“Crossing Erdoğan’s Turkey is playing with fire” – Arab media
This week, Arabic-language media have debated Turkey’s grand strategy in the Middle East, analysed Turkish hostility to the United States, and discussed the impact of popular Turkish cultural products on Arab states.
The London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Araby made striking claims about Turkey’s strategic direction vis-à-vis Europe, Israel and the Middle East and North Africa.
The article, written by Jordanian political analyst Bassam Badareen, analysed intelligence reports for the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe, which he said reflect European concerns that the threat of terrorism could skyrocket if Turkey were not kept on side.
Turkey “controls millions of Turks within Europe, and according to its wishes can use jihadist groups deep within European cities, or cooperate with these cities to prevent terrorist attacks”, wrote Badareen. Therefore, the Europeans have come to the realisation that “crossing Erdoğan’s Turkey is playing with fire”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leverage over Europe is part of a broader strategy that encompasses the Middle East and is tied implicitly to the Palestine-Israel conflict, according to the pro-Palestinian newspaper’s report.
Turkey’s Jan. 20 Operation Olive Branch, an incursion into the northwest Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, began after the Dec. 13, 2017 Islamic Conference in Istanbul, an extraordinary summit called to respond to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Turkey, and the 57 nations represented as the conference, strongly opposed Trump’s announcement, and responded by declaring East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.
With a bolstered presence in Syria due to Olive Branch, closer cooperation with Iran as a result of the Jerusalem issue and the two countries’ mutual opposition to Kurdish independence movements, and a military presence in Qatar, Somalia and Sudan, Turkey now has a strategic presence in the area surrounding Israel, wrote Badareen.
Moreover, Turkey’s rising power and leverage over Europe has contributed to European leaders’ opposition to Trump’s decision, according to Badareen, who also predicts that former Turkish foreign minister and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu could make a return to politics as an “acceptable face for Europeans”. Davutoğlu was forced to step down as prime minister on May 5, 2016, after falling out of Erdoğan’s favour.
The Egyptian state-owned newspaper Al Ahram ran an article on Wednesday looking at Turkey’s war of words with the United States over U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, which Turkey considers the Syrian wing of the terrorist-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear these groups out of the northwest Syrian area of Afrin. Since then, Erdoğan has vowed to extend the operation to areas to the east of Afrin. This has caused a crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations, since U.S. troops are stationed in these areas.
Al Ahram examined the anti-U.S. rhetoric, stretching to outright threats, that has emerged from Turkey since the beginning of the operation, saying that the hostility between the two NATO allies has gone further even than when Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974.
However, a direct military confrontation in Syria is unlikely, according to the Egyptian newspaper, which predicts that Trump will take a more conciliatory tone with Ankara. For its part, Turkey is likely to compromise with Washington despite the probability of continued U.S. support for the YPG.
Even so, the Afrin operation is likely to prove costly to Turkey, particularly with the inevitability of civilian casualties, said Al Ahram. The shortest way for Erdoğan to achieve his goals in Syria would be through rapprochement with his enemy, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who like Turkey opposes an autonomous Kurdish entity.
The widely circulated Saudi liberal newspaper, Okaz, ran an opinion piece on Thursday by Mohamed al-Saad on the dangers posed by Turkey’s soft power to Arab culture.
The article, entitled “Entertainment … So we don’t become a Turkish estate!”, describes Turkish soft power as the country’s natural right, but warns that the dominance of Turkish cultural products will prove detrimental to Arab interests if left unchecked.
Turkey’s television dramas have proven a hugely lucrative cultural product around the world, and several Turkish shows have extremely high ratings in Arab countries.
However, Saad warns that these dramas are the spearhead of a “neo-Ottoman imperial dream” held by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party since it took power 15 years ago.
Soon after the dramas gained popularity across the Arab world, other Turkish brands and cultural products followed, including entertainment, restaurants, and cafes. The wave of enthusiasm for Turkey resulted in billions of dollars of Arab money being invested in the country.
However, Saad said this has also created the conditions for the adoption of Turkish political opinion in Arab states, which runs counter to their own interests, and for a revival of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamic group that is reviled by the Saudi establishment.
Turkey’s expansive foreign policy has put it at odds with a number of regional states, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which object to Ankara’s support for the Gulf state of Qatar, and for Muslim Brotherhood figures they count as terrorists.