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Did Erdogan tell Mubarak to go? Just a little bit.


Amidst all the drama coming out of Egypt, there’s been a bit of a buzz about the Turkish prime minister’s call to Hosni Mubarak. A number of outlets – notably the excitable Los Angeles Times – have been reporting that Mr Erdoğan used his speech today to turn against the Egyptian president and call on him to step down. That’s not strictly true. Here’s what he said:

“I want to make a very genuine recommendation, a very heartfelt warning to the President of Egypt Mr Hosni Mubarak,” the prime minister said earlier today. “We are mortals, not permanent. Each one of us will die and will be questioned on that which we have left behind. As Muslims, we will all be going to a two-cubic-metre hole (in the ground). … All that comes with you will be your shroud.

“That is why we should listen to the voices of both our consciences and our people. Lend an ear to the people’s cry, to their most humane demands, and meet their call for change without hesitation. … Freedoms can no longer be delayed or overlooked in today’s world. Elections that span over months cannot be called democracy.”

A few points on this:

1. These were carefully crafted remarks. Mr Erdoğan did not explicitly call on Mr Mubarak to go. He urged “quick action” so that there is “no opportunity” given to those “dark forces” who want to “exploit the people’s call for change” – all those words are his.

2. This is not a call from the Turkish parliament. Mr Erdoğan was addressing his parliamentary party, not the general assembly, when he said the above. No motion has been tabled or passed.

3. The obvious: Turkey is Muslim. Clearly, it’s significant that the democratically-elected leader of the Muslim world’s best example of a democracy has spoken out in defence of Egypt’s protest movement. Mr Erdoğan’s stock has risen in the Arab world over his outspoken comments on Israel. The question is whether his words carry weight now.

4. America’s implicit support: Mr Erdoğan was one of the world leaders to receive a call during Barack Obama’s telephone diplomacy session over the weekend. I would be astonished if today’s statement comes as a surprise to the United States.

5. For you seasoned followers of Turkish domestic politics, the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) used the events in Egypt to send a warning to the prime minister. “Abuse of the state’s power and resources can have consequences,” said Devlet Bahçeli, party leader, in a speech to his own parliamentary party. He is absolutely right: it’s partly why his own party was booted out of government in 2002.

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