* Erdogan to set out Turkey's Middle East vision
* Ankara retooling foreign policy in wake of revolts
* Erdogan to cast himself as champion of Muslim world
By Ibon Villelabeitia
ANKARA, Sept 11 Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan
will press Turkey's ambitions to become a leading political
power in the Muslim world this week in trips to Egypt, Tunisia
and Libya, three arenas in a wave of popular revolts that have
reshaped the region.
Erdogan's "Arab Spring tour" comes against a backdrop of
escalating tensions with former friend Israel over the killing
of nine Turkish activists last year -- a standoff that has
strengthened support for Ankara in large parts of North Africa
and the Middle East.
Arab countries, in the throes of popular uprisings, have
watched the economic growth and influence of Turkey's secular
democracy with a mixture of fascination and trepidation.
Under Erdogan's AK Party, rooted in political Islam, Turkey
has boosted political and commercial ties with a region the
country ruled under the Ottoman empire.
Last week, Erdogan threatened to back up his growing
diplomatic clout with military action by saying he would
dispatch the navy to protect flotillas against Israeli patrols
-- an announcement analysts said could also alarm Arab powers.
The Arab revolts have forced Turkey to rethink its foreign
policy, particularly in Syria, where former ally President
Bashar al-Assad has defied Ankara's calls to end a bloody
crackdown on protesters, and in Libya, where Turkey had
billion-dollar investments before Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.
Besides seeking closer economic and military ties with the
new rulers of regional heavyweight Egypt and oil-rich Libya,
analysts say Erdogan will use his Sept 12-15 trip to cast
himself as the champion of the Muslim world.
Erdogan is expected to give a speech on Monday at Cairo
University, where his aides say he will set out Turkey's vision
for the region.
"With the resounding victory of the elections in June,
Erdogan has complete control at home and now he wants to assert
himself as the leader in the Muslim world and the Middle East,"
said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst.
CONCERN IN WASHINGTON
Erdogan's visit to Egypt -- the first by a Turkish leader in
15 years -- will be closely watched by Israel and by the United
States, which has seen with alarm the deterioration of ties
between Turkey and Israel and between Israel and Egypt.
Israel's peace deal with Cairo has come under increasing
pressure since the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak. The Jewish state would regard with suspicion signs of
closer alliance between Egypt and Turkey at a time Ankara has
taken a more confrontational attitude towards Israel.
Erdogan will meet the head of Egypt's ruling military
council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister
Essam Sharaf and representatives of the pro-democracy movement
that ousted Mubarak.
"Turkey is using the Arab-Israeli conflict and the recent
rising tension in the Arab region against Israel to publicise
itself," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, political analyst at the
Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
"All its moves against Israel are only meant to promote
itself as a political power in the Arab region and spread its
influence on the new generation of the Arab youth who are
longing for change and power."
Ankara has already downgraded diplomatic relations with
Israel and halted defence trade following the Jewish state's
confirmation last week that it would not apologise for the 2010
assault on a Turkish boat challenging its Gaza blockade in which
nine Turkish activists were killed.
But Ankara is likely to stop short of doing anything to
alienate Washington, said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at
"At the end of the day, Turkey sided with Washington on its
key policies in the region -- hosting NATO's radar system,
condemning Assad and distancing itself from Iran," Hakura said.
"Americans can live with Turkey's emotional outbursts
unless, of course, they translate into a naval confrontation but
I don't think that will happen."
Erdogan would be the first head of government to visit Libya
since rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's 42-year-old rule entered
Hesitant at first to dump one-time friend Gaddafi and to
back NATO operations, Turkey is taking a lead role in efforts to
rebuild Libya, eyeing billion dollar deals.
(Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh in Cairo; Editing by