Turkey is pushing hard for regional power. President Erdogan is trying to be seen as an unwavering champion of Muslims everywhere. During his 12 years in power, Erdogan took up the cause of the conservatives who had often been overlooked by previous administrations. The US has been increasingly frustrated as Erdogan jockeys for power in the midst of the Syria crisis, preventing the US from using bases that would be valuable and doing little to prevent extremists from crossing the border into Syria. All while ISIS/ISIL massacre and pillage, Erdogan turns a blind eye while he keeps his focus pinned to Assad.
Turkey has been in talks to join the EU for quite some now. Now Erdogan is turning away from that, disillusioned by European anti-Islam rhetoric and seeing the opportunity after the Arab Spring. Since the fall of Mubarak, the Turkish government has begun to back groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been seriously irritating Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Indeed, Erdogan supported the brief presidency of Mohamed Morsi before the Egyptian military overthrew him.
It must be noted that while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have a history of being strong allies of the US, neither country is run by a popularly elected government. Erdogan was elected multiple times. For all of that, though, the press in Turkey has been facing nearly the same levels of censorship.
Qatar is a very small country ruled by a monarchy, absurdly, and they’re the backers of al-Jazeera, which is basically run on oil wealth. When the Egyptian military smashed Morsi out of power, al-Jazeera was very critical. That has died down somewhat in the face of pressure from Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Erdogan hasn’t wavered on the issue. When Qatar expelled leaders from Hamas, again due to pressure from Saudi Arabia, Erdogan was quick to extend his hand and offer safe haven in Turkey.
From the CS Monitor:
Mr. Davutoglu, now prime minister, “believes that Turkey can maximize its influence in the region if it supports democracies,” says Ms. Kenar, the Türkiye columnist. “He believes that if democracy prevails, Turkey will naturally be the leading country…
It’s an odd moment when Turkey, a country that supports right-wing Islamist movements both political and otherwise, is actually the beacon of democracy in the region. Wildly, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait*, and Turkey are the only countries in that area with representative governments. Turkey’s ruling party is basically the Muslim Brotherhood, while Hamas is actually a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. That leaves two countries, Lebanon and Kuwait*. Lebanon, a primarily Shia country, as one of the two countries in the region that isn’t controlled by either a dictatorship or a Sunni political party.
Now, hopping back a little to the list of democratic countries, it must be said that one could call Iran a democracy, as they do hold elections. Unfortunately, that’s misleading. There is little ambiguity in the fact that power is firmly held by the Ayatollah, which pretty much nixes the whole representative government thing. To add insult to injury, the Supreme Ayatollah is also the religious leader for all Shia, which includes Lebanon. The most prestigious group in Lebanon, Hezbollah, is a group of foreign-trained, foreign-equipped, and foreign-funded Shiite soldiers that specialize in asymmetrical warfare. They are, essentially, an outgrowth of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
So that’s the landscape of the Muslim world (excluding poor Kuwait*). That’s what Turkey leans into, and to be terribly honest, it doesn’t take much squinting to see Turkey as a haven for republican ideals. While the Muslim Brotherhood and others seek to reimpose Sharia elsewhere in the region, that’s a nonstarter in Turkey. In other words, the only things to truly fear from an Islamic government is untenable (for now) in Turkey. Perhaps, then a realignment could be a good thing. Perhaps when Erdogan finally is pushed out of power, Turkey will come with new ideas and solid credentials and help the downtrodden countries of the region back on the path to true and lasting democracy.
(Note: the first four paragraphs are largely a summary of this article)
*Whoops I completely forgot about Kuwait in the original version of this post. I had to do some research. I’ve learned that Kuwait is fascinating. More on that later.