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Iran hits at Turkey’s ‘secular Islam’ 14 décembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Religion, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) Wednesday, December 14, 2011, p. 9

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran has criticised Turkey’s secular system of government as an unsuitable example for countries involved in the Arab uprisings, in the latest sign of growing tension between the two regional powers.

Ali-Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told a press conference yesterday that Turkey’s « secular Islam » was a version of western liberal democracy and unacceptable for countries experiencing « Islamic awakening ».

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister, has travelled to Egypt and Tunisia championing his country’s secular institutions, which he argues allow a conservative, devout social outlook such as his own to thrive.

Rivalry between the neighbours is intensifying as they lock horns over Ankara’s decision to host a Nato missile defence base, the fate of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, and the direction of Arab uprisings .

Iran and Turkey are economically interdependent and both have problem neighbours, so are keen to play down tensions. But strains are growing, particularly over their ambition to influence the region.

While Turkey relies on Iranian gas imports to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Ankara’s refusal to impose broad sanctions against Tehran provide the Islamic republic with a vital source of commerce and financing.

The tension underlines how much the Arab uprisings have transformed the region’s political landscape. It is little more than 18 months since Turkey defied its western allies and brokered a shortlived compromise deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, the height of its ambition to act as interlocutor with Tehran.

« They [Iran] support Assad no matter what, » a Turkish official told the Financial Times. « They are not happy with the defence shield. They are not happy with us getting involved in Iraq or Syria. »

He said the rivalry, though rarely explicit, had « always been there ».

Turkey broke with Mr Assad months ago, complaining of broken promises over his crackdown on opponents and is spearheading an international campaign for him to step down.

But the loss of Iran’s main regional ally would be a big setback to Tehran, not least because Syria provides Iran with a connection to Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group.

Tension between Ankara and Tehran takes place against a broader backdrop, however. Mr Velayati’s comments came two days after Hossein Ebrahimi, an Iranian member of parliament, became the second public figure there in a matter of weeks to threaten Turkey over its missile defence radar base. If Iran were attacked, he said, its first target would be the base being built in Malatya.

Senior Iranian officials have told their Turkish counterparts not to take such comments seriously – but Iran makes clear its fury over the base.

Turkish officials reply that the Nato programme does not specifically target Tehran – Iran’s name was excised from the programme’s goals after strenuous Turkish lobbying – and Nato will not share radar information with Israel, Iran’s enemy. But since such information will be shared by the US, Ankara’s assurances have failed to placate Iran.

The two countries have been competing in Iraq, where Turkey last year championed the cause of Iyad Allawi, the secular Shia who sought to be prime minister. The post was retained by Nouri al-Maliki, who was given increased support by Iran.

Mr Maliki told the Wall Street Journal this week he was more worried about Turkey’s role in the region than that of Iran. By contrast, some Turkish analysts see Iran expanding its role in Iraq as it is put on the defensive in Syria.

« We are also downplaying it, but the competition is ongoing, especially in Iraq, » said Suat Kiniklioglu, a former Turkish ruling party MP and director of the Centre for Strategic Communication, an Ankara-based think-tank.

« Once US troops are out this month, competition is likely to increase over Iraq, and if Assad falls, Turkish-Iranian tensions might increase even further. »

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