Politics
President Barack Obama smiles as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during their joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Obama highlights support for Islamist priorities in Turkey, Egypt, Syria

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama used a press statement Wednesday night to signal his growing support for Islamist political priorities in Turkey, Syria and Egypt.

“They are cooperating to push Egypt, to force them, to threaten their aid, to get Muslim Brotherhood people back into the government,” said Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center.

The announcement came in an evening statement from the White House, which said the president had accepted a phone call from Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and both had “agreed to have their teams continue to coordinate closely to promote our shared interests.”

Erdogan’s phone call came shortly after Obama gave a speech about domestic politics to a U.S. Marine Corps audience.

Erdogan is an Islamist who has worked for the last several years to reverse Turkey’s long-standing secular laws. Since 2003, he and his Islamist deputies have jailed many journalists, soldiers and critics, and have forcibly suppressed demonstrations in June and July by Western-minded protesters in Istanbul, Turkey’s main city.

“He’s a revolutionary and a radical islamist,” said Rubin.

In January 2012, Obama told Newsweek magazine that Erdogan is one of five foreign leaders with whom he shares “friendships and the bonds of trust.”

The White House’s statement showcased Obama’s support for Erdogan’s foreign policies policies in Syria and Egypt.

In Syria, Obama and Erdogan are backing a rebel army led by Syria’s hardline Muslim Brotherhood. The army, dubbed the Free Syrian Army, is a loosely organized rebel force, headed by a so-called Supreme Military Council.

Erdogan and Obama have sent non-military and military aid to the council, which is trying to depose the Syrian dictatorship, which is backed by Iran and Russia.

However, other countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia, are sponsoring a rival rebel force in Syria. This force has close ties to al-Qaida, which is a spinoff and rival of the international Brotherhood movement.

The two groups share the same ultimate goal — the establishment of a regional Islamic dictatorship, or Caliphate — but favor different strategies. Al-Qaida says the goal can’t be achieve without attacks on the United States, such as the 9/11 atrocity in 2001, while the Brotherhood is trying to win power in Arab countries through elections or force.

The joint statement underlined Obama’s support for the Syrian Brotherhood movement, while noting its rivalry with the al-Qaida forces.

“The President and Prime Minister discussed the danger of foreign extremists in Syria and agreed on the importance of supporting a unified and inclusive Syrian opposition,” said the statement.

The joint statement also suggested that Obama shares Erdogan’s goal of gradually reversing the Egyptian army’s recent removal of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, led by Mohammed Morsi.

“The President and Prime Minister expressed concern about the situation in Egypt and a shared commitment to supporting a democratic and inclusive way forward,” said the statement.

In several recent statements, U.S. officials have said that the military-backed governments should schedule new elections rapidly, and invite some Muslim Brotherhood officials to serve as ministers in an interim government.

“They’re pressing for the creation of a coalition government,” said Rubin.

The same demand for cooperation was delivered Aug. 6 by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham during a visit to Egypt, which was requested by Obama.

Both politicians repeated their previous claims that the military’s July takeover amid massive public demonstrations against the Brotherhood was a “coup.”

The claim is important, because U.S. law curbs aid to governments that gain power via a coup.

Obama’s policies are widely seen as pro-Brotherhood by supporters of the new Egyptian government, and the new government is blaming the Brotherhood group for continuing political turmoil in Egypt. The administration has said that it supports a democratic process, not any political entity.

Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, said Wednesday that the government will not make further concessions to the Brotherhood. “The train of the future has left the station. … It’s moving forward, and all of us have to catch it,” he said, according to an Al-Jazeera report.

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