Time to return to the fundamentals
There is no point in mincing words. Hardly anything has turned out the way Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had planned, predicted or hoped for in the Middle East.
It is hackneyed at this stage to point out that their “zero problems with neighbors” approach has been a dismal failure. But that is the case.
Government supporters point out that this failure is not of Ankara’s making, but due to external factors, and unexpected turns that circumstances have taken that could not have been foreseen. This is true, but only tautologically so. To put it in plainer language, that is stating the obvious for a region where uncertainty and unpredictability have always been the rule and not the exception.
There was a time, however, when Davutoğlu was defying the obvious and claiming that Turkey, due to its history in the region, knew the Middle East better than anyone else.
One wonders what he thinks of these remarks now and whether he still believes them.
Whether he does or not, the truth is there to behold.
Turkey is being chased out of one Arab country after another, where the prevailing powers see Ankara’s involvement in the region as unwelcome meddling. Meanwhile, the lives of ordinary Turks living across the Middle East and North Africa are increasingly in danger due to Ankara’s misplaced policies.
One accusation Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters liked to bring up in the past is that Turkey’s policy toward the Middle East before Erdoğan came to power was passive. It was not passive, however. It was cautious because the region is strewn with political minefields that Ankara had traditionally tried not to walk into. That is the lesson of history that Davutoğlu should have learned.
There are social segments in the Middle East, of course, such as the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who feel affinity toward Turks and are supporters of Erdoğan and the AKP. That affinity, however, is purely on the basis of Islamic solidarity, which today has become essentially Sunni solidarity. It has little to do with any affection toward Turks per se or their culture as such.
None of this is to suggest that Ankara should turn its back on the region and say good riddance to it. That is not possible anymore, not that it was in the past. What is needed, however, is a new line, a new approach toward the region.
One which establishes Turkey as a country that can contribute positively – along modern and contemporary lines – toward the economic, political and social development of a backward Islamic world, Sunni or otherwise.
Turkey’s assets are clear in this respect, and have always been. It is a country with a Muslim majority that has gone further in terms of development in the modern sense of the word than any other Muslim country.
This, however, is not due to Erdoğan or the AKP. It is the school of hard knocks over the many decades that has shown Turks that democracy is the only way forward and secularism is an integral part of this.
The AKP’s notion of developing a grand regional fraternity based on Islamic solidarity has proven to be a fantasy. It is trying to work again with Turkey’s traditional western allies today to address the new threats coming from the Middle East.
It is time, therefore, for the AKP to return to realism and re-evaluate Turkish history properly in order to understand the arduous road the country has had to take to become the only Muslim country that is open to modernity and that has a chance in today’s world.
To put it another way, this is not the time for fundamentalism, but the time to return to the fundamentals that have made modern Turkey what it is. In other words, this is not the time to drag the country in a direction that is not only backwards, but is also failing to produce the results that those who are dragging it in that direction have hoped for.