Erdogan with Major General Hassan al-Roueini in Cairo, 2011 (Getty)
Two years ago, Egypt was the scene of one of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greatest foreign triumphs. Now it is a country that he and much of Turkey look on at with anguish, a reminder that many of Ankara’s ambitions for the Middle East have come crashing to earth.
Turkey invested heavily in the Egyptian revolution and also in the government of Mohamed Morsi. Mr Erdogan was one of the first international leaders in early 2011 to call on then President Hosni Mubarak to heed the message of the demonstrators clamouring for his exit.
When, months later, Mr Erdogan visited Cairo, thousands of supporters greeted him at the airport.
Nor did ties end there. Ankara announced the extension of a $2bn loan to Cairo. Mr Morsi was acclaimed by the congress of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP last September. Just a few days ago, the Turkish prime minister discussed his plans to visit the Gaza Strip – which he would almost certainly travel to via Egypt. That trip looks much less likely today.
In sum, the Egyptian coup may be a devastating blow to Turkey’s vision of a more democratic, more Islamist-leaning Middle East in which Ankara plays a leading role, partly by virtue of philosophical ties with governments in the region, partly because of its own experience in beating back military influence.
Here’s the problem with the Arab League. A ministerial delegation is due in Syria today to convince Bashar al-Assad’s regime to stop killing protestors demanding the president’s ouster, and agree to an Arab reconciliation plan.
Qatar, the exceedingly wealthy autocracy which has emerged as the unlikely champion of the oppressed across the Arab world, is leading the delegation, despite initial grumbles from Damascus. But the six-member mission also includes Egypt, Oman, Algeria and Yemen. Right, Yemen, where the government has been denounced by many of its fellow Arab states for rejecting a Gulf plan to transfer power away from the president, Ali Abdallah Saleh.
It was six months ago to this day that Muammer Gaddafi delivered his defiant rant against a popular rebellion, vowing to hunt down his opponents in every corner, inch by inch and, famously, “zenga (alleyway) by zenga.”
So hysterical was his outburst that it inspired a “zenga zenga” auto-tune that became all the rage in the liberated east of Libya, even though it was produced by an Israeli artist.
In the end, however, it was the fractious, rag-tag army of revolutionaries he had promised to pursue who swept, from zenga to zenga, into the leader’s stronghold of Tripoli, in a lightening journey that is drawing the curtain on his 42 year rule.
Middle Eastern autocrats are having a field day with the UK riots, taking pleasure at the mayhem in a western capital and interpreting it the way that suits their propaganda.
One hardline newspaper in Tehran blamed the violence on rising student tuition fees; another put the responsibility on the US and its economic policies. In Libya, the Gaddafi regime, once a friend of Britain but now a sworn enemy, also took aim at London. A presenter on state television on Wednesday hailed the rioting youth whom he said were demonstrating against a “fascist” government.
Why does it take months of wrangling before the UN Security Council issues a condemnation of the Syrian regime’s violence against civilians? Five months of violence, days of shelling of Hama and other cities, and more than 1,500 deaths and the council cannot agree the most simple of resolutions.
The draft that has been on the table for months is not about imposing sanctions, let alone opening the door to military intervention.
The US is down but not out in Bahrain. Back in March, the Obama administration was frustrated by the regime’s crackdown against a Shia uprising and the sudden arrival of Saudi troops in the kingdom in support of the Sunni monarchy. The Saudi message to the Americans at the time was this: stay out of Bahrain, the royal family and Iran’s attempts to exploit the Shia protests are red lines.
The protests were crushed, as had been expected, amid cries of widespread human rights abuses that further embarrassed the US, for whom Bahrain is a close ally and home of the Fifth Fleet.