"New Nasser" emerging from Ankara?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been busy gearing up for an "Arab Spring tour," somewhat prematurely, in which he has visited Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, whose leaders recently have been overthrown.
By Li Hongmei
Map Ottoman Empire.jpg

During his historic North Africa tour, Erdogan, while offering recommendations, delivered a clear message, even when in a subtle way: Follow me, I'll show you the way.

As one of the most colorful figures in today's Middle East, Erdogan is dubbed as a hero and some even go so far as to describe him as a sort of the modern-day version of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who sought to unite Arab states under his pan-Arabism and mostly under his leadership.

Under the current circumstances, it is no surprising that not few Arab media outlets agree with the view that Erdogan seeks to enter the leadership vacuum in the Arab world and turn himself into a hero in times of turbulence sweeping the Arab world.

As expected, Erdogan received a hero's welcome wherever he goes, and his name appears in the flattering headlines, in his lately wrapped-up three-country tour.

Still, the visit also fueled a debate among Egyptians about whether the Turkish model Erdogan has touted — with an Islamic-based political party governing a secular democracy — is really applicable to Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.

Turkish PM received cool reception from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood after expressing the hope that Cairo should adopt secular constitution. To this, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman responded other countries' experiments should not be cloned.

Some observers even point pungently in the current chaos, many people buy into the Turkish PM's statements. But over time, Arab leaders may not be willing to play into the hands of the "Muslim lecturer" who wishes to bring them under his leadership.

But, Erdogan attracts his listeners so much as he could always touch their "soft spot"--- honor and pride as Arabs ---- honor is a precious commodity in the political culture of the Middle East. And none other than Erdogan himself acknowledged it the other day, when he declared that no matter what price Turkey had to pay for its conflict with Israel, national Turkish honor was on the line. It is also the same Erdogan who publicly condemns the Israeli government for being unduly arrogant.

Indeed, Turkey's leader successfully portrays himself as the only one who can pose a significant threat to Israel and put the "West’s spoiled child" in its place, at such a time when relationship between Israel and Turkey is bad enough.

Since the U.N. Palmer Report was leaked last Friday, a rougher era of ties between Turkey and Israel has set in. The report, with a strong dissent from the Turkish representative, essentially adopted Israel's view that the 'naval blockade was legal," that it "was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea," that the blockade's implementation "complied with the requirements of international law," and that Israel had a "right to visit and search the vessel and to capture it if the vessel was found in breach of a blockade", including in international waters.

As a result, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu decreed a "Plan B," which included diplomatic, military and legal sanctions against Israel.

This week Ankara decided to ratchet up the pressure. PM Erdogan openly threatened that Turkish gunboats would escort aid vessels the next time they set sail. Erdogan also said Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean.

Perhaps, the comparison of Erdogan to Nasser is still a dubious compliment; and it is very doubtful whether this part of the Nasser legacy is what Erdogan wishes to emulate.

But after all, Gamal Abdel Nasser's remarkable strike successes enabled him to dominate the Arab world in the 1950s. He held anti-imperial credentials while nationalizing the Suez Canal and defending it against the French, British and Israeli forces in 1956.

As a result, he successfully ended British rule, coupled with his emphasis on Arab solidarity, making him a peerless leader. "Nasserism" became the dominant expression of Arab nationalism which promised the unification of the Arab people.

Nasser or anyone dubbed as "national heroes" can never be cloned, as heroes are generally created by the times and situation, and born to fulfill specific missions.

That said, Erdogan might never be Nasser in the making. But one thing is almost certain----Both Nasser and Erdogan fight for the rights to settle their own problems with their own hands.

And what will come next? This depends on what to follow in the region. In any case, the legendary Erdogan will have to bide his time and score more if he wishes to lead the Arab world out of trouble and onto the track.


First published on: www.news.xinhuanet.com