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If Western Leaders Weren’t Worried About Turkey Before, They Should Be Now

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is getting increasingly closer with Egyptian Premier Mohammed Morsi.

Over the decades the opportunistic Turkey has dictated its Middle Eastern relations based on shifts in the regional balance of power. In the early 1990s up until around 2006, Turkey was finely enmeshed in Western sentiments and policies. But beginning in 2006 it recognized a leadership vacuum in the Middle East and began attempting to fill it, resulting in more Islamist policies and a gravitation towards alignment with the Arab/Muslim countries. Things picked up even more so after the Arab uprisings began. That was not surprising. It should have even been expected. However, I suggested in an article a few months ago that based on its shortsighted and failed foreign policy in Syria, its diplomatic history, and in spite of its trending Islamism, Turkey might seek to renew its relations with Israel and again warm up to the U.S. But I fear that suggestion will prove incorrect.

Over the last week Egypt, with Turkish support, has been trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, though unsuccessfully.  In theory this would appear to be a perfect opportunity for Turkey to take the lead, and possibly reclaim its diplomatic and regional dominance; something it lost with the escalation of the Syrian civil war. This scenario is definitely within the realm of possibility given Turkey’s historical strict adherence to opportunism and the regional balance of power, which given Egypt’s economic woes and anti-democratic political trends is again in flux.

There would be serious obstacles, to be sure. Turkey’s influence with Hamas has declined since Egypt’s rise, and its relationship with Israel has significantly eroded the last few years. Both parties may also be wary of undercutting Egypt as Hamas has its roots from the Muslim Brotherhood, now dominating Egypt, and Israel doesn’t want to endanger the peace treaty. But it’s the Middle East and anything can happen.

Turkey, however, has remained static even in the face of Egypt’s failings. A few days ago Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly dismissed the suggestion by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç that perhaps Turkey and Israel hold bilateral talks to end the escalating crisis in Gaza, despite the rift between the two nations. Erdogan has unabashedly blamed Israel for the current crisis with Hamas, even labeling it a “terrorist state” which will “pay the price for Gazans’ tears.” So while there are reports that Turkey is trying to play mediator, it seems that any halt in violence will come from international pressures on the warring sides, not Turkish diplomacy.

Erodgan also just finished a two day tour in Egypt, where he was visibly and passionately trying to increase ties with Egypt’s ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), its leader Mohammed Morsi, and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood. He brought with him a delegation of 12 ministers — the largest in the history of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Perhaps the Prime Minister is trying to help Egypt’s transition to democracy, but that is questionable. Some political pundits, including Mohamed Abdel Kader of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, have criticized him for aligning too closely with Morsi and the FJP.  They point out that he has also largely neglectedthe rest of Egypt’s political parties.

With all this, one can’t help but feel that Turkey’s ruling party is breaking with history, instead choosing to further its Islamist agenda. If I were the leader of a Western nation, I would be very concerned.

 

Photo: The Arabian Gazette

 

Author

Rob Lattin
Rob Lattin

Rob Lattin recently completed his Master's in International Affairs at the City College of New York, where he won the Frank Owarish prize for graduating at the top of his class. His thesis explored Democratic Peace Theory and its applicability to small powers, and used the relationship between Turkey and Israel as its case study. Rob received his B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and Political Science, graduating from the University of Arizona with honors.

Rob has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived in Haifa, Israel. In addition to blogging for FPB, he is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Jspace.com. He currently splits his time between Washington D.C. and New York City.

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