrian crisis from Turkey.
Now he has involved himself in Egypt, adopting a position that could be described as “biased” in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be one of the few political figures in the world to adopt this stance. It is useless to argue about the legitimacy and relations with ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, because it is a “chicken or egg” situation. Egyptians say that they toppled Mursi because of his bad performance as president, the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the state, and the president’s lack of respect for the democracy that brought him to power.
When Erdoğan publicly supports Mursi and the Brotherhood, he is, in fact, antagonizing most Egyptian and Arab figures who disagree with him. If the Turkish prime minister thinks it was unjust to oust Mursi—and it is his right to believe sohe should have played the role of mediator, rather than taking sides. First, he knows that he cannot change anything in Egypt and that he does not have the tools to ensure Mursi’s return, given that Turkey failed to contribute to the fall of Assad’s regime despite being a regional power—and Syria is a quarter the size of Egypt. So what can he do for Egypt, the most populous Arab country?
Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood is exploiting Turkey—and it wants to exploit Erdoğan and direct him into playing a damaging role. Erdoğan will be disappointed later on, when the Brotherhood negotiate with the military to protect some of their interests. The Muslim Brotherhood knows very well that Mursi will not return and that the other political forces will not allow the Brotherhood to form another government. Nobody believes Mursi will be victorious after a year of failure.
Erdoğan’s involvement in the region’s politics will cost him his popularity among Arabs, which is already dwindling. He could have instead played a more objective role for the Egyptians in general, and not just acted in the interests of the Brotherhood. Turkish president Abdullah Gül said that Egypt and Turkey resemble two sides of one apple, and it is in the interest of Turkey to support Egypt in this regional struggle, as one of its allies, without direct intervention.
Erdoğan should mediate between different sides, rather than taking a rigid and biased stance. This would have been the best thing to show his friends, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: a mode of governance related to the Turkish model of tolerance, which Erdoğan mastered through his economic and political policies. What Mursi did in one year had nothing to do with the democracy that brought him to power. It was clear that his presidency would come to an end because Mursi failed to retain his allies, including the Salafists, who abandoned him even before he was toppled.