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Erdogan pitches Turkey's democratic model on 'Arab Spring' tour

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined hands with Libya's new leaders at Friday prayers today and promised to help their revolution succeed.

By Alexander Christie-MillerCorrespondent / September 16, 2011

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (l.) and Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil wave to people during a rally at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli on Friday, Sept. 16.

Suhaib Salem/Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

Given the cheering throngs who greeted Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Libya and Egypt this month, one could be forgiven for thinking he was a rock star.

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Few images of Turkey's expanding influence are more powerful than of Mr. Erdogan joining hands with Libya's new leaders for Friday prayers today.

"After we thank God, we thank our friend Mr. Erdogan, and after him all the Turkish people," prayer leader Salem al-Sheikhi told the crowd of several thousand in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square. Erdogan knelt in the front row beside Mustafa Ahmed Jalil, chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council.

"Our hands are clasped with those of the Turkish people," said Mr. Sheikhi. "We will never forget what you did for us."

Erdogan replied in kind afterward, turning the prayer session into a rally where Turkish flags commingled with new revolutionary ones. "Turkey will fight with you until you take all your victory," he said. "You proved to all the world that nothing can stand in the way of what the people want."

Indeed, the Turkish prime minister's "Arab Spring tour" has been a hit as he makes his way across North Africa extolling Turkey as a democratic model for fellow Muslims who have cast off their dictators.

As the elected leader of a thriving Muslim democracy, Erdogan portrays himself as uniquely placed to encourage an orderly transition from autocracy to democracy – one that will rein in the more extremist Muslim groups unleashed by the Arab Spring.

But while Erdogan's message of secular democracy may resonate with the West, the foundations of his growing prestige are worrying to US leaders. As his Islam-rooted party has increased its influence, Erdogan has taken a tougher stance against Israel, which he accuses of oppressing the Palestinian people and flouting international law.

Some say he risks a breach with the West by antagonizing Israel, but others contend he is offering a type of Muslim leadership that Europe and the US would do well to heed.

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