Turkish gambit in Eastern Mediterranean: The school bully

Turkish gambit in Eastern Mediterranean: The school bully

Until a few days ago, the Turkish Cypriot breakaway statelet was the only entity in the entire Eastern Mediterranean that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had not yet picked a fight with. Last weekend, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus joined Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt – countries at various shades of cold war with Turkey. 

As Mr. Erdoğan was busy telling the Turkish Cypriots that they should forever remain Turkey’s “babyland,” the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt gathered at a mini-summit in Nicosia and agreed to step up their cooperation on combatting terrorism; boost defense, security and intelligence sharing ties; and enhance economic and trade links in energy, tourism and maritime. 

Egypt pledged to buy quantities of Cyprus’ offshore natural gas. Greece will launch consultations with Egypt and Cyprus to establish maritime boundaries, a preliminary effort to licensing for offshore hydrocarbon exploration. The three nations also agreed to define maritime boundaries in areas where the consent of “third countries” is not required. The “third countries” phrase in fact refers to one country - widely known as the Crescent and Star.

Turkey’s Sunni supremacist bullying tactics may have politically (and sometimes economically) isolated it, but they have also paradoxically helped it to build peaceful regional alliances among the countries that the Crescent and Star has chosen to be enemies with. With a little more effort, future Turkish-Turkish Cypriot hostility may even end the island’s more-than-four-decade division. As good as Turkey’s Islamists are at creating enemies, they are also good at building friendships among their foes. 

Turkey is at odds with most of the countries that it – childishly - hoped, six years ago, to bring under the roof of a “[Turkish-led] Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Union.” It is the only country in the Eastern Mediterranean that is at odds with all of its maritime neighbors in the region – just like a school bully watching in anger his classmates happily enjoying games but without wanting to play with him. 

His increasing isolation makes the school bully angrier and more revengeful. Just a couple of semesters earlier, he was hoping to be the star of his school! Now he realizes that even his younger brother does not want to take orders from him. What if his younger brother one day starts to play with the enemy boys? Betrayal. 

The fact that Turkey has no relations (or deeply problematic relations) with only half a dozen countries in the Eastern Mediterranean – including the “babyland” recognized only by the “homeland” - is because there are no other countries in the region. 

Mr. Erdoğan’s “dawa” (or [political/Islamist] cause) is a sad, losing war. We can understand him. He wants to see Muslim Brothers wherever he looks. Brothers who would obey his/Turkish leadership for the advancement of the “dawa.” 

As Mr. Erdoğan said a few days earlier, he wants to see a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He wants Israel to retreat to its pre-1967 borders. Also for the “dawa.” He wants Syria to be ruled by Sunni dictators, not by a Nusayri dictator. He wants Egypt to be ruled by Sunni fanatics, not by a general who hates Sunni fanatics. All for the “dawa.” 

Mr. Erdoğan’s problem is that his wish list is too ambitious to materialize. His other problem is that the country he rules is not the empire he thinks it is. 

Now Mr. Erdoğan hates the “babyland,” because the national will there elected as president a man who is as distant to the “dawa” as Mr. Erdoğan is to a bar. Mr. Erdoğan’s party is most probably heading to its 10th election victory in June. But Mr. Erdogan does not want to be the constant winner of every election and the constant loser of the much broader “dawa.” 

Does anyone still wonder why the most successful politician in Turkish history is also the angriest and unhappiest? Just look at the smiling faces in Nicosia on Wednesday and Mr. Erdoğan’s ireful looks on the same day. Then superimpose the word “dawa” on both pictures. Now you’ve got it.