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May 18, 2021

Turkey influence rises as PM Erdogan starts Arab tour

CAIRO – The Turkish prime minister has arrived in Cairo on the first leg of an “Arab Spring” tour, airport officials said, amid strained relations with Israel and a Palestinian push for UN membership, according to Al Jazeera. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has garnered popularity among Arabs for his denunciations of Israel, was met by his Egyptian counterpart Essam Sharaf and a large crowd of admirers.An all-male, cheering crowd of more than a thousand gathered at the Cairo airport to greet Erdogan on his first visit to Egypt since the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, CNN said. Posters – many with Erdogan’s face on them – proclaimed sentiments such as, “Welcome Erdogan the hero in his second country Egypt.” As those in the crowd awaited Erdogan, one chant was “Egypt and Turkey are one hand.”

The Turkish prime minister was also due to meet Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling council that took over when Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, and to address the Cairo-based Arab League.

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.

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.

Attack on Israel

In his Arab League speech, Erdogan reiterated criticism of Israel and called on the Arab countries to support a Palestinian bid for recognition of statehood at UN General Assembly later this month, according to Today’s Zaman. “Our Palestinian brothers should be able to have their own state. Let’s fly the Palestinian flag at the UN together,” he told a meeting of the 22-member Arab League.

Erdogan also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a “matter of humanity” and added that the current status quo can no longer be maintained. He added that Israel continued taking steps that undermine its own legitimacy, noting that it killed nine Turks on the aid ship and five Egyptian soldiers at the border in August.  As he was still in Cairo, Palestinian children and students staged a demonstration in Gaza, inviting Erdogan to visit. Carrying Turkish flags and posters of Erdogan, the children shouted slogans as “Palestinian people want Erdogan”, worldbulletin.net reported.

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