We are good, neighbors aren’t

We are good, neighbors aren’t

Bashar al-Assad, who should have left his place to his deputy Faruk al-Shara as Syrian president almost a year ago according to the expectations of Ankara, convened the Baath Party executive committee on July 9 and fired almost all other members, including al-Shara.

This was an interesting move. His hand against the Muslim Brotherhood, or “Ikhwan-i Muslimin” opposition, with which he has been in a civil war for more than two years now, has been strengthened by two major developments over the last few weeks. First, there was the in-house coup in Qatar where the former prime minister, a main supporter of the Ikhwan in Syria, was removed from office by the emir, who stepped down at the same time on June 25. Second, the Egyptian army took down the elected president Mohamed Morsi, a prominent member of the Ikhwan movement, on July 3. One may speculate that al-Assad had acted as if he thought there was a secret consensus between the U.S. and Russia to get rid of his current Syrian regime but not leave it to the hands of Ikhwan before the Second Geneva talks, which will hopefully take place in the autumn. Al-Assad’s explanation for his move was different. He said that all those aides had misled him into mistakes; in a way, he was saying that he was good, but his inner circle was not.

Those words reminded the Turkish people of an excuse cliché used for those high up when corruption allegations are widespread: He (or she) is good, but the close circuit is not.

Turkish foreign policy experienced two of its high points when President Abdullah Gül started diplomacy with Armenia in 2008, and when then-new Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu started open diplomacy with Iraqi Kurds by visiting Arbil in 2009. Then proud of Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy, Davutoğlu was underlining that only Turkey was able to talk to all political actors - official or unofficial - in its region, from fighting factions in Iraq to Hamas, from Iran to Israel.

Now, following the overthrow in Egypt, Ankara is not happy, mainly for two reasons. One of them is because of the coup against the elected president. Secondly, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) has developed very special relations with the Ikhwan movement, especially after it started to adopt a more legalistic, political approach. This is the case not only in Egypt; AK Parti advisors also helped the İkhwanist election campaigns in Tunisia and Egypt. The main opposition group in Syria against al-Assad are the Ikhwanists, while Hamas in the Gaza Strip of Palestine also have close links with Ikhwan.

Ankara has not been talking to Israel since the Mavi Marmara tragedy in 2010 anyway. Plus, the polarization in the region since the Syrian civil war started in 2011 has affected Ankara’s links with Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Over the last few weeks Ankara’s relations with its western allies, the U.S. and the European Union, have been going though a test as well. This is not only over Middle Eastern issues, but also over rights and freedoms regarding the anti-government demonstrations in Turkey and over the coup in Egypt.

Davutoğlu had convened some of his ambassadors in key countries, the intelligence organization MİT, and the prime minister’s foreign relations staff, as the ideological dynamo of the policy. He clearly needs a fine tuning for Turkish foreign policy following the trauma of Egypt. To repeat, “we are good, neighbors aren’t” as an answer to explain the stumbles in the “zero problems with neighbors” policy is no longer convincing.