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Opinion: The Turkish Republic or the Ottoman Empire? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Pro-Islamic Turks take part in a demonstration supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Istanbul July 14, 2013. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

The statements coming from Turkey about the state of affairs in Egypt after June 30 seem shocking, especially those issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. The statements seem hostile and provocative to the new political leadership in Egypt, as well as to the majority of the Egyptian people who explicitly and strongly expressed their rejection of the Brotherhood’s rule after the Brotherhood spent only one year in power.

Why should Turkey adopt such an attitude? We must remember here that this stance is identical to the vision of the Muslim Brotherhood and conflicts with the stances of some Arab and Western states. Those Arab and Western states handled the new situation smoothly and are backing the roadmap, which the army declared and began to implement after it clearly announced it does not want to continue to perform a political role. The army also announced its disinterest in dominating political life, as promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey.

The Turkish officials’ strong words came out oddly, for they expressed “disappointment” and mentioned the phrase “coup d’état,” refusing to deal with the new Egyptian government and trying their best to prompt Western and Arab states to change the new situation. The Turks are persisting with such a policy, even though the situation indicates that this policy is doomed to failure even before it starts.

To understand why Turkey would take such a position, we must point out that the relation between political Islam groups and the army in that country is highly complex—and it is one of apparent antagonism. The Turkish army has long thwarted the ambitions of these groups, who sought to change Turkey’s modern, secular identity. As a result, these groups had to refine their discourse and accept secularism and civility, thus obtaining US and European support until they eventually rose to power. These groups dread that, should what happened in Egypt become acceptable regionally and internationally, the political ambitions of the Turkish army could be revived.

The Erdoğan government is facing numerous threats and problematical issues, and is trying to achieve historic cooperation in its relations with the Kurds. Yet, at the same time, it is concerned about the possible development of the sectarian war that the Iranian axis is waging against the Sunni majority in Syria. It worries that this conflict could reach the Alawites and the Sunnis within Turkey. This coincides with continual protests led by popular movements and opposition political parties, which have proven to be strong and widespread and about which the government feels deeply concerned about. Yet the government is still marking time with regards to the issue of joining the European Union. It is odd that in most of these challenges, the Turkish government resorts to conspiracy theories rather than realistic and practical solutions.

Everything that has been said is worthy of attention, discussion and analysis. Yet, in my assessment, what is more important is the appearance of the ideological link between different versions of political Islamist groups. What happened in Egypt on June 30 has thwarted an ideological dream of building an alliance of Islamist groups after they rose to power on two coasts of the Mediterranean, in Ankara and in Cairo. This proves that all the speeches delivered by Turkey’s Islamist leaders about secularism and about their advice to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt must be questionable to ascertain their authenticity. Does the Turkish Justice and Development Party really strongly believe in secularism and civility, or was it forced to accept them in view of internal balances and international strategic relations on the economic and political levels?

Turkey has the right to perform an active and effective regional role, yet it must realize that such a role should not be at the expense of strong and effective regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, which the Telegraph newspaper described as a “great regional power” and a “powerful Middle East player.” The head Turkish diplomat, Ahmet Davutoğlu is the author of the book Strategic Depth. He must have been aware that Egypt’s “strategic depth” lies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, not Turkey, and that such a Turkish stance must have an impact on Turkey’s growing economic relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, as well as on the major contracts Turkey signed with them recently.

Turkish diplomacy should not have intervened in Egypt’s internal affairs, and it should deal with the new political leadership more wisely and contemplatively. It should closely examine the internal situation in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood was an abject failure in leading the state, because they were distracted from their leadership responsibilities by their ambitions to dominate the state. The Brothers were preoccupied with suppressing rivals and driving out political dissidents, rather than caring for development. The Brotherhood did not lose only all major state institutions, such as the army, Al-Azhar, the judiciary, the church, security forces and youth and public forces, but they also lost some of its radical adherents, such as the Salafist Al-Nour Party, which expressed attitudes and visions and adopted policies that contradict those of the Brotherhood—and even targeted them with overt criticism.

Turkey, in view of its politically unjustifiable bias, may break off its relations with Egypt, as well as with numerous Arab states. This attitude reflects a desire to turn back the clock, but instead there must be a careful and cautious reading of the requirements of reality and the nature of the status quo.

The purpose of this article is not to eliminate or marginalize the Turkish role in the region. Turkey is an important state, and it is possible that a powerful alliance with it is built to handle heated and major issues in the region, such as the Syrian crisis and the Iranian danger. Such an alliance must be built on basis of common views and exchanged interests in all levels. Yet the most important objective is that its role as a Turkish state is acceptable and understandable and that its role as a neo-Ottoman Empire is rejected and unrealistic.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political and media machine, under its variant guises—whether as media outlets, as religious symbols adhering to political Islam in general in Egypt or in the Gulf States, or as websites—are attempting to compare what happened in Egypt to the hardline Algerian example or to the less hardline Turkish one. Such a comparison is impractical, as the differences in history and geography and the disparate realistic data necessitate a new type of thinking. We must think outside the ideological boxes and in a manner closer to political realism.

Recently, Hussein Galilik, deputy chief of the Turkish Justice and Development Party, posted the following comment on his Twitter account: “Damn the coup in Egypt. I’m hopeful that the masses that brought Mursi to power would defend their votes, which are their democratic dignity.” Apart from the sharp tone of these words, they reflect the sharp ideological, not realistic, stance of the Turkish government.