Not-so-splendid isolation

Erdogan's geopolitical nightmare

Turkey’s emergence as a regional power has provoked suspicion, shaking the balance of power in the Middle East and beyond. As a result, relations with many regional players have deteriorated over the last decade. With diplomatic ties to the West currently at an historic low, is Turkey likely to end up out on a limb? By Stasa Salacanin

Following the failure of EU accession talks and Erdogan’s realisation that the most Turkey could expect would be the unclear status of a satellite state, it turned to the East. The Turkish presidentʹs main foreign policy goals have been to establish friendly relations with all Muslim nations – particularly those in the Middle East – and bonding with the Sunni Arabs. 

Indeed, relations improved considerably in the early 2000s under the rule of the Justice and Development Party – commonly known as the AKP. Professor Selcuk Colakoglu, director of the Ankara-based Turkish Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, agrees that  the AKP’s foreign policy was utterly compatible with Turkey’s traditional pro-West foreign policy installed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

By 2010 the AKP government was engaged in positive relations with almost all the major Muslim-dominated countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Libya. The AKP even made positive amendments to Turkeyʹs Kemalist foreign policy tradition by attempting to foster relations with all its neighbours, including Greece, Armenia, and Syria. Ankara also made overtures towards global powers such as Russia and China, hopeful that soft power tactics would boost Turkey's status as a trading state.

Cold snap after the Arab spring

Female members of the Muslim Brotherhood are seen during their trial in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on 27 November 2013. A court in the Mediterranean city sentenced 14 women whom it said were from the Brotherhood after convicting them of belonging to a 'terrorist organisation,' judicial sources said (photo: Getty Images/AFP)
Looking to Big Brother: according to Professor Selcuk Colakoglu, director of the Ankara-based Turkish Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, the Turkish governmentʹs close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria were not surprising. Almost all Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist-affiliated political movements in the Arab world were aping Turkey’s AKP, in an attempt to gain power in their countries by democratic, peaceful means

But the Turkish-Arab romance ended after the Arab Spring uprisings that led to the overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Turkey’s leadership welcomed the revolutions as firm supporters of political Islam, while most of the Gulf states except Qatar, saw the uprisings as a highly destabilising factor.

Turkey’s Islamist governmentʹs close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria caused a rift to develop between Ankara and other Arabic countries, with the exception of Qatar. Professor Colakoglu notes that these ties were not surprising: almost all Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist-affiliated political movements in the Arab world were aping Turkey’s AKP, in an attempt to gain power in their countries by democratic, peaceful means.

The rift between Turkey and the Arab states and specifically Saudi Arabia gradually deepened, prompted by the military coup in Egypt and the Qatar crisis. In October 2018, things finally came to a head following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

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Comments for this article: Erdogan's geopolitical nightmare

The west has been waiting for years for Erdogan to return but the only thing that happens is he is going further away and more importantly the Turkish people have developed such anti-west feelings that it will be hard to reverse. It is time for the West to admit that Turkey is not a reliable ally and build plan B to mitigate risks.

Jefferson18.02.2019 | 17:05 Uhr