Turkey’s miscalculations in the Middle East

Turkey’s miscalculations in the Middle East

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan called Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on August 5 and discussed developments in Syria and Egypt, according to press reports. A day later Erdoğan called British Prime Minister David Cameron to reportedly do the same. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Davutoglu was in Tehran on August 4 for the inauguration of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani. While there he met Rouhani and also discussed Syria according to press reports.

Using almost the same text in both cases the semi official Anadolu News Agency (AA) said Erdoğan had told Putin and Cameron that it was very important for the Security Council to take concrete steps on Syria. According to AA, he also said in both cases that it was vitally important that Egypt return to democracy as soon as possible with the participation of all parties.

Meanwhile the Hurriyet Daily News reported on August 8 that “Turkey is working on a road map with the international community in order to end the political crisis in Egypt.” Citing remarks by Davutoğlu, HDN said “Ankara is in contact with Washington, Brussels and the African Union for a plan which requires the release of political detainees, including ousted President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi.”

It is easy to conclude from all of this that Turkey is one of the powers calling the shots in the region. But is that really so? To start with, we don’t know how Putin and Cameron responded to Erdoğan. One assumes that if there was anything groundbreaking AA would have reported this.

Moscow is of course unlikely to dump Bashar al-Assad at this stage, as it is to endorse a plan by the UN Security Council sanctioning an intervention in Syria. As to Egypt, Putin made his views clear on the Russian RT news channel last months in a way that could hardly have pleased Erdoğan. Pointing to the turmoil in Egypt, as well as Iraq, Putin said the following:

“In my opinion, this is happening because some people from the outside believe that if the region were to be brought in compliance with a certain idea – an idea that some call democracy – then peace and stability would ensue. That’s not how it works.”

Turkey and Britain have a common line on Syria but it is also equally unlikely that Erdoğan convinced Cameron to act on this topic in line with Ankara’s expectations. Britain has even backed down from arming the Syrian opposition. London is obviously supporting EU efforts on Egypt and is unlikely to be influenced by Ankara, especially at a time when the EU’s Catherine Ashton can visit Cairo and talk to everyone, including ousted President Morsi, while Davutoğlu - or any other Turkish official for that matter – can’t.

As to the “road map for Egypt,” one gets the impression that rather than being “operative” in this regard, Ankara is hanging on to the coattails of others in order to appear that it is in there and acting. Otherwise Turkey has no influence over events in Egypt either.

When it comes to Iran, on the other hand, the English language daily “Today’s Zaman” reported on August 5 that Davutoğlu had told reporters en route to Tehran that one of the expectations from Rouhani was that he “revise the Iranian stance on Syria.” Far from moving in that direction Rouhani is on record now saying “no force in the world would be able to shake their decades-old alliance (with Syria).”

Looking at all this, one wonders when Ankara is going to face up to the realities on the ground and adjust its policies accordingly. Instead it appears determined to continue flogging dead horses, while trying to give the impression that it remains diplomatically influential in the Middle East, when it has in fact painted itself out of the picture through a series of miscalculations concerning the region.