By Onur Ant
It’s been more than a century since Arabs revolted against the rule of the Ottoman Empire. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thrust himself into the center of that World War I confrontation Wednesday to defend the honor of a legendary Turkish officer slighted in the U.A.E.
Erdogan lashed out at United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for sharing a Twitter post accusing Fahreddin Pasha of thievery, kidnapping other crimes against the local population. “These are Erdogan’s ancestors and their history with Arabs and Muslims,” the post said.
The Turkish president was not going to take that jab at him and the fabled Ottoman governor lying down: Pasha is revered in Turkey for trying to prevent Arab forces backed by T.E. Lawrence from capturing Medina, one of Islam’s holiest cities and now part of Saudi Arabia.
“Hey, the pathetic person who is slandering us: Where were your forefathers when Fahreddin Pasha was defending Medina?” he told a meeting of village and neighborhood officials at the presidential palace in Ankara. “Arab people are our brothers. That said, the enmity of some leaders in Arab countries is meant to hide their own incompetence and even treason.”
He didn’t mention the foreign minister by name.
Erdogan may see some shared history with the historic figure to whose defense he rallied. Like Pasha, he, too, sometimes finds himself jousting with fellow Muslims. Gulf Arabs, for example, abhor his decision to draw closer to the Iranian-Russian alliance supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in.
He also has adopted the role of defender of Islam. Most recently, he’s taken the lead in denouncing President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, convening the Muslim world’s largest political bloc, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, for a high-profile extraordinary session in Istanbul.