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Erdogan Divides Arab Revolutionists

Published: 27/06/2013 08:18:36 PM GMT
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CAIRO - Long praised in the Arab world for leading his country to be a model of Islamic democracy, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is inviting mixed views in the Arab Spring countries over crackdown on anti-gover (more)

CAIRO - Long praised in the Arab world for leading his country to be a model of Islamic democracy, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is inviting mixed views in the Arab Spring countries over crackdown on anti-government protests.

"Erdogan has the right to try to stop demonstrations,” Libyan student Ali Mohammed in Benghazi, 25, told Reuters.

"Turkey's economy is being hurt, tourism is affected, so if the government feels this is in danger, they have the right."

Libyan engineer Ahmed Musa, 31, reflected a similar admiration for Erdogan.

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"Erdogan has done a lot for Turkey and those calling for him to step down are crazy," he said.

"Why do they want this?"

In Tunis, Monem Layouni, whose bushy beard is a mark of his Islamic views, praised how the Turkish leader had clashed with Ankara's historic regional ally Israel.

"Erdogan is an example, who made his country a model for democracy and Islam."

Protests have engulfed Turkey over the past two weeks against a redevelopment plan in Istanbul.

Protestors say that the government plan for a replica Ottoman-era barracks housing shops and apartment in the square is part of plans to "Islamize" Turkey.

Turkish police dispersed protestors on Tuesday from the Taksim square, the epicenter of the protests. But demonstrators camped out in the nearby Gezi Park.

Erdogan on Thursday issued a final warning to protestors to leave the park.

"Our patience is at an end,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara.

“I am making my warning for the last time. I say to the mothers and fathers please take your children in hand and bring them out... We cannot wait any more because Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces but to the people...."

In power for more than a decade, Erdogan's party has increased its share of the vote in each of the last three elections.

Turkey has boomed economically and its influence has increased dramatically in the Middle East and on the global scale.

But many Turks, including some former supporters, accuse Erdogan of growing increasingly authoritarian, muzzling the media, tightening his party's grip on the state and putting religion at the center of politics in violation of Turkey's secular constitution.


But other Arabs have changed their views about Erdogan over his crackdown on protests.

"Erdogan was just a flash in the pan," Haykel Jbeli, a young subway train driver in Tunis, told Reuters.

"After he talked so much about human rights, the events on Taksim Square have unmasked his true face. He's a hypocrite. He'll never be a model for us."

Similar views are echoed in Egypt, where tension is rising between opponents and supporters of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

"We no longer see him as the moderate Islamist who wants to continue with the existing model of democracy," said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman of the National Salvation Front, the main umbrella opposition group.

"The people see Erdogan right now as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"There's a sense that we're facing similar attempts to rebuild dictatorship in the name of religion, whether in Egypt or in Tunisia and of course right now we can see it in Turkey."

For Hamma Hammami of Tunisia's secular Popular Front, "Erdogan is a dictator" like the ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"He's no different from the leaders in Egypt and Tunisia."

But some Arabs reject any comparison between the situation in Turkey and the Arab countries.

"Seeing at first hand the police firing water cannon at the demonstrators on Taksim, giving them relief from the summer heat, and seeing them go and party at night, I couldn't stop myself smiling," said Leena al-Shami, a prominent activist who fled Damascus for Istanbul a few weeks ago.

"If that was the Assad regime, its forces would have killed hundreds, if not thousands on Taksim."

She worried that, having opened Turkey to Syrian refugees, Erdogan could be forced from office, exposing them to hostility.

"We are beginning to fear there could be a backlash against the Syrian refugees if Erdogan is forced to step aside," she said.

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