Even in the closing weeks of America’s presidential campaign, the grisly murder of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty made an impression. As part of a civics lesson, Mr. Paty showed his class of 13-year-olds the Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Soon afterward, Mr. Paty was attacked and beheaded in the street. President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has been moving right on law and order as the electoral competition with Marine Le Pen of the National Rally heats up, announced a series of measures aimed at limiting what he called “Islamist separatism.”
The reaction from Muslim religious and political leaders around the world ranged from supportive (the United Arab Emirates and some imams) to perfunctory (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) to sulfurous, with Malaysian former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad helpfully tweeting that Muslims had the right to kill “millions of French people” in retribution for French colonialism.
But the most significant reaction came from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is embroiled in confrontations with France in the Eastern Mediterranean. “Macron needs mental treatment,” Mr. Erdogan said, calling for a Turkish boycott against French products. “What is the problem of this person Macron with Muslims and Islam?”
That a controversy over Islamism should turn into a diplomatic standoff between Turkey and France highlights the dramatic changes in the Middle East and the Mediterranean that the incoming Biden administration will have to address. Since the Democrats were last in office, Saudi Arabia has begun to disengage from the business of supporting radical Islamism, and Turkey and Qatar have picked up the fallen banner. When Europeans these days talk about foreign funding for radical preachers, Turkey is often the source. And when Gulf Arabs like the Emiratis talk about the danger of radical Islamist regimes, they worry more about Turkey even than Iran.
What we are looking at is the rise of a new transregional alignment. Think of it as the Axis of Abraham, linking Mr. Macron’s France with Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the U.A.E. While some observers have pooh-poohed the new peace agreements between the Gulf Arabs and Israel (and the clear Saudi support for them) as empty theater intended to help prop up President Trump, in reality the Abraham Accords reflect a major shift in regional dynamics.
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