I am not one of those who are overawed by the Turkish Prime Minister, but for a moment let’s compare Mr. Erdogan’s recent visits to the region- after the Arab political earthquake- and the maneuvers of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. This is not to compare between Erdogan and Ahmadinejad, but rather to know where Iran stands today in comparison with Turkey, and the implications of this.
In a simple comparison we would find that Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Egypt and received a hero’s welcome, an unusual scene in Egypt, a state with a tendency of leadership and national unity. Erdogan took with him an army of Turkish businesspeople. Then while in Egypt, he said what even Field Marshal Tantawi himself couldn’t say to the Egyptians; he advised the Muslim Brotherhood that the best option for them was for Egypt to be secular after Mubarak, and not a religious state. Erdogan did not stop there; after leaving Egypt he made his way to Tunisia, the starting point of the Arab Spring – as some call it, or the Arab earthquake – as I call it for accuracy, and he repeated the same words about the need for a secular state in Tunisia. Accompanying him again was the same army of Turkish businesspeople. Prior to Erdogan’s visits, the Turkish Foreign Minister was one of the first officials in the region to travel to Benghazi after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime, so what about the Iranian president?
It is noteworthy that after the Arab earthquake Ahmadinejad did not visit one Arab country that had been affected, so much so that any observer would have almost forgotten the name of Tehran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, due to his lack of statements and movements, both regionally and abroad. When Ahmadinejad left Tehran to participate in the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he did not visit any influential Arab country, but rather opted to visit the recently partitioned Sudan. The irony here is that the Sudanese President, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant, is the one who defends Ahmadinejad and Iran, and not vice versa. Ahmadinejad also visited Mauritania, a country which does not impose any political influence upon the surrounding region, and the Middle East! What is the meaning of all this?
The simple and short answer is that Iran is in a state of international and regional isolation, whilst Erdogan’s Turkey is currently spreading its influence and strengthening its position, specifically in areas affected by the Arab earthquake. It is noteworthy that reliable sources indicate that Iranian financing has become a contentious issue in Egypt today, although whether it is true or not is another story. However, the reality today dictates that Turkey will fill the current vacuum in the region, whilst it seems that Iran will become more isolated, not only in the region, but also in other parts of the world. Even Venezuela has made an excuse for not receiving President Ahmadinejad in Caracas, where the Venezuelan Foreign Minister announced the postponement by saying: “We will wait until President Chavez has fully recovered”.
However, it is important to note that Ahmadinejad’s visits to both Sudan and Mauritania have negative implications, especially if we consider the geographical location of Khartoum and Nouakchott, and their proximity to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. It is clear that Iran wants to escape from its isolation by maneuvering in geographical areas close to the Arab states currently feeling their way towards rebuilding their political regimes. Meanwhile, Turkey is seizing the initiative and expanding in the region, to fill a clear Arab vacuum that is waiting to be filled.