SEMİH İDİZ > Turkey faces new realities in the Middle East

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The coup in Egypt represented a serious blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign policy calculus for the Middle East, which has been predicated on promoting political Islam in the region in line with the no-longer-hidden agenda of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006, the victory by Ennahda in Tunisia in 2011 and the victory by Mohamed Morsi in the 2012 presidential elections, which followed the victory by the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary elections after President Hosni Mubarak was toppled, were high points for the AKP in this respect.

The assumption was that Muslim Brotherhood-related parties – for whom there is great sympathy in AKP quarters – would easily win elections in the Middle East and push for legislative and social changes that reflect their religiously based worldviews.

This, however, is proving to be a mistaken assumption, not necessarily because of pressures from the West, but because of the Middle East’s own inner dynamics. Turkish Islamists are therefore shocked to see Saudi Arabia head the countries supporting the military coup in Egypt that toppled the Islamist government and president.

This shock is not surprising, of course, because Turks in general, and not just the Islamists, have a superficial knowledge of how the Middle East is really constituted, preferring instead to follow their assumptions, rather than dwelling on the facts.

But these facts now show that the Muslim Brotherhood’s enemies are not just outside the region but also inside it and among Muslims.

So the simplistic assumption that being Islamic is enough to unify all Muslims in one “ummah” is shattered. This assumption actually started to crumble with Syria first, where Islam was seen not to be enough to unify people under a single umbrella. One could argue, of course, that the reasons for the sectarianism in Syria go back centuries and the outbreak of a civil war along the Alevi-Sunni line in that country should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

But Ankara misjudged the situation by hardly paying any attention to historical tensions that exist between rival communities in Syria based on sectarian and religious affinities.

It chose instead to demonize Bashar al-Assad – which is of course not hard to do given his brutal and ruthless nature – while overlooking the fact that large number of non-Sunni Syrians actually support al-Assad and his regime.

Turkey’s Syria policy also drove a wedge between Ankara and Tehran, because the two countries are backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, and worsened the already-tense relations between Ankara and Baghdad following Iraqi accusations of Turkish meddling in that country to promote Sunni interests. Ankara’s Syria policy has also resulted in gaining a new Islamic enemy for Turkey in the form of the region’s Shiites, and most notably Lebanese Hezbollah.

Now we see a new crisis looming for Turkey’s policy toward the region, with Saudi Arabia leading those standing on the opposite side of the fence from Ankara on Egypt. While Islam was seen, as a result of Syria, not to be the unifying religion that AKP circles assumed, Sunni Islam is also proving to be insufficient in doing this, given the radically different positions that Ankara and Riyadh have taken on the Egyptian coup.

Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will, of course, still try to influence the events in Egypt in line with their own political expectations. It is very unlikely, however, that they will make much headway now that major Arab powers have stepped in to shape the Middle East in line with their own expectations, and not those of a country like Turkey that is ultimately an outsider for Arabs, and one that has not endeared itself to everyone in the region, Shiite, Sunni or otherwise.


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Oz_man .

7/14/2013 5:30:05 AM

American whether there was a genocide or not and if Erdogan claimed there wasnt't who cares? I sked you a simple question is Erdogan giving financial support to Bashir? Is Erdogan responsible for genocide in Sudan? Politicians give opinions all the time and there have been questionable wars also conducted by the Western powers yet no sound is made then? Assad is a tyrant regardless of his background. Using fighter jets to bomb to kill unarmed civilians is criminal.

american american

7/13/2013 1:40:51 AM

oz, he claimed there wasn't one because that isn't 'what muslims do', was happily hand in hand with bashir, sent him support. do not trot assad and say look how decent this man, erdogan, is for taking a stand against an alawite.

Oz_man .

7/12/2013 6:35:22 PM

American what can Erdogan do to prevent genocide in Sudan? In what capacity is Erdogan propping up Sudan? Are you suggesting that Erdogan played a hand in genocide? American what is your point?

Oz_man .

7/12/2013 5:39:30 PM

Can do I speak like a 12 year old? Oh really? The Turkish economy is not booming? From a GDP of over 200 billion to 960 billion dollars in 10 years? Diyanet has a total budget of 2 billion dollars whereas healthcare is 6.7% of GDP and Education is 3.7% of GDP. So if we add those together that equates to 100 billion spent on health and education. If the government doesn't tax how can the state earn an income? How can you invest in a cancelled project? Get your facts right Can.

american american

7/11/2013 11:42:24 PM

ozzie baby, where was erdogan when the genocide in sudan was happening? oh yeah, propping up and excusing SUNNI omar al-bashir

american american

7/11/2013 11:38:48 PM

murat, religion never does.

Can Lamberoglu

7/11/2013 10:28:36 PM

Oz_man, you talk like a 12 year old. Turkish economy is not booming; AKP have sold us out, and are taxing us through the nose. Are you heating your house with mazot, a basic survival commodity like bread and water, in the winter? Probably not! Your dad is filling his tank with the most expensive gasoline in the world. Taxpayers are investing in pet projects like mosques, and the now cancelled Ghezi redevelopment. Religious affairs office has a bigger budget than healthcare and education.

Oz_man .

7/11/2013 7:07:44 PM

Jim the AKP does have a pro-western outlook. They are more committed to Western value than the so-called secularists. The only thing in common between Westerners and Secularists in Turkey is they wear the same clothes and drink alcohol. But otherwise views in politics is really warped and record on human rights is tragic. It took bold steps by the AKP to expose passed human rights violations and increase rights for minorities.

Oz_man .

7/11/2013 7:02:10 PM

Koksuz a few facts for you. Assad is a tyrant his family has been in power for over 40 years and has been trying to put down a rebellion using fighter jets and chemical weapons. Gaddafi was also a tyrant and Turkey supported his removal I don't see his origins made an issue then. Morsi was elected 52% of the Egyptian electoral vote. He did not order F16's to bomb Tahrir square, he did not entrench power with his family. Should I still go on? Koksuz get your facts right

mara mcglothin

7/11/2013 6:14:09 PM

Great writing RED TAIL. Spot on! ALI
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