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Erdoğan aide: Turkey’s role in Libya subject of smear campaign | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Emrullah İşler, former deputy PM of Turkey and President Erdoğan’s chief adviser on Libyan (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Emrullah İşler, former deputy PM of Turkey and President Erdoğan's chief adviser on Libyan affairs. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Emrullah İşler, former deputy PM of Turkey and President Erdoğan’s chief adviser on Libyan affairs. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Istanbul, Asharq Al-Awsat—Prior to 2011 Turkey was enjoying a resurgence in its relationship with its neighbors in the region and its popularity on the Arab street after years in the doldrums. But with the eruption of the wave of protests and revolutions dubbed the “Arab Spring” at the start of that tumultuous year, the situation quickly changed.

What appeared as Turkey’s support for the Islamist groups, who initially dominated the post-Arab Spring political arena, began to erode its standing in the Arab consciousness. After less than a year in power in Egypt and Tunisia, Islamist parties began to come undone as street anger boiled over once again following failures to deliver on their election promises, with Turkey’s new-found popularity declining in turn.

Now, four years on from 2011, Turkey’s standing in the region is lower than ever. Not only has its stance on Egypt—where Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was ousted in 2013—angered Cairo and its allies in the region, Turkey has also drawn much ire for its alleged support for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria as well as other Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

In nearby Libya, meanwhile, a crisis pitting Islamist rebels against a reformed, and rebranded Libyan National Army, with two governments—one in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk—each supporting one side in the conflict, is threatening to tear that country apart.

To find out more about Turkey’s role in efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Emrullah İşler, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s adviser on Libya and a former deputy prime minister in Erdoğan’s third cabinet.

Asharq Al-Awsat: What is Turkey’s stance regarding the current situation in Libya, and what role, if any, are you currently playing in the country?

Emrullah İşler: Our approach on Libya and the course we are following to help solve the crisis there is extremely clear. We believe that the problems currently facing Libya can only be solved through dialogue. We also believe in the feasibility of holding wide-ranging, genuine talks between the different factions and groupings in Libyan society. As you know, the process of discussions has already begun in Libya under the auspices of the United Nations and the head of its Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino León. We in Turkey support these efforts and will continue to do so.

Obtaining a complete ceasefire in Libya must be one of the main factors that will determine the success of these talks that have just begun. Especially because Libya has seen many negative effects from the current fighting, with many Libyans losing their lives and others having to struggle in order to keep themselves alive in what are extremely difficult circumstances, in addition to the damage done to the country’s essential infrastructure . . .

The crisis will be solved by Libyans once again, with the support of the international community. On this note I hope Libyans will be able to reach an agreement on a political road map that will take the country out of its current dangerous situation and into safety, as well as form a national unity government to execute this road map. I also wish to point out that any external military interference in Libya will only deepen the current crisis and widen the base of problems the country now faces.

At this point I want to address another, related issue. Unfortunately, Turkey’s role in Libya has been subjected to a dangerous smear campaign conducted by a number of media outlets, which spread reports about Libya’s supporting extremist groups in Libya. This only aims to tarnish the positive and important role which Turkey is playing in the country . . . We have met with all the main political groups in Libya . . . and do not favor this political group or party over that one, because we do not simply see a barrel of oil when we look at Libya; we see instead our brotherly bonds that bind us through the historical, religious and cultural connections we share.

Q: What about your relationship with other countries in the region? Isn’t it fair to say these are veering more toward the negative side of the spectrum than the positive?

Yes, our relationship with some other countries in the region could be described as “frosty” right now. But this just represents a stage we are going through, a temporary one. Turkey cannot cooperate with countries where there are clear attempts to sabotage the process of the Arab Spring through carrying out a wave of massacres. So, looking at the situation from this angle one can see how it will be Turkey, which stood by the Arab Spring uprisings, that will be the main winner after this this “frosty” stage in relations finally passes.

Q: Is there any truth to the reports that there is a sizable Muslim Brotherhood presence in Turkey?

The Muslim Brotherhood organization does not have a presence in Turkey, except for a handful of sympathizers. Unfortunately the Arab and Western press have both made it out as though the Brotherhood actually has support on the Turkish street and that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is but a natural outgrowth of this organization.

The reality is, however, that anyone who wishes to look clearly, and with good intentions, at all this, or who bothered to look into and study the facts, will find that the truth is completely different from what is being said.

The stage which followed the Arab Spring, when the political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood won power via the ballot box, also coincided with the rise of a wave of fear and hatred [toward the Brotherhood] in the Arab Spring countries. This was in addition to deliberate campaigns being carried out by some to spread this fear and hatred using media outlets, businessmen, officials, and all those who had their privileges curtailed following the ousting of the dictatorial regime [of Hosni Mubarak]. We can, then, by reference to the term “Islamophobia,” coin a new term to describe this phenomenon: “Ikhwanophobia” [where “Ikhwan,” or “brothers” in Arabic, is used to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood, or “Muslim Brothers,” as they are known].

Q: And what about reports that Turkey has become a diaspora for Muslim Brotherhood members, à la Doha?

For us, the fact that these people, who have fled their countries for whatever reason, have been able to find a safe haven in Turkey shows the positive way freedom and democracy have developed here recently . . . because most of those who have been forced to flee their countries would have previously sought asylum in an EU country, or the US. But now of course things are different ever since the AKP came to power . . . and was able to take steps [to improve] the general human rights situation, as well as individual freedoms, political and economic life, and the general living conditions . . .

Q: Will it be possible to improve your relationship with Egypt after everything that has happened recently?

 . . . We as a country do not have any problems with the Egyptian people or with Egyptians who support democracy in their country. What we have a problem with is the removal of those who have come to power via legitimate elections . . . We will never veer away from our values and policies which put the individual at the center of life . . .

Q: And what about the view that says that Turkey can never be part of the solution in the region because of its alleged support for extremist groups?

These comments and suggestions that speak of our support for Islamist groups in the region are but attempts to knock us off our course, and a deception based on weak evidence. Our support for democracy in the region was misinterpreted as support for Islamist groups, and this interpretation grew in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. As such, a number of people used this to try to create the impression that Turkey, and especially the AKP, was working to forge relations on ideological grounds with a number of [Islamist] parties that had been formed following the Arab Spring . . .

This is an abridged interview of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.