CAIRO: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a rock star welcome in Cairo where activists, women and the media gushed over the region’s new "hero" over his pro-Palestinian stand and his virulent criticism of Israel.
Erdogan, who on Tuesday kicked off a three-nation Arab Spring tour in Egypt, threw his weight behind Palestinian statehood during a keynote speech at the Arab League, bolstering his image as a regional leader.
His visit comes as activists who overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February are increasingly angry at their own leadership for backtracking on promises of reform.
Addressing Arab foreign ministers, Erdogan said the recognition of a Palestinian state is an "obligation" and reiterated strained ties with Israel would not improve unless the Jewish state apologizes over the death of nine Turks killed in a raid on an aid flotilla last year.
"Before the end of this year we will see Palestine at the United Nations in a very different situation," he said. "It is time for the flag of Palestine to be hoisted at the United Nations."
His statements, echoing sentiments on the Arab street, may have unnerved Egypt’s military leadership which is scrambling to smooth over ties with Israel after its embassy in Cairo was attacked.
The attack on the mission, in which crowds smashed through an external security wall, tossed embassy papers from balconies and tore down the Israeli flag, was the worst since Israel set up its mission in Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state, in 1979.
It was the latest episode in worsening relations between Egypt and Israel since the killing of five Egyptian policemen last month on their common border as Israel hunted militants after a deadly attack.
The Turkish premier was greeted with rapturous enthusiasm during his whirlwind Cairo visit which saw him meet political and religious leaders, youth activists and appear on talk shows.
On Wednesday, Erdogan met with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group, including its leader Mohammed Badie, who expressed "gratitude" for Turkey’s "dignified" position in Davos, Switzerland.
Erdogan’s hero status was further cemented when he stormed out of a debate on Gaza after a heated debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos economic forum in 2009.
The Turkish leader also met Egypt’s presidential candidates before attending the opening of the Egyptian-Turkish business forum in Cairo.
Erdogan "is a man who has leadership qualities, inspiring to those around him," wrote columnist Moataz Abdel Fatah in the independent daily Al-Shorouk.
"We need someone like him… strong, with experience, trustworthy, honest and who respects laws and the constitution," Abdel Fatah said.
Erdogan’s popularity in the Arab world has stemmed mainly from his strong confrontations with Israel, at a time when regional leaders were seen by their people as impotent when it comes to the Jewish state and the West.
In Cairo, he was greeted at the airport by 3,000 supporters and was met with wild applause and chants by crowds waving Turkish flags during his tour.
"Lend us Erdogan for a month!" wrote columnist Mohammed Amin in the liberal daily Al-Wafd.
Egypt’s leadership before the January 25 revolution failed to engage with some regional powers going as far as "rejecting Turkey and Iran, preferring (to deal with) Israel," Amin said.
"But Erdogan knows that Egypt can lead the region and if it rises, the whole Arab street will rise. This is something that the (previous regime) failed to understand," Amin wrote.
An editorial in the state-owned Egyptian Gazette hailed "Turkey’s status and the weight it has gained in a matter of a few years… (which) has encouraged Erdogan to stand on par with Israel in a balancing game."
Social networking sites were abuzz with members heaping praise on the Turkish leader.
"Mubarak and Erdogan had the same opportunities. One is being cursed in heaven and on earth, the other is being sent blessings from everywhere," Ahmed Reda wrote on Twitter.
"Erdogan is the rock star," wrote Faysal in another tweet.
"He’s a real man: strong, composed, elegant and handsome," swooned a woman, Safaa Abdelmeguid. "What a hero."
Much admired on the Arab street, Erdogan is on an Arab Spring tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya where pro-democracy uprisings unseated veteran autocratic leaders.