Arab media coverage of the Turkish elections has been far from monolithic. For some, Erdoğan’s regime is an inspiring model since Erdoğan managed to defeat Turkish secularism and remove the military from the political scene. Erdoğan’s success in building a pioneering economic system—at least during the first ten years of his rule—has also remained inspiring to many.
However, other media voices have rejected Erdoğan’s political and military interventions in the region, and some media coverage reflected the idea that he has « eradicated » Turkish democracy, suppressed freedom of expression, and violated human rights.
Media based in Arab states that share close ties and common interests with Turkey have unsurprisingly portrayed Erdoğan’s close electoral victory in a positive light. Those countries included Qatar, Algeria, Morocco, the Libyan Government of National Unity (GNU), the Palestinian Authority (PA), and several Islamic movements in the region.
In particular, media outlets in these countries portrayed Erdoğan‘s win as a victory for Islam over secularism, a defeat of the West, and a sign of hope for causes such as the Palestinian issue.
In Qatar, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani rushed to congratulate Erdoğan in a tweet, calling the incumbent president “my dear brother” and expressing his hopes that Erdoğan will achieve the aspirations of the Turkish people. Al-Thani also emphasized that the strong relations between the two states would continue.
Parallel with its government’s reaction, Qatari media praised Erdoğan’s victory. For example, an Al Jazeera article commented that President Erdoğan has proven once again that he is an experienced leader, and that he is worthy of his position because God endowed him with Islamic faith, spirit, political wisdom, and a sensitive strategic sense.
Other Qatari media figures reacted to Erdoğan’s victory in a conspiratorial context. For example, Al Jazeera media anchor Ahmed Mansour conceived Erdoğan’s win as a victory of the Turkish people over U.S. President Joe Biden, who planned to “oust Erdoğan”—a reference to a statement made by Biden during an electoral rally in 2020 in which he said “Washington should encourage Erdoğan’s opponents to defeat him electorally,” though also noting that he “should not be ousted in a coup.”
Official congratulations from a number of other Arab leaders echoed this support. In Palestine, PA President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Erdoğan and stressed the historically warm relations between the two countries. Abbas also praised Erdoğan for his firm position in supporting the Palestinian people and their “just cause. »
In Libya, Prime Minister of the Libyan GNU, Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, congratulated Erdoğan on the presidential election and praised Erdoğan’s victory as a renewal of the Turkish people’s confidence in the successful projects and policies of the president.
In this context, an article in Libya Al-Mostakbal, a local Libyan newspaper, commented that Erdoğan’s win “indicated that Turkey would continue to play a positive role in Libya” through three main files: the maritime agreement and energy memorandum, the military agreement, and the restoration and completion of construction projects.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune congratulated Erdoğan for his win and attributed the reelection to Erdoğan’s wisdom and rational policy. The Algerian media was consistent with its government in supporting Erdoğan. According to the Elkhabar newspaper, Erdoğan’s victory reflected the “awareness of the Turkish people and their democratic maturity.”
Likewise, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi congratulated Erdoğan for his win, and pro-regime media anchor Amr Adib similarly maintained that the way in which the elections were managed deserves respect and appreciation.
The head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, and Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid all sent telegrams congratulating Erdoğan for his win. In this vein, the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman attributed the joy of the Arab street with Erdoğan’s win to a frustration with their own rulers, who have failed to secure even simple services for their subjects.
A number of key Islamic-oriented movements and parties across the region applauded Erdoğan’s victory on the basis of the president’s Islamic and religious discourse and his close relations with many Islamic movements.
For example, Hamas issued a statement expressing their hope that Erdoğan’s victory would be a starting point for furthering the Palestinian cause and supporting Hamas’ establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, also congratulated Erdoğan for his electoral victory.
Mahmoud Hussein, Acting General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood sent a warm congratulations to Erdoğan, saying God would grant success to Erdoğan and the elected parliament to complete the building of a “Turkish renaissance.”
Other Islamic figures who congratulated Erdoğan include Kamal al-Khatib, the vice president of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Khamis al-Khanjar, the head of the Sovereignty Alliance in Iraq, Abdelilah Benkirane, Secretary General of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, M0hammad Abdullah al-Yadumi, head of the Supreme Committee of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, and members of the Movement of Society for Peace in Algeria.
In contrast to the rest of the region and despite the current rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, media outlets in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been hostile to Erdoğan throughout the election cycle, instead supporting Erdoğan’s rival Kılıçdaroğlu.
Key Gulf media sources such as Sky News Arabia, Al Arabiya, Asharq Al-Awsat, and Al Hadath worked to discredit Erdoğan’s win and popularity, questioning the integrity of the elections and simultaneously portraying Kılıçdaroğlu as the only candidate capable of saving the Turkish economy.
Since the start of the first round of the Turkish elections, the Emirati channel Sky News Arabia has been reporting targeted—and sometimes even inaccurate— information about Erdoğan. For example, the channel tweeted that Erdoğan slapped a child while standing in line to cast votes. When it was revealed later that the child was his grandson and that he was caressing him, Sky News Arabia rushed to remove the tweet. Following the announcement of Erdoğan’s win, Sky News Arabia likewise posted a tweet emphasizing that the Turkish lira had fallen 20.05 against the dollar in the aftermath of his victory.
At the official level, an advisor of the UAE President, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, posted a tweet pointedly commenting that Erdoğan only won the election by four points. In the tweet, Abdulla suggested that almost half of the Turkish people did not vote for Erdoğan and did not want him as president. Abdullah’s tweet received critical responses from many journalists and social media users.
For example, Al Jazeera journalist Khadija Benguenna argued that those four points counted for millions of votes. Other social media users claimed that Abdulla’s tweet showed « little understanding » of democracy, and that Abdulla should be embarrassed that his own country has no elections of its own.
Moreover, the Saudi Channel Al-Arabiya specifically broadcasted the first round of elections from ballot stations in opposition-dominated areas, making a point to say that the number of voters who came to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu was much higher than those who came to vote for Erdoğan.
For example, a channel correspondent interviewed a young woman who claimed that she came to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu because of the deteriorating economic situation. She added that the poor would remain poor if they voted for Erdoğan.
Following the declaration of the preliminary results of the second round of the Turkish elections, the Saudi Al-Hadath TV channel highlighted the sadness and frustration felt by Turks living in opposition areas in Istanbul.
Though the Turkish opposition acknowledged their loss and did not refer to any suspicions of fraud, some Saudi media professionals, including Adwan al-Ahmari, continued to question the integrity of the elections after the runoff round, hinting that fraud was involved. Al-Ahmari also tweeted about the exaggerated impact of the Turkish election results on the Arab world, calling it laughable and asserting that both the Muslim Brotherhood’s and Erdoğan’s projects have reached an end.
Though most Egyptian media outlets were balanced in their coverage and avoided criticizing Erdoğan—perhaps on account of the current diplomatic rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey— popular TV anchor Ahmed Moussa accused Erdoğan of rigging the elections.
At the presidential level in both Syria and Tunisia, not much was said about the Turkish elections or Erdoğan’s victory. However, domestic media in both states has been critical of Erdoğan’s policies and supported his rival, Kılıçdaroğlu.
In Tunisia, President Kais Saied’s silence comes as a surprise since Erdoğan was among the first to congratulate Saied following his presidential victory in 2019. This attitude could be attributed to the diplomatic crisis that recently erupted between the two Presidents, when Erdoğan issued a statementsuggesting Saied’s decision to dissolve the Tunisian Parliament in 2021 was an abuse of democracy.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s silence was a bit less surprising considering the rift between Erdoğan and Assad as a result of regular Turkish military interventions in Syria. It is worth noting that before the Turkish elections, Assad conditioned his future meetings with Erdoğan on the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territories. Pro-regime media in both states have been in line with their governments and worked to discredit Erdoğan and portray him as a dictator.
Although negative Arab media coverage of Erdoğan’s victory was often aligned with state-level hostilities toward Erdoğan’s government, Arab leaders in these countries will likely shift to a pragmatic approach towards Turkey, realizing that they have to deal with Erdoğan for the next five years at least.
In this context, signs of a deepening political rapprochement with Turkey have already emerged on the Saudi and Emirati front. Just a few weeks before the final runoff, Saudi Arabia deposited $5 billion in Turkey’s central bank to help its struggling economy. Likewise, the UAE signed a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Turkey.
In Egypt, rapprochement is even more fast-paced. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Cairo in March to meet with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry for the first time since bilateral relations were severed about a decade ago.
Following the meeting, the two sides announced in a press meeting that ties will be restored to the ambassadorial level. These examples of rapprochement are early indications of the pragmatic policy that Arab states will probably pursue in their future relations with Turkey.
This article was originally published by The Washington Institute.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.