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    Middle East
     Aug 27, '13


SPEAKING FREELY
Erdogan flies flag for Middle East stability
By Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The prolonged Arab awakening and its reversal in Egypt has complicated Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's international outlook.

Turkey, which had been presented by its leaders as a role model of Muslim democracy and as a troubleshooter for the region, is now embedded in regional chaos, with almost every country currently unstable.

While Ankara was facing a Syrian civil war, Iraq's sectarian strife



and tensions with Iran on regional issues, it is now being challenged by Arab Gulf monarchies who are in an opposite camp supporting the military coup in Egypt -Erdogan who vehemently opposed overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

Ever since Erdogan-led AK Party (AKP) came in to power in 2001, Turkey had looking increasingly to shape the future of its Muslim and Arab Eastern neighbors. Erdogan personally molded excellent rapport with various regional leaders, including Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, former Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

His personal efforts put Turkey at the core of Middle Eastern geopolitics and simultaneously improved Turkey's commercial and political standing.

From the time when the Arab uprising against dictators started in the spring of 2011 and reached the Syrian hinterland, Erdogan personally tried to direct Assad towards solving the crisis. However, he had forgot that Assad is an ingrained dictator who would not take his advice sufficiently seriously.

Erdogan personally felt slighted when Assad did not heed his advice and refused to implement reforms advised by Erdogan and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The "zero problems with neighbors" policy created by foreign minister Davutoglu has turned into "zero friendships in the neighborhood". Now Turkey is in a war-like situation with Syria, has diplomatic strife with Iraq and Iran and has seriously troubled relations with Israel, even after the accomplishment of long awaited apology for the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.

The Egyptian Military coup is now another huge setback which has severely crippled Erdogan's regional maneuvers. The entire Middle Eastern schematic that Erdogan has shaped in the last 10 years has been fatally disturbed by the regional upheaval.

Undoubtedly, it is imperative for Turkey to emerge victorious from the Syrian quagmire for its own standing in the Middle East. It is extraordinarily difficult for a country like Turkey to live in the atmosphere of animosity in the bewildered region because Turkey is expected to lead the region politically and diplomatically.

It seems that Turkey's North Atlantic Treaty Organization European partners have put the country in a situation where it can neither withdraw nor act militarily to cleanse the Syrian swamp.

Fist the coup d'etat and now the bloody massacre of anti-coup, pro-Morsi supporters in Egypt has angered Erdogan to the point where he likened the new military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to a pharaoh.

The US-EU-Israel and Arab monarchies' open backing of coup has isolated Erdogan. It remains to be seen how Erdogan will manage his country's future relationship with the GCC monarchies.

Turkey, who has been at odds with Iran on the Syrian issue, is now also at odds with Saudi Arabia on the Egyptian coup. It will be a huge task for Erdogan to manage the souring ties with two regional heavyweights on two different issues.

The Syrian crisis has opened the Pandora box of Shi'ite-Sunni conflict in the entire west Asian region that was long subdued due to the US invasion of Iraq, the Israeli- Palestine conflict and Turkish- Iranian bonhomie in the pre-Syrian crisis period.

Now the region has divided along sectarian lines, where Sunnis are Supporting Sunnis and Shi'ites are backing Shi'ites. The problem has taken a sectarian tone from Yemen to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia to Syria and Iraq to Lebanon.

The Syrian crisis has turned the greater Middle East in a Shi'ite-Sunni turf war in which one side has Iran, al-Maliki's Iraq, Hezbollah and al-Assad and the other has the Saudi-Qatar-led Gulf Cooperation Council and Turkey.

This bloody sectarian conflict will not be resolved in next few months or years. As the geopolitical events unfold, we will witness a quasi-permanent fratricidal intra-Islamic sectarian war for decades in the West Asian region, culminating in to major cartographical changes. The US strategic retreat from the Middle East and pivot to East Asia will finally allow history to reemerge in the Middle East uncontaminated by the hegemonic order imposed by the Western-US hyper-power.

Turkish experts say Erdogan should have molded his policies in a way that provided him the prominence of regional statesmanship so that he could mediate in the sectarian conflict as a neutral power broker. By getting involved in the crisis he has become a part of problem.

However, although isolated in the region, Turkey under Erdogan's leadership has set a benchmark of democratic and ethical governance in a most unstable region ruled by Western-backed despots. Turkey is the only country in the region that took equally tough stands against the dictator of Syria and Egypt's coup.

This morally correct stand of the Erdogan administration, in the wake of regional crisis will pave the way for a stronger Turkey in the post status-quo Middle East and North Africa.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami is a New Delhi-based geopolitics and geoeconomics analyst focusing on West Asia and North Africa. Bilgrami is a researcher on Shi'ite-Sunni relations and its impact on the Islamic world.

(Copyright 2013 Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami)






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