CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group warned Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that his country should not seek to dominate the Middle East despite his enthusiastic welcome at the start of a regional tour.
After his widely praised call for democracy in the Arab world, Erdogan was given a more reserved reception by officials of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose old guard do not share the admiration of the group’s younger generation for the Turkish leader.
“We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future,” said Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party.
The Brotherhood’s cautious comments contrast with the rapturous reception Erdogan has had so far, including cheering and flag-waving crowds, on the first stop of a tour of three Arab states that is aimed at bolstering Turkey’s regional role.
“Democracy and freedom is as basic a right as bread and water for you, my brothers,” Erdogan told an enthusiastic audience in Cairo on Tuesday.
Erdogan’s party, with its Islamist roots and election success, has become a model for much of the Brotherhood and other political groups as they prepare for the first free vote since Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule was ended in February.
But the Brotherhood and other groups are wary of outside involvement in a home-grown uprising. A senior Turkish official said Turkey did not want to dictate but offer help.
“Arab states do not need outside projects … This has to come from the new internal systems of the Arab countries which after the revolutions … will be democratic ones,” said Erian, who was jailed under Mubarak.
Erian, however, praised Erdogan’s political success at home in free elections and his achievement in building a strong economy and supporting Arab causes.
“He has successfully invested in the Arab and Muslim world’s central case which is the Palestinian case,” he said.
Erian said Erdogan had met members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party.
A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Erdogan had offered help if requested. “We are not saying we will come and teach you what to do, we are saying we can help if you want,” he said.
Erdogan has won plaudits from many Arabs for his tough line in a feud with Israel. He is also respected for overseeing rapid economic expansion and for his democratic credentials in a region where democracy has been almost completely lacking.
On Tuesday, Erdogan urged the United States not to block a plan by Palestinians to seek recognition for a statehood at the United Nations.
“The freedom message spreading from Tahrir Square (in Cairo) has become a light of hope for all the oppressed through Tripoli, Damascus and Sanaa,” Erdogan said, receiving several standing ovations.
Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said they sought to boost annual trade between the two states to $5 billion from $3 billion, as well as to increase Turkish investment in Egypt to $5 billion from $1.5 billion in future.
Erdogan’s stance toward Israel has earned him the most Arab accolades. He demanded an apology after nine Turks were killed in an Israeli raid on a ship bound for Gaza. When he did not receive one, he expelled Israel’s ambassador.
“We can learn from him how to deal with the enemy … So many things were done by Israel, but we stayed silent,” said Rabab Abdel-Khalek, a university student.
Egyptians are angry that their ruling generals did not act with the same decisiveness when five Egyptian border guards were killed last month by Israelis when they were chasing cross-border raiders.
Furious Egyptian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, prompting Israel to fly its envoy home.