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Erdogan’s behaviour must not be tolerated

Erdogan spoke to a largely deserted chamber, indicating his growing lack of popularity among the international community

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Published: Updated:

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s visit to New York to speak before the United Nations General Assembly was not only what I believe to be a PR coup, he and his team did some furious networking with heads of state, politicians, and the American business community. During his stay, he met with the Clintons, foreign policy veterans Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He also received a last minute invitation from President Obama to talk about regional security issues and the future of U.S.-Egyptian relations. If he was on a charm-offensive, then judging by the smiles and body-language of all the prominent people he was pictured with - even that of several of his earlier critics - it worked like charm. Indeed, he flew home with a fistful of invitations to visit a host of countries, including Germany and South Korea.

But if confirmation was needed that the Egyptian president has finally emerged from the cold, it came when it was his turn to speak to U.N. delegations. He was visibly taken aback and humbled by the warm applause he received as he stepped up to podium and was clearly gratified to receive a standing ovation following his speech when almost everyone in attendance echoed his parting words “Tahya Misr...Tahya Misr” (Long Live Egypt!)

Outside, thousands of Egyptians waved flags, raised posters of the president and sang patriotic songs to show their gratitude to the former military man who they believed saved Egypt from Muslim Brotherhood rule and a potential civil war. In short, Egypt took Manhattan by storm. Spectacular advertisements showing photographs of the country’s iconic landmarks with the message “peace, prosperity and growth” loomed over Times Square and were plastered on many of the city’s buses.

Sisi’s speech was positive throughout. He spoke of the need to combat extremist ideologies and the “crisis of terrorism facing the region.” He championed a Palestinian State on 1967 borders, and announced that the Egyptian government seeks to build a new Egypt on the foundations of a free-market and an investor-friendly economy; a state that upholds “rights and freedoms” and “ensures the coexistence of its citizens without exclusion or discrimination”.

Turkish boycott

However, the delegates of one NATO member country weren’t in their seats to hear the Egyptian President’s message to the world. Turkey boycotted his speech and, worse, hours later, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan devoted part of his own speech to condemn the United Nations for “legitimizing” Sisi who overthrew “the elected president in Egypt” referring, of course, to his cohort Mohammad Mursi who’s currently on trial for treachery and collusion with foreign terrorist groups, amongst other charges. Sisi does not need the U.N. to confer legitimacy on his presidency; that was received following last May’s elections which he won by 96.91 percent and, more recently, when ordinary Egyptians raised LE 64 billion in just eleven days to fund his mega Suez Canal project.

Erdogan spoke to a largely deserted chamber, indicating his growing lack of popularity among the international community

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Erdogan spoke to a largely deserted chamber, indicating his growing lack of popularity among the international community due to his burgeoning authoritarianism, but his insults certainly reverberated in Cairo to the extent that Egypt swiftly cancelled a meeting scheduled to take place in New York between the two countries’ foreign ministers. Erdogan’s insults didn’t end there. According to the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, he “refused to attend a luncheon hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after learning that he was assigned to the same table” as President Sisi along with President Obama, and South African President Jacob Zuma. Doesn’t he realize that petulance is more appropriate to kindergarten than the world stage? Most of us have children or grandchildren who’ve said at one time or another after falling out with one of their friends: “I’m not going to the party because so-and-so will be there.”

Word has it that the Turkish president is out of sync with his own foreign ministry and advisors who have signaled in the past their eagerness to mend fences with Cairo. He has continually undermined their efforts indicting that he’s bent on some kind of venomous personal vendetta regardless of any negative reaction, particularly from the Arab World, his country might incur as a response.

It goes without saying that the official Egyptian reaction was scathing. “There is no doubt that the fabrication of such lies and fabrications are not something strange that comes from the Turkish President who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organisations,” read a statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. The United Arab Emirates was similarly outraged slamming Erdogan’s speech as “a direct and blatant intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs while accusing him of exploiting the U.N.’s platform to launch an “unacceptable” attack on legitimacy in Egypt.

No Arab state should accept the Turkish leader’s attempts to embarrass and undermine the progress of the most populated Arab country we Arabs call “Umm al-Donya” (Mother of the World), that represents one of the oldest and richest cultures on the planet. Erdogan’s toxic speech and petty behaviours in New York are an affront to all Arabs everywhere and let’s not forget that Sisi was representing the Arab League at the U.N. on this occasion. We stood silent as the Turkish President (then Prime Minister) hosted Muslim Brotherhood conferences and flashed its ugly hand signs. But this time he’s overstepped the mark. As far as I’m concerned, insults hurled at one of our leaders is akin to slandering all of them. He pretends that his stance is moral. In that case, why didn’t he rail against the governments of Thailand and Ukraine, which were brought to power on the back of a coup?

In truth, he’s nothing but a terrorist supporter who hugs the Muslim Brotherhood and, as was stated in the UK Parliament on Friday, purchases oil from the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq. Curiously enough, he’s not declined to partner the U.S.-coalition against those killers but he’s barred the coalition from using Turkish airspace to launch strikes.

Let’s not forget, too, that Turkey is the transit destination for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters. There’s a report in the Washington Post suggesting “Wounded jihadists from ISIS and al-Nusra Front...were treated at Turkish Hospitals,” adding, “Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.” This was denied by Turkey but Bloomberg reporters say ISIS has “already established itself firmly in Turkish Society.” Apparently, they use Reyhanli as their shopping mall, where they purchase uniforms and mobile phones. In this case, it must be asked why western powers are turning a blind eye to the dubious machinations of their loudmouthed NATO partner, who’s been embroiled in corruption scandals and was recorded discussing the best ways of hiding money with his son. He is certainly no ‘Mr. Clean’ and I would appeal to the Turkish people to see him for what he truly is, not only an embarrassment, but a threat to their future wellbeing, now that he’s shown his true colours.

No verbal sniper

As a man and a human being, Erdogan pales in comparison to President Sisi, a true patriot who’s is struggling against all odds to get his beloved Egypt back on its feet. He’s no verbal sniper. When he was asked by the media for his response to the Turkish President’s remarks, he declined to dignify such personal slights with an answer. Egypt’s President and the 90 million people he’s sworn to serve deserve our support. But mere condemnatory statements are not sufficient.

Despite perceptions, the Turkish economy and currency are currently heading south, as reflected by ratings agencies and highlighted by the Asia Times which reveals that “Turkey’s current account deficit...is at the level of Greece before its near-bankruptcy in 2011” but is being propped-up by “Turkey’s friends in the Gulf States”. This funding must stop now! Furthermore, the Arab World should boycott all Turkish products and companies and governments should sever diplomatic and economic ties with the Erdogan government. Egypt’s president has pledged to stand by the Gulf states and so it’s our duty to defend him against a megalomaniacal Turk who I believe is plotting to bring him down.

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Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and the has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.
Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books.
Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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