Will Turkey rethink its Mideast foreign policy?
So I’m quite familiar with Turkey and its politics. I had predicted the failure of Najmuddin Erbakan — the father of political Islam in Turkey. He failed due to his lack of political realism and not understanding that running a state was different from running an ideological party. The latter has to do with a religious organization with stiff discipline confined to its members alone, whereas the former is about a state for all its citizens regardless of their ethnic, sectarian or national backgrounds. For this reason, Erbakan lost power after being prime minister for two years, in 1996 and 1997.
The policies of the current and 25th prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is somewhat different. He has helped Turkey become a major economic and political player in the world. The problem with Turkish Islamists, however, is that they want to be the hand of America in the region while restoring past Ottoman glory. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu once stated in his book “Strategic Depth” that Turkey was looking to establish a new Ottoman Commonwealth to restore the past but with a modern outlook.
The Turks convinced the American administration that the peoples of the East were eager for change, wanted regular changes in power, and were anxious to have their democratic freedoms. The American question was about the alternative and who would guarantee the interests of the United States and Israel. The answer was the Muslim brotherhood. Against this background, they agreed at a meeting in Istanbul in 2008 to sketch out a road map for the Arab Spring.
If anything, the Turks had a wishful and superficial vision. They live in a secular state while seeking to extend their influence in the Arab and Muslim worlds. For this reason, their policy was oriented towards Islam with an ideological flavor. They thought that their control of the Muslim Brotherhood would be enough to boost Turkish presence and influence regionally and internationally. Hence, they cultivated relationships with Hamas, the Nahda party in Tunisia, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria.
Many independent observers have come to the realization that Turkey has double standards in its foreign policy. Torn between their support for Islamists and the Islamists lack of respect for the rules of the democratic game, the Turks let their allies in Egypt slide into confrontation with the Egyptian army and people on the street. They allowed them to impose the values of the Brotherhood and cancel the values of the state. Unfortunately, the Turks did not offer them advice on how to run a state but were happy for the emotional and religious discourse.
The Turks failed to help the Brotherhood in Syria like Iran is helping their Shiite and Alawite allies in that country. It is known that one of the undeclared intentions of Turkey is to destroy Syrian infrastructure and industry to create a conduit for its own industrial products to reach the markets of the Gulf.
The region has rejected Turkish policy because of its condescending nature. It only reminds the Arabs of their own colonial history. The talk about a neo-Ottoman empire scares Arabs because Turkey is dealing with the Brotherhood and not with states. As its interests dominate its policy, Turkey has proven to have a shortsighted view of forces at play in the region. It made a grave mistake when it limited its dealing to the Brotherhood of Egypt rather than Egyptian society as a whole.
Adding insult to injury, Erdogan refused to acknowledge the change in Egypt. Worse, he urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Egypt and to punish the military. Interestingly, Ankara never criticized the rule of the Brotherhood in Egypt and the Brotherhood’s experience in Egypt did not remind Erdogan of Erbakan’s failed term. Sadly, they dealt with Egypt as if Egypt was nothing but a political party with an affiliation to Ankara.
Today, Turkey is experiencing a crisis in its relations with Cairo. The Turks have misgivings about military coups but have not wanted to listen to talk about the Islamists’ repression of other civil society forces. They are also sensitive to the failure of political Islam in Egypt and Tunisia. Let us not forget that Islamists in Turkey are facing a domestic crisis and a Turkish Spring of their own.
Needless to say, Turkey was stunned by what took place in Egypt. The Turks had the chance to intervene in Egypt to defuse the tension and to create a political agreement but they missed that opportunity. They just supported the Islamists and for this reason were shocked by the change. In the process, they also lost some friends.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia dealt with Egypt as a state and not as a political party. Saudi Arabia realized that the Brotherhood was obsessed with changing the state to fit their agenda of having total power. For this reason, Saudi Arabia supported Egypt with $5 billion whereas Turkey supported the Brotherhood with $2 billion. Saudi Arabia is currently assisting in having a stable Egypt, especially after the failure of the alliance between Qatar, the Brotherhood and Turkey.
Today, Turkey badly needs to revise its foreign policy with regard to the Middle East. There are some indications that it is doing so. Turkey’s few friends include Hamas, the Nahda party of Tunisia, and some failed Islamic parties. The failure of the Turkish design came as a function of their impatience, determination to restore the caliphate and failure to properly read trends.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view