by Khairallah Khairallah
It is clear that the Turkish president cannot get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood’s disease of lusting after power and expansion without taking into account the realities and the balance of power in the world.
One should not underestimate Turkey’s role in the region, knowing that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is obsessed with restoring the former glory of the Ottoman Empire. Still, the open questions will always be: Does Turkey really have the means to pursue Erdogan’s foreign adventures currently supported by Qatari money? What will happen when this money runs out one?
The answer is simply that the Turkish president is behaving in a manner characteristic of leaders whose minds have become unstable. It won’t come as a surprise to discover that he is afflicted with the same megalomania that has touched Iran since 1979. Until now, the regime in Tehran believes that it could play the role of the dominant power in the region and persists in its dream of establishing the Persian crescent that links Tehran to Beirut, via Baghdad and Damascus.
And that is not all of Iran’s ambitions. On September 21, 2014, Tehran celebrated the fall of Sana’a into its hands after the Yemini capital was overrun by the Houthis. In the final analysis, the latter are nothing more than one of the sectarian militias managed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), specifically by the Quds brigade that was under the command of Qassem Soleimani before his demise at American hands on January 3, 2020.
Erdogan’s moves outside Turkey’s borders are also not far removed from marking the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Conference of April 1920, which ended in dividing the Ottoman Middle East, under the supervision of the League of Nations (the international organisation that existed before the end of World War II), between Britain and France. Following that conference that practically killed the Ottoman Empire, Turkey turned its attention to its internal affairs and soon became a secularist republic led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Ataturk, an army officer, knew how to manage the collapse of the Ottoman Empire with the least possible losses and enabled Turkey to reconcile itself with its new environment and with the new international geopolitical realities, away from the delusions of grandeur that seem to still be entrenched in the mind of Erdogan. It is clear that the Turkish president cannot get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood’s disease of lusting after power and expansion without taking into account the realities and the balance of power in the world.
It is not yet known whether Erdogan will be able to fulfil his ambitions in light of his scoring some points in Libya and in light of the American-Russian-Israeli acceptance of the extension of Turkish hegemony over northern Syria. The Turkish presence in the Syrian north along the border between the two countries has become a reality, just like the Turkish presence in Cyprus, a presence that covers an area of about 35% of the island’s area and includes important areas such as Famagusta.
The Turks have been present militarily in Cyprus as an occupying power since the summer of 1974 under the pretext of protecting the Turkish Cypriots, who make up 18% of the local population. This occupation has been in place for 46 years now and Ankara has proven that it will always be there. This also appears to be the expected fate of northern Syria. Trustworthy reports indicated that Ankara was seeking to expand within two months its presence inside the Syrian Arab Republic all the way to the outskirts of Hama.
We will have a clearer picture of Turkish plans in Syria following the expected visit to Ankara by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoygo.
It is quite possible that Turkey will succeed in its plan in Syria, especially since the Bashar Assad regime is almost finished there after it was found to be an integral part of the Iranian expansion project, a project that is itself on the brink of collapse due to the great difficulties caused by US sanctions. In the end, the mighty Islamic Republic established in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini turned out to be no more than a paper tiger. The glaring evidence of this is its inability to respond to the assassination of Soleimani. Each day that passes seems to highlight the important role that this man had played in putting in place Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region, whether in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even Yemen.
Erdogan can certainly succeed in Syria, but it is unlikely he will achieve any positive results in Libya. Like Iran, he is trying to play a role that exceeds Turkey’s ability to survive economically. More than that, he has shoved Turkey into political mazes that greatly trouble Europe. There are limits to blackmailing Europe, even though it does not have a unified position on what is going on in Libya. However, there is, by contrast, a unified European position against allowing Turkey to reach a stage where the continent is subjected to threats of waves of illegal African migrants released from Libyan shores, which are just a stone’s throw from Italian coasts. And let’s not forget that Turkey is also directly threatening the interests of two European Union member states, Greece and Cyprus.
The upshot of all of this is that it is very unlikely that Turkey will be allowed to control a large chunk of the Mediterranean Sea, that is to say from the Bosporus to the Gulf of Sidra in Libya. So, this is not the right time to be bringing the Ottoman Empire back to life. It’s more like the right time for Erdogan to focus on Turkey’s internal problems rather than picturing himself at the top of an imperial power whose might can reach all the way to Yemen and Somalia, yes Yemen and Somalia.
Unfortunately, it will be impossible to convince the Turkish president that he is failing inside Turkey itself and that this failure does not allow him to possess any imperial delusions, especially since he is still inhabited by the fear of the ghost of his archenemy, Islamic guru Fethullah Gulen, who is now a refugee in the United States and is quite popular inside Turkey, a popularity greatly resented by Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is indeed this deeply rooted resentment that has recently pushed the Turkish president to launch yet another wave of arrests in the ranks of the army and security forces, doctors, engineers, journalists and members of the House of Representatives. In just one day on June 9, the Turkish authorities arrested 414 people, according to the French newspaper Le Monde. Most of these were military personnel who were arrested for suspected ties to the Gulen movement.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of having ordered the failed coup against him in 2016, and he is not yet over that “personal affront to the emperor” and remains captive of his Gulen complex. Anyone with his complexes cannot go far with his dreams and delusions. The Turkish president may still be able to score a few points in Turkey, at least from his point of view, but conquering Libya and playing a regional role might be a bigger bone for Turkey to chew on. It will just be a repeat of the Iranian syndrome, where poor Iran is no longer cognisant of the existence of red lines that it can’t cross.
Article first appeared on The Arab Weekly.
Khairallah Khairllah is a Political analyst and writer based in Lebanon.