Listening to Tel Aviv, not hearing Ankara —Mahmud Sipra

Unlike most other world leaders who fell by the wayside for their support of the Iraq War, this young Turkish leader has not only survived the Bush administration but is standing tall on the ramparts today, ready to play a pivotal role in bringing not war but peace to a troubled region of the world

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may not have the years of experience that Israel’s President Shimon Peres brought to Davos last week, but they both managed to grab the limelight at an otherwise lackluster summit ritualistically held at this swish Swiss resort.

Prime Minister Erdogan, who heads one of the three Muslim countries that recognise Israel — the others being Egypt and Jordan — decided that this was as good an opportunity he was going to get to ask some hard questions of President Peres about Israel’s military excesses in Gaza. His blistering attack, delivered in Turkish, caused the usually cool and unflappable Peres to bristle.

Uncharacteristically, Mr Peres, it seems, reacted to Mr Erdogan’s inquisitorial with some huffy barbs of his own, and then in an extraordinary departure from diplomatic decorum, “he raised his voice”. The high decibel count instantly changed the political tone and tenor of the exchange by giving it a cultural overtone. Mr Peres ought to have known, given his own ethnicity, what it means to raise one’s voice at your peers in this part of the world.

Advantage Erdogan.

Stung, the Israeli president acidly remarked: “I wonder how Prime Minister Erdogan would have reacted had Turkey been on the receiving end of Hamas rockets.”


David Ignatius, the ill-equipped, ill-mannered moderator, then made the cardinal error of physically tapping Premier Erdogan’s shoulder, not once but twice. Now how many heads of state or prime ministers can you think of who would permit this fundamental breach of protocol? Ignatius is fortunate that the Turkish prime minister’s security detail were somewhat restrained in their response. Try doing that to President Obama or to Prime Minister Putin.

It gets better. Ignatius then proceeded to ingratiate himself to his select audience by disallowing Mr Erdogan equal time to answer Shimon Peres’ tirade. Choosing to exacerbate an already charged atmosphere by a few more notches, Ignatius, in a remarkable display of stupidity, extended the Israeli president a chance to have the last word, a crucial 15-minute opportunity that Mr Peres, who can be extremely articulate when justifying his country’s military adventurism, took full advantage of.

Incomprehensible too was the applause that greeted Mr Peres’ speech. What were they applauding? The bloodletting in Gaza or the gastronomic delights that awaited them in the dining hall?

Nonetheless, Set to Peres.

Out of his depth, Ignatius, caught in the crossfire between a head of state and a head of government, made matters noticeably worse when he continued to tactlessly interrupt the Turkish premier, ignoring the fact that his brazen act of bias of denying his distinguished guest the opportunity to respond by saying “Dinner is served, the people are hungry” was not going to go down well with either Mr Erdogan or the global audience watching this whole episode being played out on their television screens.

Predictably, his impudent conduct prompted an incensed Premier Erdogan to walk off in disgust proclaiming: “This is the end of Davos for me.”

President Peres reportedly apologised to Mr Erdogan, stating: “My remarks were not meant to be taken personally”. But then neither were Mr Erdogan’s, Mr Peres.

Advantage Erdogan.

Premier Erdogan returns to Turkey to a hero’s welcome.

Set to Erdogan. Anybody’s game.

There are many players on the international stage today that could feature in that memorable advertising campaign that once elegantly portrayed a particular brand of watch being favored by “men who guide the destinies of the world”. I am not aware if Prime Minister Erdogan wears that particular brand of watch, but everything he has so far done for his country eminently qualifies him for a place in that elite line-up labeled “Men of Destiny” standing on the world stage today.

Here are some of his notable achievements while Turkey has been under his watch:

Erdogan became Turkey’s prime minister in an election that few expected him to win with such an overwhelming mandate.

Since assuming office, he has successfully pulled his country out of the depths of a depression and effectively put Turkey’s economy back on the road to recovery.

He is the only elected leader of a Muslim country whose political capital has helped reinforce the status of his nation as the “Bridge between East and West” and as a potent regional player once again.

Erdogan is the only Islamic leader who stood up to George Bush and refused to be drawn into a war that would have put his country on a head on collision course with Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

It is Premier Erdogan who was responsible for the farsighted and statesman-like move to gently nudge former Pakistani President Musharraf towards opening up a dialogue with the Israeli leadership, which could have led to Pakistan recognising Israel. That Pakistan under Musharraf opted to wait until Palestine was declared “a sovereign independent state” was, in retrospect, a wise decision.

Today, Turkey, given its strategic importance and its considerable military and political clout, stands poised to play a role in the region with no hegemonic agenda of its own.

Unlike most other world leaders who fell by the wayside for their support of the Iraq War, this young Turkish leader has not only survived the Bush administration but is standing tall on the ramparts today, ready to play a pivotal role in bringing not war but peace to a troubled region of the world. The kind of “peace” that a man called Malcolm X spoke of once: “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

When Premier Erdogan walked off the stage in Davos, why didn’t the “delegates” and guests from other Muslim countries walk off with him? Or was the thought of missing out on the victuals on offer just too tempting and the rare opportunity of sharing even in a symbolic gesture to stand “As One” too much to expect from the arched eyebrows of the “Oh-I-See” crowd?

So much for missed opportunities!

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Article reproduced by permission of the Author and Daily Times.\02\05\story_5-2-2009_pg3_5

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