Middle East
Erdogan due in Egypt for 'Arab Spring' tour
Turkish prime minister to travel to Cairo on Monday at beginning of diplomatic tour also taking in Tunisia and Libya.
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2011 06:43
Israeli commandos raided an aid boat headed to Gaza in 2010, killing nine people and igniting a diplomatic row [Reuters]

Turkey's prime minister is set to travel to Egypt at the beginning of a North African trip that will also see him visit Libya and Tunisia as Ankara seeks to consolidate its growing influence in a region shaken by the Arab Spring.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's arrival on Monday evening comes with both countries experiencing turbulent relations with Israel, which once considered both governments in Ankara and Cairo as regional allies.

Erdogan is due to meet Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling council that took over when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, on Tuesday and is expected to address the Cairo-based Arab League.

He will also meet his Egyptian counterpart, Essam Sharaf. The two are due to sign a political declaration to create a strategic council for co-operation and will sign economic, trade, investment and other accords.

Egypt has long viewed itself as a leading voice in the Arab world, but Turkey's influence has risen steadily with its growing economic might and its assertive policy in the region, notably towards Israel, which has drawn praise from many Arabs.

"There will be rivalry over a regional role for sure. Egypt is not in a position to play such a role at the moment so Erdogan is trying to take advantage of that," said Adel Soliman, head of Cairo's International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies.


Crowds attack Israel embassy in Cairo

Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador in a feud over an Israeli raid last year that killed eight Turks and a US citizen of Turkish descent aboard an aid flotilla bound for the besieged Gaza Strip.

Egypt said it would withdraw its ambassador from Israel last month after five Egyptian border guards were killed as Israeli security forces pursued gunmen it said were responsible for deadly attacks in southern Israel.

But it did not follow through with the threat.

Egypt's military government has struggled to quell the public fury over the incident, which boiled over into an attack by protesters on the Israeli embassy on Saturday that prompted Israel to fly its ambassadaor and embassy staff home.

Both Egypt and Israel say they want a return to normal diplomatic activities. Cairo has vowed to protect the embassy and try the attackers, offering some reassurance to Israel over its commitment to a 1979 peace treaty.


Despite their spats with Israel, Soliman played down prospects of the two nations aligning policies against Israel.

"I don't think they will have any big agreements when it comes to Israel," he said. "There is a lot of exaggeration, I see it more as theatrics than anything practical."

Egypt has received billions of dollars in US military and other aid since signing its peace treaty with Israel, so the ruling generals face a balancing act when responding to public calls for a more assertive policy towards Israel.

When asked on Sunday about the attack on Israel's Cairo embassy, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said Egyptians had given their own reaction and that Israel was more isolated.

"We as Turkey say that we will continue to bring on to the agenda Israel's incorrect attitudes in all global platforms in the framework of international law and after this Israel will become even more isolated," Davutoglu added.

Uzi Rabi, a Middle East analyst at Tel Aviv University, said Erdogan's trip was part of his bid to "strengthen his foothold in the Arab world."

"He will use his visit to Cairo as a barometer to measure just how popular he is in the Arab street but some Arab leaders may not be as enthusiastic about seeing him feed on this popularity," he added.

Erdogan is due to visit Tunisia on Wednesday and hold talks in Libya on Thursday.

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