by All Arab News Staff | May 9, 2021
As the Arab Spring was unfolding, bringing in its wake political transformations which have toppled rulers and others that have left countries stuck in a cycle of war, Turkey sought to use the uncertainty to extend its own influence in the region. Led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s own government has remained relatively stable. But its strategy in the last decade has been to advance its own interests in the region by lending support to Islamic groups that have arisen in the various revolutions.
In Syria, Turkey supported opposition forces and ISIS against President Basher Assad. Turkey also feared that a vacuum of power would enable the Kurds to gain autonomy on the Turkish border.
In Egypt, Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood when it came to power in Cairo and, even after President Mohamed Morsi was deposed in 2013, Ankara actively opposed the new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
This also affected Turkey’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of whom backed al-Sisi. Then the Turkish-Saudi relationship suffered a further blow with the horrific killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s embassy in Istanbul.
But this strategy has put Turkey at odds with powerful regimes in the region and in the West. And as Arab states are beginning to align with Israel and work more closely with the United States and Europe, Turkey finds itself, more often than not, on the wrong side of the equation. This, it appears, has not been lost on Turkey. Beginning with Ankara’s decision to sacrifice the Muslim Brotherhood in its own country and shut down the organization’s broadcasts at Egypt’s request, Turkey started sending signals that it is willing to take a different approach to its relationships in the Arab world. Last week, a delegation from Turkey, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, met with Egyptian counterparts in Cairo, including Hamdi Loza, Egypt’s deputy foreign minister. The two nations released a joint statement after these exploratory consultations. “The discussions were frank and in-depth,” said the statement released last week. “They addressed bilateral issues as well as a number of regional issues, in particular the situation in Libya, Syria, Iraq and the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
Lately, there has also been talk of a Turkish-Saudi rapprochement – something that could open the door to reconciliation with the UAE and other Arab regimes whose relations with Turkey have deteriorated over the last 10 years. In order to open a new chapter with the U.S. and Europe – and to settle its differences with Greece and France, as well as Egypt and Libya – Turkey realized it must resolve problems and disagreements with neighboring countries, rather than exacerbate them.
Hence, the official political discourse in Turkey seems to be softening.
With other Arab nations pursuing moderation and peace with Israel, Turkey finds itself on the wrong side of the equation