Voices from the Arab Press: Erdogan is looking for friends

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020 (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020
Akhbar Al-Youm, Egypt, April 7
Things have gotten much worse for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The number of doors slammed in the Turkish premier’s face has grown; an inevitable result of his confrontational policy with many countries around the world. Now Erdogan is desperately trying to find a way out of his country’s political isolation, especially with the change of administration in Washington, DC. 
After years of flexing his muscles to European heads of state, alongside ambitious military adventures abroad, Erdogan has finally seemed to realize that he has no choice but to change his attitude. Turkey, under Erdogan’s leadership, has really managed to agitate its Western allies. It intervened in the Libyan crisis by sending arms and mercenaries to the country, supported the government of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia, and launched gas explorations off the coast of Cyprus, which nearly resulted in a war. Within the Middle East, Turkey’s relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are characterized by severe mistrust, as a result of Erdogan’s extensive support for the Muslim Brotherhood. 
Add to that Turkey’s faltering economic situation, the continued decline of the Turkish pound, and the internal political problems facing the ruling Justice and Development Party – and you quickly understand the tricky situation Erdogan has found himself in. 
Erdogan is desperately trying to turn a new page in his country’s foreign relations by toning down his provocative rhetoric against the European Union, with the hope that Brussels will cancel the sanctions imposed on Turkey after the gas exploration crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean and the intervention in the Libyan conflict. After all, European investments constitute two-thirds of global investments in Turkey, and the recent sanctions have caused great damage to the Turkish economy. 
Further, Erdoğan had to salvage one of his country’s largest commercial markets for food and industrial products, Egypt, by taking measures to woo the Egyptian government over, including silencing an Egyptian opposition satellite channel broadcasting from Turkey. In short, Erdoğan abandoned his long-time partners in search of new adventures and hope for more power. Now that his grandiose conquests have failed, he has finally realized the importance of friendships on a rainy day. 
– Faisal Mohammed Bin Sabt
Al-Etihad, UAE, April 8
During the first 10 weeks of his presidency, US President Joe Biden appeared flustered about China and Russia. He sent contradictory signs about his foreign policy stances in respect to the two superpowers, without any clear or decisive action. But then, the Biden administration severed its tone with both countries. 
While previous administrations preferred to settle disputes with China and Russia behind closed doors, Biden decided to put his disagreements with Beijing and Moscow out in the open. The US president described Putin as a “heartless killer,” while his secretary of state criticized China in front of a group of journalists following the strategic dialogue held in Alaska in late March. However, despite Biden’s admirable stance and decision to protect his country’s strategic interests, picking a simultaneous fight with China and Russia is a dangerous bet. It could easily push the two countries, Russia and China, to join hands and cooperate with one another, in an effort to weaken the United States even further. 
We’ve already seen signs of this happening. Iran and China recently announced a 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which consists of extensive Chinese investments in the Iranian economy in exchange for heavily subsidized Iranian oil exports to Beijing. In light of Biden’s recent attacks on Putin, it would come as no surprise if Russia were to announce its own plan to sign a cooperation agreement with Iran, especially given Moscow’s growing presence in neighboring Syria. 
There is no doubt that Biden’s hawkish policy is a product of domestic, not foreign, considerations. Biden is attempting to prove his superiority over previous administrations and appease segments of the population who believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 US elections. He wants to be perceived as a strong leader who can talk about mending the rifts inside American society while using an iron fist against America’s enemies. He’s also hoping to win the support of human rights advocates who want countries like Russia and China held accountable for their actions. 
So far, most of the tension between the US, China, and Russia has been limited to words and rhetoric. But there are also actions on the ground. Biden decided to launch a quadripartite security dialogue with Australia, India, and Japan, in a manner indicating America’s effort to build a cordon around China. But Biden must also be careful of not provoking the two superpowers too much, lest he find himself in a full-on confrontation with one, or both, of them. The key is to find the right balance between protecting America’s interests and taking irreversible steps that would aggravate America’s enemies. 
This is a fine line to tread, and the Biden administration will have to do so very carefully.
 – Waheed Abdul Majeed
Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, April 8
Have Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia entered the so-called “gray zone” between war and peace, following the failure of the Kinshasa negotiations? 
Egypt and Sudan reported last week that the latest round of talks with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam ended with no agreements. The question of what will happen next looms in the air, especially given the international community’s lack of involvement in the dispute. The only county that expressed interest in the talks is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has taken a clear and explicit stance on the grave danger threatening 100 million Egyptians and 20 million Sudanese who may find themselves in a drought. This goes without mentioning the potential risk to the African continent as a whole, which will have to deal with the repercussions and spillover effects of this situation. 
There is no doubt that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi demonstrated admirable leadership and resilience in his handling of this issue. El-Sisi repeatedly acknowledged Ethiopia’s right to development, growth and prosperity – but demanded that this won’t happen at Egypt’s expense. On the Sudanese side, the statements of Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas did not differ much from what el-Sisi said. Abbas indicated that all options are on the table for Sudan, from going to the UN Security Council to the use of force. 
The statements issued by Ethiopia confirm the intentions of the Ethiopians to proceed with the dam’s second-filling phase without the slightest consideration of the numerous warnings headed their way. The Ethiopian mentality seems to revolve around the idea of unilateral action with no consideration to others. If people get hurt as a result of their project, so be it. Ethiopia was never interested in reaching a fair and just resolution with Egypt and Sudan. During 10 years of futile marathon negotiations, Addis Ababa took advantage of the political turmoil brought about by the Arab Spring in order to promote its own interests. It rejected all efforts for effective mediation, including those proposed by the African Union, United Nations, European Union and the United States. 
The Ethiopian intentions are clear and not hidden from anyone. The recent televised statements made by the Ethiopian foreign minister exposed Ethiopia’s plans to provoke Egypt and Sudan even further by selling the excess Nile water to other countries once the dam is fully filled. But whether Ethiopia acknowledges this or not, the fact remains that no one will benefit from a flare-up of the situation. The only way to avoid a full-fledged war is to work together toward a common solution that is mediated by regional and international players. A look at the recent crisis in the Suez Canal should suffice in reminding us just how disastrous a catastrophic dash into the unknown could be for the region and, indeed, for the world.
– Emil Amin 
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb