Turkey’s delicate situation in new era of the Middle East
A series of very harsh sanctions imposed on June 5 by prominent Arab and Gulf countries under the coordination of Saudi Arabia against neighboring Qatar is no doubt marking the beginning of a new era in the already fragile and unstable Middle East.
It’s still an unfolding development and it’s too early to be able to make a forecast on its political, economic and even social consequences on the region and the rest of the world. Qatar has no doubt been one of the fastest growing countries in the last two decades thanks to its enormous hydrocarbon reserves, but questions linger on how long this tiny oil and gas-rich country can survive under such heavy sanctions.
As the confusion over the Gulf crisis was still very fresh, the Middle East was shaken by a twin terror attack staged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on June 7, this time in Iran, which has remained immune to jihadist terror attacks until that day. Iran accused Saudi Arabia of the terrorist attack and vowed revenge.
The Middle East - despite its vast oil and natural gas richness - has always been in a shaky, fragile and unstable situation with unending fights and conflicts between sparring and ambitious Arab powers that made foreign military interventions inevitable.
Until quite recently, Turkey could succeed in staying neutral and therefore unaffected from decades-old turmoil of its region. In a sense, Turkey’s return to the Middle East could be possible after it had rejected to partner with the United States in a second war in Iraq that toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.
Turkey’s traditional policy of not meddling in internal affairs of Arab countries has long helped it protect its integrity and international positioning during the very hard times of the Middle East.
This policy of Turkey has been abandoned in the early 2010s with the rise of the Arab Spring, which has been regarded as an opportunity by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments to expand Turkey’s influence to a wider region. The key development that encouraged Turkey to this end was the success of Mohammed Morsi, who became the first democratically elected president of Egypt in 2012.
The axis created between Turkey and Egypt could not endure more than one year, as Morsi was toppled by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013 by a coup openly supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others.
Egypt became the first theater where the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Arab Spring began to roll back. Syria followed Egypt, as the peaceful protests were quickly turned into civil wars with the introduction of one of the world’s bloodiest terror organizations, ISIL.
There’s no need to recall the roles of Qatar and Turkey in supporting the evolving Arab Spring with the former’s significant financial and media backing to the process, which has been rousing conservative Arab monarchs’ ire.
This is why so many pundits regard the Saudi action against Qatar as the final nail in the coffin and an attempt to kill Qatar’s independent and ambitious foreign policy objectives. Plus, this move on Qatar has obviously the strong support of U.S. President Donald Trump, who pledged to provide all kinds of support to Arab countries in defeating radical ideologies and terrorism.
Turkey has made clear that it will not abandon its strategic partnership with Qatar by speedily approving military deals with his country that will pave the way for a robust military-to-military alliance. Turkey has also been vocal that it does not approve sanctions that affect the daily lives of people, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan.
Having said this, it should also be noted that Turkey and Saudi Arabia do also enjoy a special relationship, as was seen during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in February. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are one of the largest investors in Turkey and that makes the current situation delicate for Turkey.
It’s therefore a necessity for the Turkish government to conduct a policy as careful and as smart as possible in a bid to avoid turning this delicate situation into a troubled conflict for Turkey and its economic, political and security interests.