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Can Erdogan Win Where Ahmedinejad Has Lost?

September 26, 2011

In recent weeks, I have been highlighting Turkey’s activities in the Middle East, on the heels of the Arab Spring and in addition to it.  It has become obvious that Prime Minister Erdogan has been on a similar PR campaign and tour as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was just a year, or so, ago.  Clearly, both men have been jockeying for influence and power in the region. 

Ahmedinejad’s relative silence and inactivity, over the past few months, give me the impression that he has not fared well among his Muslim brothers.  Could he be just a little too crazy even for the likes of Bashar al-Assad and the rebel factions in Libya?  Does his Shiite faith keep him out in the cold amidst the vast majority Sunni nation-states?  Is his non-Arab lineage prevent the Arab Muslim governments from admitting him to their inner circles?  Huda al Husseini may have some insight:

The Arab street is bestowing power upon these leaders, who are playing on their dreams and speaking about the region’s prosperous future. However the Arab street is like mercury; it is impossible for any leader to grasp it firmly. The Arab street is fickle, and so it turns its back on leaders as quickly as it [previously] rushed to adore them. What happened to the power or influence that Ahmadinejad believed the Arab street had granted him? He used this to quell the demonstrations staged to protest the allegedly rigged presidential elections that brought about his re-election. As a result of this, he lost the Iranian street, whilst the Arab street turned its back on him.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, it is obvious that Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now trying his hand.  Huda al Husseini provides a very detailed analysis of events.

Erdogan is now seeking to place Turkey as a leading supporter of the Palestinian cause, and he wants the “Arab Spring” to view Ankara as a supporter and role model, stressing the need for firm Turkish – Arab unity. He is also planning to establish strategic cooperation between Turkey and Egypt.

The preparation for such cooperation was clear in the size of the delegation that accompanied Erdogan during his tour of the Middle East. The Turkish delegation was made up of 6 ministers, and around 200 Turkish businessmen, which represents a clear signal that Turkey is determined to investing heavily in the region. In 2010, the Turkish trade with the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] amounted to 30 billion dollars, and constituted 27 percent of Turkish exports, whilst more than 250 Turkish companies have invested a figure totalling 1.5 billion dollars in Egypt.

Ms. al Husseini points out that part of Erdogan’s problem is a lack of fixed policy.  In American Political parlance, Erdogan has been against revolution before he was for it.

Erdogan warned of the consequences of invading Libya, insisting that if there was going to be regime change; this must happen from within, not through foreign intervention. Turkey had billions of dollars invested in Libya, whilst more than 20,000 Turkish labourers were evacuated within days [following the outbreak of protests]. Although Turkey is a member of NATO, it strongly condemned UN resolution 1973 [which formed the legal basis for military intervention in the Libyan civil war]. However after all of this, when the Gaddafi regime was overthrown, Erdogan welcomed the rebels with open arms.

While Erdogan may be floating with the winds, a bit, Turkey does appear to have a definite long-term program in the works.  Erdogan’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu (himself a big-time Islamist), has laid out the foundational elements of the program.


In his book “Strategic Depth” Davutoglu stressed that Turkey is now a key player in the Middle East, saying that “this is our homeland.” To put this into context, Davutoglu drew up a new equation, namely that neo-Ottomanism plus Turkish nationalism plus Islam equals the New Turkey.

This neo-Ottomanism has brought Turkish influence into the Arab world and the Balkans, whilst Turkish nationalist ties extend to Central Asia. As for Turkey’s Islamic links, this extends from Morocco to Indonesia. Therefore, and this is more significant for Davutoglu, he sees the partnership between Turkey and Iran as something equal to that between France and Germany [in Europe].

At this time, it is hard to tell if Erdogan’s gambit will work.  As Ms. Husseini notes, the Arab street is fickle regarding its leaders.  It is also instructive to note that Erdogan has two misses on his record already:  first with Syria, and second when Israel failed to apologize following the Gaza Flotilla mess.

As always, we will continue to watch.

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