Turkey’s Erdogan and French President Macron butt heads – again

Leaders of Turkey and France engage in a war of words after Emmanuel Macron said Islam was a religion ‘in crisis’ worldwide.

France's president has faced a flurry of criticism over his plans to 'reform' Islam [File: Christian Hartmann/Reuters]
France's president has faced a flurry of criticism over his plans to 'reform' Islam [File: Christian Hartmann/Reuters]

The gloves have come off again between the presidents of Turkey and France.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Turks to boycott French products amid an escalating dispute over Paris’s support for the right to caricature Prophet Muhammad.

The comments on Monday came just days after Erdogan suggested his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, undergo a mental health check-up after he announced a plan “to reform Islam” in order to make it more compatible with France’s republican values.

Describing Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide, Macron earlier in October announced measures to combat “radicalisation” among France’s estimated six-million-strong Muslim population.

Tensions in France further escalated in the aftermath of the killing of Samuel Paty, a middle school teacher who showed his pupils drawings of Prophet Muhammad during a discussion on freedom of speech.

While France’s recalling of its ambassador over Erdogan’s comments is a first, the two leaders have butted heads in recent months over issues ranging from the conflict in Libya to oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

Al Jazeera takes a look at the different episodes in which the two leaders have traded barbs.

Erdogan and Macron attend a news conference after a Syria summit in Istanbul in 2018 [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Islam

“I appeal to my people. Don’t ever pay attention to French brands. Don’t buy them,” Erdogan said at an event in the Turkish capital Ankara on Monday.

His announcement was preceded days earlier by boycott calls in the Middle East and wider the Muslim world in protest of Macron who promised France will “not give up our cartoons”.

“What is the problem this person called Macron has with Islam and Muslims? Macron needs mental treatment,” Erdogan said at a meeting of his governing Justice and Development Party over the weekend.

Macron has sought to justify his planned reforms by suggesting a parallel community living under separate laws distinct and contrary to France’s secular values was seeing the light of day.

Authorities have already ordered the closure of a mosque in a Paris suburb and launched several raids against groups accused of contributing to the radicalisation of youth.

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

In Azerbaijan as in Libya, Macron has taken issue with Erdogan’s support of a rival camp, condemning in late September what he called the Turkish leader’s “reckless and dangerous” backing of Azeri forces in their attempt to retake the breakaway and Armenian-occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“France remains extremely concerned about the warlike comments that Turkey made … which essentially remove any inhibitions from Azerbaijan in what would be a re-conquest of northern Karabakh. That we will not accept,” the French president said.

Macron days later alleged Turkey had sent Syrian fighters in support of Azeri forces, echoing a similar accusation made in January at Ankara over its deployment of Syrian “mercenaries” to Libya.

Eastern Mediterranean

Erdogan in September warned Macron “not to mess” with his country during a standoff between Greece and Cyprus on the one hand and Turkey on the other.

“Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey,” Erdogan said in a televised address marking the 40th anniversary of a 1980 coup.

Ankara and Athens have been entangled in what has increasingly become a tenacious dispute over hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean that has often drawn in European powers, including France.

Macron had a few days earlier said Europeans must take a “clear and firm” stand not against “Turkey as a nation and people but with the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has taken unacceptable actions”.

Libya

Macron in June slammed Erdogan for what he described as Ankara’s “dangerous game” in Libya, where Turkey and France support opposing sides in the country’s long-running civil war.

“I have already had the opportunity to say very clearly to President Erdogan, I consider that Turkey is playing a dangerous game in Libya today and going against all of its commitments made at the Berlin conference,” Macron said, referring to a peace summit at which Turkey and several other foreign actors pledged to stop arming Libya’s warring sides.

“We won’t tolerate the role that Turkey is playing in Libya.”

France has been accused of supporting eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who in April 2019 launched an offensive to wrest control of the capital from the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord, leading to the killing of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of countless more.

For Pierre Razoux of the Mediterranean Foundation of Strategic Studies, Erdogan’s strategy is aimed at pushing France into a wrong move, and diverting attention from his own troubles at home and abroad.

“Erdogan is trying to isolate France and divide the Europeans, so he is firing on all cylinders,” Razoux said.

Ramy Allahoum contributed to this report 

Source : Al Jazeera

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