How do Turks see Arab Turks

Turks and Arabs on a collision course

A tweet by a former general secretary of the Arab League sums up the new Arab mood: "Turkey," writes Amr Moussa, "is currently the greatest threat to the Arab world." As Egyptian foreign minister, he was considered a hardliner towards Israel, and later he warned of Iran's desire to expand: But now the Turks are not only in Syria, where the Turkish lira is used in Idlib, but also, seen from Cairo, next door, in Libya , and try to play number one in the Mediterranean.

The Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi spoke at the weekend of a "red line" that would be crossed if the city of Sirte or the Jufra air base is captured by the troops of the - internationally recognized - Libyan government of Fayez al-Serraj. Serraj is only capable of this offensive because he is militarily supported by Turkey, that is the point. General Khalifa Haftar, on whom Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, but also Russia and France were betting, has lost the battle for Tripoli. Now it is important to prevent "the Turks" - even if they are Libyan militias and Syrian mercenaries - from marching on.

Threat of military action

Ziad Akl from the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) in Cairo put it in the Financial Times: "Egypt does not want a single Turk to cross the line to eastern Libya." Sisi explicitly threatened an Egyptian military operation to prevent this.

Harsh criticism of Turkey's Libya policy also came from France, whereupon Ankara accused Paris of wanting to split Libya and restore its "colonial order". But that is exactly what the Arab reproaches against Turkey under President Tayyip Erdoğan are: neo-Omani ambitions in the Arab world, including physical control of Arab lands. But it is also about the interpretation of Islamic history. Because the Arabs are confronted with the fact that what they call "Ottoman colonialism" today always had a dimension of Islamic expansion.

Act instead of invasion

The Egyptian Dar al-Ifta - that is the institution that creates fatwas, religious reports - recently stepped in the fender: The Egyptian theologians called the Turkish conquest of Christian Constantinople in 1453 an Ottoman invasion - but then had to backtrack and clarify that it was a "great Islamic" act.

Saudi Arabia is leading the attempt to reinterpret the Ottoman era, which ended a hundred years ago with the First World War when the Ottoman Empire fell apart. There they are systematically trying to push back the Turkish media and cultural influence, for example by replacing the popular Turkish soap operas with Arab productions. In textbooks, the Ottoman historical domination of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula is already qualified as an "occupation".

Well known in Vienna too

The Arabs found an enemy whose name also ringed Austrian ears: Sultan Suleyman, the Magnificent, known in the Islamic world as "the legislator" (al-Qanuni), who besieged Vienna in 1529. The news that the signs on the street named after him in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh had been dismantled caused great Turkish anger. Battles between Süleyman admirers and bashers began on social media.

The Saudis will find it difficult to completely erase the Ottoman heritage: "Turki", Turk, is a common first name in the royal family. The Saudi-Turkish relationship has been in the basement since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 by Saudi agents: According to the Saudi narrative, Khashoggi - by the way, a name of Turkish origin, from kaşıkçi, the spoon maker - was a Muslim Brother sympathizer, that is, of that direction belonging to political Islam, to which Erdoğan is also counted and which is opposed by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt.

Characters from history

If Süleyman has lost his street in Riyadh, a long boulevard in Tajoura, in the Libyan capital Tripoli, will be named after him in the future: he expelled the Spaniards from there in 1551 - as Erdoğan is now with General Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and others .

The Arabs did not invent the use of history: Erdoğan likes to have characters from Turkish history march on official occasions. And campaigning in 2014 in Vienna, he addressed the Turkish audience as "Descendants of Suleyman the Magnificent". (Gudrun Harrer, June 26, 2020)