Do Egypt, Syria or Kurds hurt Turkey more?
Turkey’s withdrawn ambassador to Cairo, Hüseyin Avni Botsalı, had a busy Monday yesterday. He first briefed President Abdullah Gül and was then asked by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan to join the Cabinet meeting to talk about what is happening in Egypt. Having observed the whole Arab Spring, the Tahrir uprising, the fall of Hosni Mobarak, the election of Mohamad Morsi, the ousting of Morsi by his Chief of Staff Abdel Fatteh Sisi, and Turkish-Egyptian relations hitting their bottom, the experienced diplomat must have a lot to tell his political bosses in Ankara.
As of yesterday the turmoil in Egypt was Ankara’s number one problem and it is possibly today, too. Gül and Erdoğan are expected to meet today to review the situations in both Egypt and Syria. For Ankara the two come in a package. In both cases, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is losing ground as a political movement. Being the democratic Islamist political movement in Arab countries in the eyes Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), the government was seized from the hands of the MB in Egypt and the MB in Syria has been weakened as the main body of rebels against the Bashar al-Assad regime. Khalid Hoca, the spokesman of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), recently told the HDN that the coup in Egypt had endorsed al-Assad’s hand in the Syrian civil war.
Egypt and Syria are going to be on the agenda of the National Security Board (MGK) meeting on Aug. 21, to be chaired by Gül. The Syrian situation is getting more troublesome for Ankara every passing day. The Syrian army declared full control of al-Assad’s hometown Latikia, where General Salim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had posed for cameras not so long ago. At the Turkish border there is an ongoing fight between al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda and the PYD, the Syrian branch of the Turkey-origin outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), mainly over the border towns with Turkey and the Syrian oil fields near them. It seems that Kurdish militants have started to seize more oil fields, posing to cameras with Kalashnikov automatics carrying stickers of the PKK and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians are fleeing for their life to the Kurdish areas of Iraq.
The situation is terribly connected to Turkey’s own Kurdish problem. The government is in dialogue with the PKK in pursuit of a political settlement. Both the PKK and the government are dragging their feet as time goes by, as the elections of March 2014 get closer and as nerves on both sides become increasingly strained. The government expects the PKK to withdraw all its militants into Iraq and the PKK, now feeling stronger with developments in Syria, is asking for more on the “democratization package” promised by the government.
The Kurdish issue is expected to be on the MGK agenda, but it is not certain when the government will reveal the package. In May 2009, President Gül had said that Kurdish problem was Turkey’s “biggest problem.” It is true that all the political balances in the Middle East have changed since then, but Turkish people also have the right to know whether the government’s priorities have changed. Does Egypt, or Syria, hurt the Turkish government more than the Kurdish problem?