When boxing legend Muhammad Ali died last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of the first to say he would be attending the funeral, taking place Friday in Ali’s Kentucky home town of Louisville. But now that the day of the funeral has actually come around, Erdogan is not there.
Instead, the president’s office has said that Erdogan is cutting his visit to the United States short to fly back home. No explanation was offered for the move, leaving plenty of room for speculation.
Erdogan was initially on the roster of speakers on the funeral — a list that includes a number of famous names, such as former president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal. However, on Monday, Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell had said that two unnamed speakers had been added to the program, meaning that foreign guests Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan would no longer be able to make an address. Gunnell told reporters that the two world leaders had been “gracious and understood.” But there were a number of suggestions that perhaps Erdogan had been removed from the list not just for scheduling reasons.
Erdogan did attend Thursday night’s funeral prayer service for Ali. According to Turkish media reports, Erdogan had hoped to lay a piece from the cloth covering the Kaaba in Mecca on Ali’s coffin during the service, or Jenazah, but the event’s organizers had turned down this request, along with another to have a top Turkish cleric read from the Koran during the ceremony.