The 'Brotherhood' rallies for Erdoğan
Turkish-French relations as we have known them are about to end due to the Armenian issue. Ties between the two countries, and most likely between the two peoples, will be poisoned for a generation. Yet Paris is not concerned. Many argue it is following the confrontational course with Turkey intentionally. The reasons cited are varied.
For some it is pure electioneering on the part of President Sarkozy and his party. For others the reasons are deeper and have to do with increasing anti-Islamic feelings in France. This, they say, is a good way to keep “Islamic Turkey’s EU ambitions” at bay.
Then there are those who maintain France is a declining power and is not prepared to stomach competition from a Turkey whose economy and strategic value continue to grow in a part of the world where Paris has its own ambitions. There are also those who say Sarkozy’s anti-Turkish sentiments run deep, imbuing him with a burning mission against Turks.
Whatever the case, Ankara is retaliating by reviving the memory of French barbarity in Algeria. This is why government officials in Paris must have been overjoyed when Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia urged Turkey last week to stop making political capital from France’s colonial past in his country.
Ouyahia also reminded Ankara that Turkey had supported France during the Algerian war of independence, a fact that probably very few Frenchmen are aware of. (Not many Turks knew about it until President Turgut Ozal apologized to Algeria many years after the fact.)
French diplomats however are probably more realistic, especially given what followed Ouyahia’s remarks. What followed was the “International Islamic Brotherhood Network” coming immediately into play in Algeria to support Prime Minister Erdoğan and Turkey.
Islamist parties, related in one way or another to the Brotherhood, and who are expected to come out strong in this year’s planned elections (if these are free and fair), castigated Ouyahia with the strongest of terms. Their basic accusation was that he had displayed “servility to France” by trying to diminish the valued support of a high profile Islamic leader like Erdoğan for Algeria’s national cause.
Ouyahia hails from the anti-Islamist bloc in Algeria and is clearly hated for this. It is natural therefore that should want to remind “the Islamist government in Ankara,” which provides inspiration for Algeria’s Islamists, of Turkey’s stance during his country’s war of independence. In fact his stance on this issue, and the Islamist support for Erdoğan, probably has more to do with the power struggle in Algeria between Islamists and seculars, than anything else.
At the end of the day Sarkozy may succeed in blocking Turkey in Europe. But it is also clear that Erdoğan’s rising prestige among the Islamic masses in the Eastern Mediterranean also provides Ankara with opportunities to cause headaches for France, in a region stretching from Tunisia to Damascus and Egypt, and perhaps even beyond to the Caucasus.
The simple fact is that Erdoğan hails from an Islamist background, even if he says today that he is merely a conservative like any other. This gives him a head-start in this part of the world, as opposed to Sarkozy who is not only a non-Muslim, but whose country is increasingly anti-Muslim and anti-Arab.
Turkey and France could have done much more service to stabilize this turbulent part of the world if they chose cooperation over confrontation. But clearly the mutual antipathy is too deep for that to happen. And so we have the crash that is on the way and which also promises further confrontations later on.