How Erdogan’s Israeli gambit may cost him Islamist support

Turkey’s president made a startling reversal this week in one of his long-held stances on a touchy subject, firing up Islamists who were already unhappy with the country’s recent rapprochement with Israel.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had always defended Turkey’s role in the disastrous Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, in which an aid flotilla attempted to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Erdogan described Israel’s actions as terrorism, recited the Quran for the flotilla victims at gatherings and criticized his domestic opponents frequently for not standing up against Israel. In July 2014, he spoke at a dinner and said, “If they [Mavi Marmara organizers] needed permission from an authority, we gave them permission.”

But on June 29, facing a strong backlash against the normalization agreement between Turkey and Israel on the domestic front, Erdogan ridiculed the Mavi Marmara organizers, asking them whom they had checked with before embarking on their journey to Gaza.

The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) was the main group leading the flotilla to Gaza and represented the victims’ families in the aftermath of the crisis. Israel considers the IHH a terror organization. Erdogan’s U-turn is understandable. The normalization agreement between Israel and Turkey seriously disappointed Turkey’s Islamists. On June 27, the IHH released a searing statement announcing it does not approve of the agreement and wants nothing to do with it. The IHH also noted that it would like to continue with its lawsuits against the Israeli soldiers involved in the incident, and asked Turkey’s parliament not to interfere with the IHH efforts.

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Ibrahim Sediyani, a journalist and prominent writer who was one of the participants on the Mavi Marmara, did not mince words when he criticized the agreement.

“Turkey has now officially recognized the blockade. Israel killed nine people on the ship, but Erdogan has now sunk the ship completely. None of the Mavi Marmara participants are pleased with this agreement,” which is being marketed as a victory, he said.

 

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