Turkey taken unawares by Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia clearly beheaded the popular Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr with awareness of the consequences this would have, especially with regard to the Sunni-Shiite fault line. King Salman had the power to grant clemency to avoid further aggravating the already tense regional situation, but chose not to.
One must assume, therefore, that the Saudi regime wanted the turmoil this move would cause in the hope that it would serve its interests, which clearly have a lot to do with undermining Iran.
In his column in the pro-government daily Yeni Safak the other day, the prominent Islamist commentator Akif Emre characterized Saudi Arabia as “a country that lacks political insight.” He went on to suggest that it is natural, therefore, for Riyadh to play such a dangerous game because it has no other weapon against Iran.
As an aside here it has to be noted that Saudi Arabia does not have the automatic support of Turkish Islamists even though it is run by a Sunni regime. This clearly has to do with the Saudi enmity toward the Muslim Brotherhood, and the fact that it appears in many instances to be a secret ally of Israel.
Islamists note, for example, that the Saudi regime and Israel are on the same page with regard to Iran. Both hate the rapprochement between the Washington and Tehran and would do anything to try and prevent this.
Emre, like out editor-in-chief Murat Yetkin, has also been cautioning the Turkish government against taking sides in the Saudi-Iranian dispute, or getting involved in the so called “Islamic Alliance Against Terrorism” led by Saudi Arabia, which is suspected of being a Sunni alliance against Iran.
This is a rare instance when staunch secularists and hard-core Islamists in Turkey agree. Turkish Islamists also have little love of Iran, of course. They blame it for having enabled Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to remain in power until now.
Riyadh’s latest move also puts President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s government in a difficult position. They have been developing so-called “strategic ties” with Saudi Arabia in order to regain some of the regional influence Ankara lost due to a series of foreign policy mistakes.
Cozying up to Riyadh and expressing a desire to join the Saudi-led “Islamic Alliance” will probably turn out, however, to be its latest mistake. Ankara waited three days before it issued a statement about al-Nimr’s execution and the attacks against Saudi missions in Iran.
This was enough to show that it was caught between a rock and a hard place. The government’s heart may lie with the Saudis but its mind tells it that it cannot risk aggravating the Iranians either. When Ankara’s statement finally came, it put Turkey in “the safe middle ground.”
Government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş blamed Iran for not protecting the Saudi missions, and Saudi Arabia for carrying out what he referred to as a “political execution.”
Turkey’s military participation in the Saudi-led “Islamic Alliance” is also far more problematic now, because this will give the impression of being an anti-Iranian move, which risks putting Turkey in a negative light in the eyes of all Shiites in the Middle East and beyond.
There is also the fact which is even being noted by some Islamist commentators. The AKP constantly claims that it is supporting the “downtrodden of the region,” but is, at the same time, trying to enter into a “strategic alliance” with one of the most oppressive regimes in the Middle East.
Many are left wondering again when the AKP will learn that when it comes to foreign policy, the overambitious plans it draws up in Ankara that overlook basic truths about this turbulent part of the world, more often than not leave it out in the cold.