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Unlike their leaders, the Arab people do not hate Turkey

Arab Foreign Ministers 153rd annual meeting at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on March 4, 2020 [MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP via Getty Images]
Arab Foreign Ministers 153rd annual meeting at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo on March 4, 2020 [MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP via Getty Images]

On the sidelines of the 155th session of the Arab League meeting last week, Egypt chaired a meeting of the Arab Ministerial Committee. The league's Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, discussed Turkey's "illegitimate interference in the affairs of Arab countries" with envoys from Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Iraq.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the meeting that Cairo "will not stand motionless in face of the Turkish greed that is especially being shown in northern Iraq, Libya, and Syria." The Assistant Secretary of the Arab League, Hossam Zaki, alleged that Iran and Turkey are seeking to interfere in Arab affairs and looked for opportunities at the expense of Arab states.

The Foreign Ministry in Ankara rejected all such claims and called on members of the league to end their "insistence on stereotypical accusations against [Turkey] with the aim of covering up their own destructive activities." Turkey stressed that it is devoting the greatest effort to ensure "regional and global peace and stability of security" and reiterated its persistence in preserving the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political unity of all Arab states.

(L to R) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chad Mahamat Zene Cherif, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tiebile Drame, Sudanese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Sedik Abdelah, Tunisian Foreign Minister Sabri Bachtabji and secretary general of the Algerian ministry of Foreign Affairs Rachid Bladehane pose for a picture in the Algerian capital Algiers on January 23, 2020 [RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images]

(L to R) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chad Mahamat Zene Cherif, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tiebile Drame, Sudanese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Sedik Abdelah, Tunisian Foreign Minister Sabri Bachtabji and secretary general of the Algerian ministry of Foreign Affairs Rachid Bladehane pose for a picture in the Algerian capital Algiers on January 23, 2020 [RYAD KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images]

It is a fact that Turkey has a presence in a number of Arab countries, but is this all "interference in their internal affairs"?

"Unfortunately, the Arab region is a field for foreign interference in general due to the continuous conflict," said the head of the Union of Moroccan Journalists, Abdullah Baqqali, "but Turkey has an important role that no one can deny. It has major economic investments in the Arab countries and economic partnerships with many Arab firms. It is difficult to decide if these have political goals."

Baqqali also mentioned Turkey's military presence in some Arab countries; in Libya, for example. "What is the goal of this military presence? I hope that it is positive."

Libyan journalist Abdul Salam Al-Rajihi insisted that the Turkish involvement in his country is both legitimate and positive: "It is being coordinated with a legitimate government and is intended to help stabilise and rebuild the country."

According to the Chief Editor of Egypt's Al-Bayan, Ibrahim Aref, "We should judge Turkish activities in the Arab world on the basis of the views of the people, not the views of the politicians. Away from the leaders' positions and political stances, there are good relations between the people. There is an understanding among them. The official Arab hostility towards Turkey does not reflect the relations between the people."

READ: Turkey ready to re-establish relations with Egypt for the sake of regional stability

Aref complained that the Arab states do not have a strong body that brings them together in order to become an effective regional power alongside Turkey. "Egypt, Syria, and Turkey should be allies to stand up to Israel, but, unfortunately, each has become an enemy to the others." However, the Arab people cannot change the minds of their rulers. "They have failed to change them or their regimes. So we cannot think that the views of the Arab political leaders reflect the views of their people."

Al-Rajihi agreed with Aref's views about the lack of a strong body to bring the Arab states together. "For decades, the Arab League has been the recycling bin for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Whenever there is an outgoing foreign minister, he becomes the head of the Arab League, which does not represent the Arab nations at all."

Turkey's help for Libya, he added, was criticised only because it thwarted the dreams of Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries in their support for the renegade Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. "Haftar pledged to crack down on the Libyan dream of democracy in the same way that the leaders of the other Arab states are doing with their own people."

Arab League refuse to condemn UAE-Israel normalisation - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Arab League refuse to condemn UAE-Israel normalisation – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Why is the focus only on Turkey? That's a good question, Al-Rajihi told me. What about the American and other Western forces in Syria, Iraq, and many other countries, as well as the thousands of Russian mercenaries in Libya? "Why do the Egyptian, UAE and other leaders not ask about them? Why does the Arab League not speak out about their meddling in the internal affairs of the Arab countries?"

READ: Turkey rejects 'baseless' Arab League decisions

As far as Morocco's Baqqali is concerned, the Arab states are not singing from the same song sheet. "There will be no genuine Arab-Turkish rapprochement until there is Arab-Arab rapprochement. We Arabs need a joint strong body to represent us." He too has little faith in the Arab League. "We need a common market, a common currency, and such things that make us feel that we represent the same nation," he explained.

Aref and Al-Rajihi both stressed that there is no consensus among the Arab states regarding the positions towards Turkey and that the Arab countries did not nominate candidates for the Arab League because they believe it is a "dead body".

If there are Arab countries which do not want Turkish presence in the region, concluded Baqqali, there must surely be others who prefer its assistance on the common ground of their religion, history, and fate. The Arab leaders may not understand this, but the Arab people do.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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