In recent years, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has been actively promoting an incredibly ambitious, yet extremely risky strategy that can be broadly described as Neo-Ottomanism or attempts to restore the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, he would strive to present Turkey as the defender of the oppressed, the second homeland of all Muslims, the new hope of the Islamic Ummah.
In fact, Ankara would take fool advantage of the religious component of its foreign policy, trying to exploit sectarian lines in Syria long before the armed conflict in this country even started. On numerous occasions, Turkey tried to demonstrate that it was a safe heaven for the so-called Islamist opposition, thus patronizing its members. However, it didn’t take long before Ankara started singling out the most charismatic figures of this movement, restricting their access to the country or even breaking ties with them altogether. This policy allowed Ankara to grip the attention of various forces, both Islamic and those operating outside the region, that were now evaluating the possibility of striking some sort of a deal with Turkey. That’s when Erdogan started taking advantage of the aggravation of the armed conflict in Syria, rallying both the Syrian opposition together with all sorts of radical militants under its banner. Those forces were unsure of their future due to the active anti-terrorist efforts undertaken by the Syrian authorities and the international community, that’s why they decided they could use an ally.
However, this policy was loudly opposed not just by Syria and Iraq, but also by Ankara’s principal regional competitor – Iran, with Western elites being reluctant to provide anything other than lip support to Erdogan’s ambitious designs. The Turkish society, for the most part, wasn’t ecstatic about the price it was about to pay for reckless attempts of restoring the Ottoman caliphate in one form or another either, in spite of the fact that it could allow Turkey to claim leadership over the Sunni world. This fact became obvious when reports about the significant activity of the political opposition started arriving from Turkey.
In recent months, Erdogan has been going above and beyond in a bid to demonstrate that a new age of Turkish foreign policy now begun through intensifying Ankara’s steps in the Mediterranean region. He wants to show that Turkey has now become a big prominent player in the geopolitical world. Among those steps one can mention Ankara’s support of the Government of National Unity in Libya, together with its aggressive posturing in the disputed waters near Cyprus, which outraged Greece and several other Mediterranean states.
However, this approach failed to bring significant advantages to Ankara, while expanding the list of countries that oppose its actions. For instance, Turkey has become a part of a bitter struggle between the Government of National Unity and Khalifa Haftar, the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army that enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and other states.
In recent days, yet another aspect of Erdogan’s “new age of foreign policy” has become visible that has taken shape against the backdrop of the aggravation of the armed confrontation between Ankara and Damascus, and that’s the migration card that Erdogan chose to play, effectively blackmailing the EU while obtaining support of a limited number of citizens of other countries that Turkey prevented from attempts to reach Europe. However, this strategy, like the absolute majority of Ankara’s recent steps, has also fallen flat.
For these reasons, we’re witnessing various countries approaching each other to create a united front against Turkey. This development manifests itself in the emergence of a wider anti-Turkish coalition in the Mediterranean Sea, that consists of Greece, Israel, NATO, the EU, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and a number of other states that receive tacit support from the United States and that can find various creative ways of hurting the Turkish leader. At the same time, it doesn’t seem at this point that Ankara still has any allies left to get its back.
Erdogan’s short-sightedness has already resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and the government of Khalifa Haftar, that led to the opening of the Libyan Embassy in Damascus, which, of course, is a landmark event in its own rights. After all, by providing direct military assistance to the Government of National Unity led by Faiz Saraj, Erdogan has presented his country with an opportunity of fighting on two fronts, which throughout history hasn’t brought anybody any positive results. The common desire to unite their efforts shared by Damascus and Khalifa Haftar is quite understandable, since today Ankara uses the same exact militants against them, that are being trained and armed by Turkey directly, which creates preconditions for an emergence of the anti-Turkish coalition.
These developments coincided with Egypt’s intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel making a tour across a number of Arab countries “with the goal of signing security agreements.” And this was hardly a coincidence, since the Egyptian media sources state that Cairo is going to attempt to counter the growing influence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in North Africa and the Middle East.
In recent weeks, the head of Egyptian intelligence has managed to pay a visit to Sudan, Algeria and Morocco. In Sudan, he raised the question of the military assistance this country could have been providing to Libya for some time, the Middle East Monitor notes. In Morocco, Abbas Kamel would discuss Ankara’s ties with the Moroccan Islamist movement Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane. Tunisia was also among the states that Abbas Kamel visited on his tour, with Erdogan’s hopes of getting this country on the list of Ankara’s allies may as well now be going up in smoke. After all, Turkey’s President paid an official visit to Tunisia last December, accompanied by Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar and the head of the National Intelligence organizations of Turkey, Hakan Fidan, in a bid to strengthen Ankara’s positions in this country.
We must not forget that, in addition to the consolidation of Erdogan’s opponents in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, similar processes are taking place in Europe due to the blackmail attempt that Ankara tried to pull out. The situation in Syria and Ankara’s relations with Moscow have also hit a low, as evidenced even by the fact that Erdogan was looking for an urgent meeting with the Russian President to resolve a significant number of issues. The issues that are running the risk of bringing down the entire Turkish military campaign in Syria.
Now, things are looking grim for the Turkish leader.
Some may argue that Erdogan is an extremely experienced politician who has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to come on top in all sorts of political games, while reaping considerable dividends in the process. Yet, we are about to see if this time around Erdogan has actually bitten off more than he can chew.
Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.