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«WORKING PAPER SERIES - IMESC| FEBRUARY 2013 Canada, Ontario ISSN: 2291-322X (Print) 2291-3238 (Online) Ottomanization or Miscalculation? The new role ...»

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The Institute of Middle Eastern Studies Canada (IMESC)


Canada, Ontario

ISSN: 2291-322X (Print)

2291-3238 (Online)

Ottomanization or Miscalculation?

The new role of Turkey in the Middle East.

Abdalhadi M. Alijla*

ISBN: 978-0-9918971-0


Abdalhadi Alijla, an IMESC Associate Fellow and Research Coordinator. Currently a Doctoral Researcher at

State University of Milano, Italy.

IMESC: is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization founded as an initiative of a group of academics and activists in the academic, research and community work to develop policies and strategies for academic work and development in Canadian society; the idea of establishing the Institute has emerged to be the foundation of scientific information for those interested on region and the world at a time when Canada playing an important role in the international relations. The establishing of the IMESC also to have a safe place that encourages researchers in the region, as well as for the development of scientific research and studies relevant affairs of the region and their curricula; and provide analysis and future vision and strategy for service oriented international issues of fair and world issues of common interest, as well as work on building conscious generation that is faithful to the issues of humanity. For more information on IMESC, please contact info@imesc.org


Turkey has increased its role in the Middle East in the past two years. The Arab spring introduced one more element into the wavering foreign policy of Ankara. This poses a challenge for Turkey’s power and diplomacy, not only because of its huge investments in the region but mainly because of its cultural, political and historical bonds to the region. However, Turkey is not trying to shift its strong and close cooperation from the EU and USA to close corporation in the Middle East region. But rather, it would like to improve its role as a member of NATO and become the most influential power in the region. This paper examines the new role of Turkey in the Middle East and how this will influence its relations with the west, especially the European Union and the United States. I argue that Turkey is not trying to export its model to any of the Middle East countries; rather it seeks to extend its influence upon a growing number of actors. In general, Turkey has been a popular mediator between many actors in the Middle East and uses its close relations with these actors to improve its position as a stronghold in the Middle East. This paper argues that Turkey’s new role will bring about more coordination and cooperation between Turkey on one hand,and the EU and USA on the other hand.

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Turkey, the new regional super power:

As the Arab Spring spread throughout the region, Ankara, the self-styled regional leader, actively seeks to take this opportunity for its regional and international agendas. The recent events of the quick and unpredictable fall of Tunisia‟s Ben Ali and of Egypt‟ Mubarak, followed by a bloody conflict in Libya and Syria, have increased the complexity of the Turkish political position as a regional power. This can be realized from the first speeches of Erdogan in which he called for a democratic and smooth transformation to real democracy.

He called for the needs to listen to the voices of the people and their demands, „You should listen to the people and their rightful demands.... You should take the necessary steps to satisfy the Egyptian people‟s demands first without providing an opportunity for those who have other plans for Egypt. Demands for freedom cannot be postponed and cannot be neglected,‟(TodayZaman 2011).

The exceptional position that Erdogan took in DAVOS Economic forum against Israel‟s president, the political openness with non-state actors, such as Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah and the many attempts of Turkey to break the siege on Gaza led to huge waves of popularity in the Arab World. Turkey won the unbreakable trust of the Arab people which made it more credible than many Arabic governments. However, Turkey‟s position has varied from one country to another and has changed its policies and positions depending on its regional and international interests. Many scholars and writers have dubbed Erdogan as Machiavelli and his Turkey politics during the Arab Spring as Machiavellian (Lutfi 2013;

alsabaah 2011). Diverse interests of Turkey have given rise to conflicting positions simultaneously. It is my contention, firstly, that the Turkish leadership observed the changing Middle East and reacted in a slightly different way to each particular situation, based on their regional and global interests. Secondly, by adopting a Machiavellian approach, Turkey is upgrading its regional and international interests. Turkey wants to improve its position by having political leverage with respect to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and non-state and state actors in the region. This leverage would enlarge the cooperation between the EU and Turkey in the Middle East. However, this will not improve the relations between the United States and Turkey which is becoming more powerful, politically, economically and culturally. At the regional level, while the U.S. and Western's influence in the Arab world have suffered in the wake of the uprisings, regional states such as Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt have been demonstrating a capacity to defuse regional tensions and act as credible mediators (Dessì and Huber 2012).

This new activism is generally welcomed by Western powers — especially given that the United States has been pushing for a greater degree of Arab/Turkish “ownership” in regional affairs. The fact that these countries enjoy good relations with both Hamas and Washington further highlights the benefits of this increased activism, given that these countries could serve as important counterweights to Iran‟s more subversive influence over the Islamist Palestinian resistance movement in Gaza and therefore help moderate Hamas‟s positions toward Fatah, Israel, and the peace process(Dessì and Huber 2012).There are many settings that can been seen as major determinations for the new Turkish role in the Middle East. This includes political and historical, economical and security.

Soon, after the Justice and Development Party (JDP) won the elections and assumed power, they started new agenda for developing their relations with the Arab world and their neighboring countries. Turkey was present in the heart of events; it intensified its presence in conflict areas such as Gaza. In 2007, after the EU suspended talks with Turkey over Turkey's application for accession to the EU, Turkey shifted its weight from Europe to the Middle 1 © IMESC Ottomanization or miscalculation? The new role of Turkey in the Middle East.

IMESC Working Paper 1| 2013 East. As F. Stephen Larrabee argues, „Turkey is now emerging as an important diplomatic actor in the Middle East. Over the past few years, Ankara has established close ties with Iran and Syria, with which it had tense relations during the 1980s and 1990s; it adopted a more active approach toward the Palestinians' grievances; it improved relations with the Arab world more broadly‟(Larrabee 2007).

Ahmed Daoud Oglu, Turkey‟s foreign minister, invited the Arab leader not to stand against the waves of change and democracy, calling the Arab Spring as natural path of history. These events initiated Turkey's the new foreign policy agenda towards the Middle East. Ahmed Daoud Oglu, as an academic and advisor, is making sure that Turkey will benefit strategically from any move(SHADID 2011). However, many scholars and experts inside Turkey, echo fears that the Arab Spring may cause a decline in the Turkish-Arab relations. In my opinion, during the post-cold war era Turkey has enhanced its relations with the West and has become a strategic partner for the EU and the United States. This role is going to increase, especially if Turkey is put forward as a model for the Middle East countries(BBC 2012; Alarab 2011).

Ibrahim Khalil, chief policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, emphasized the new role of Turkey. He expressed his optimism that the new transformation will enhance Turkey‟s role as a regional and international power through a more democratic Middle East(Kalin 2011). This indicates that Turkey is the country that has benefited more than any other player in the region. Moreover, many scholars in Turkey and in the Arab World are open to discuss the new “Ottoman agenda." They argue that this time it is not through military means, but through soft power and advancing relations equally with Middle Eastern governments and people/ (AbdelQader 2012). For instance, the Turkish language has begun to be taught as a third language in public schools. Many universities, research laboratories and institutions receive funds from Turkish organizations as well(AnadoliaNews 2012).

The lightening fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak, and then Qaddafi encouraged Turkey to adopt a three-level strategy to save its investments in the region and enhance its international position (EU and USA). This strategy focuses on 1) strengthening Turkey-EU and Turkey-USA relations by emphasizing and employing the new Turkish role for regional stability. TurkeyUSA cooperation and coordination have increased exponentially in the last year over Syria‟s crisis and as how to engage the Islamic groups such as Muslim brotherhoods and Salafists in power. Turkey initiated and assisted in opening channels between Islamic movement and Washington; in promoting relations with the new regimes, and ending tensions with the Egyptian government. Turkey‟s new strategy is to re-arrange the regional security pattern.

However, its role is not only a political one. In the post-Qaddafi period, Turkey has signed dozens of economic and political agreements with the new regime in Libya. In Syria, Turkey decided to stop supporting the Al-Assad regime after ascertaining that he would not initiate any serious reform towards a more democratic regime. Therefore, Turkey is strengthening the position and influence with respect to post-Assad actors and enhancing relations with the new political Islam parties. Turkey is trying to assist the Muslim Brotherhood to adopt a pragmatic approach in their politics. This gives Turkey the possibility to work as a bridge between the West and the Muslim Brotherhood including the Salafists.

Turkey’s foreign policy:

After the accession talks between EU and Turkey fell into disarray, followed by the economic crisis of 2008, then by the economic crisis of the Euro in 2010 and 2011, Turkey started to reorganize its agenda and change its foreign policy. In 2011, the Arab Spring started, giving Turkey an unexpected and unpredicted opportunity to take up the role of a mediator, leader, 2 © IMESC Ottomanization or miscalculation? The new role of Turkey in the Middle East.

IMESC Working Paper 1| 2013 and political model as well as an economic investor. As Mohamed S. Younis argues, „the uprisings in some MENA countries and revolutions in others have offered Turkey a golden opportunity to engage quickly and forcefully on hard-core political, economic, and democracy-promoting policies across the Mediterranean‟(Younis 2012).

The Arab Spring occurred while Turkey‟s foreign policy was experiencing some troubles with Israel. This came after the crisis of Gaza in 2008 and the Israeli attack on the Turkish flotilla in 2010, for which Turkey‟s foreign policy was criticized by many EU states and the United States. This created the impression that Turkey was joining Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel(FRIEDMAN 2012).

In addition, the Arab Spring shifted the core question in the West from, “Who lost Turkey?” to “Is Turkey a Model?" Turkey, as a democratic and secular state with the vast majority of its population Muslim, called for a democratic and soft transformation of power in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Even in Syria, where Assad‟s regime had significant relations with Turkeyafter a long period of diplomatic disarray- Turkey has criticized Syria‟s regime, supporting the rebels and setting up a base for them in Turkey. Of course, the ruling party, Justice and Development Party (AKP), plays a significant role in coordination with other Islamic parties in the region. Since AKP came to power, its policy has changed dramatically and its image in the Arab world as a westernized and secular state has improved /changed to better off. Prior to its rejection of el-Assad, Turkey started to move into another direction, the direction of strengthening its relations with its historical partners, the Arabic and Islamic countries. It reformed its foreign policy towards all states and actors in the region as well as towards its trans-Atlantic partners. Turkish policy is based on what the current foreign minister; Ahmet Davutoğlu calls “zero-problems” with neighbors.

However, Kemal Kirişci argues that after the Arab Spring and Turkey‟s engagement, „zero problem‟ collapsed. He argues that this policy was presented as a major source of Turkey‟s soft power in international relations, leading Turkey‟s Minister of Foreign Affairs to talk about Turkey becoming an “order-setter'” (düzen kurucu) in its neighborhood. However, as noted by a prominent observer of Middle Eastern politics, Turkish foreign policy “is now beset with grave problems on almost every front”.(Kirişci 2012; Seale 2012).

Despite that, Turkish activism and its newly established foreign policy focus, particularly with respect ti former Ottoman territories, has led to some analysts referring to this new policy as „neo-Ottoman‟. „Neo-Ottoman‟ is a term that includes more than Turkish engagement. It is broader in the sense that Turkish people look at the former Ottoman territories as if they belong to Turkey. In 2010, the Turkish prime minister, in one of his speeches on Gaza, dubbed Gaza as an Ottoman territory and said it belonged to “our ancestors and fathers.". Neo-Ottomanism sees Turkey as a regional superpower and the center of actions in the region. “According to this vision, Turkey, as a pivotal state, should play an active diplomatic, political, and economic role in a wide region of which it is the „center‟.”(Tocci et al. 2011).

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