How Erdoğan’s Islamist pivot ended his neo-Ottoman dream - analysis

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pivot away from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s West-centric model in an effort to build regional influence has left Turkey more isolated than ever in the Middle East, said an analysis in Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

During the Arab spring, Erdoğan aligned Turkey with Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus gained great influence in Egypt with the rise of President Mohammed Morsi. But all this was lost with Morsi’s July 2013 overthrow by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“Erdoğan’s grand ‘neo-Ottoman’ aspirations to shape the Middle East from Istanbul, where he often works in offices carved out of Ottoman-era palaces, have come to a halt,” Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkey Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote for the latest issue of Cairo Review. “Today, Ankara is nearly isolated in the Middle East. With the exception of Qatar, Turkey has no friends or allies in the region.”

Turkish ties with the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have suffered because of Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they view as a domestic security threat, according to Çağaptay.

The Turkish-Qatari alliance, meanwhile, has solidified, as both support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza and Brotherhood-linked groups in Syria and Libya. Ankara has provided a lifeline to Doha since its Gulf neighbours placed a blockade in June 2017, said Çağaptay.

A bloc led by Saudi Arabia is now engaged in a regional battle for influence with the Turkey-Qatar axis. “This competition now extends to East Africa, where the axis is vying for influence against the bloc along the Nile Valley and around the Horn of Africa in a new Great Game,” said Çağaptay, referring to their efforts to build influence in Somalia and Sudan.

Turkey is in this position because Erdoğan sought to use support for Islamists as a way to build influence in the region, according to Çağaptay.

“As crafty statesmen, Erdoğan and (former prime minister Ahmet) Davutoğlu should have had the insight to not bet on just one horse, but rather on multiple regional competitors in foreign policy. Accordingly, today Ankara is more isolated than ever in the Middle East,” said Çağaptay.