After years of rapprochement with its neighbours in the Middle East, Turkey appears to be losing its reputation that it has previously gained due to Turkey’s new policy of “Problems Every Where”. Observes in the region have started criticising the foreign policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is not hiding his expansionist dreams that reminds the people of the Middle East of the notorious Ottoman Empire which dominated and exploited the region for centuries.
Historically, the Ottoman Empire was an expansionist system which exploited the region’s
resources for a long time. Just like any other invader, the Ottomans did not spend any
money on elevating the region, and their only goal was increasing their geographical
dominance in order to strengthen their military and economy.
That approach was at the expense of other ethnicities in the region, mainly Arabs who revolted against the Ottomans in the “Great Arab Revolution” because of the level of oppression they faced, especially from the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The contribution by Arabs in the demise of the Ottoman Empire is overlooked by many, but Ottomans know it very well and hate Arabs for their historical stance.
As a result of that, the relationship between Turks and Arabs reached its rock-bottom as
each side blamed the other for their failure in the beginning of the 20th century. For
example, Taha Hussain, one of the most notable Arab intellectuals blamed Turkey for the
status of ignorance in the Arab world. He once said “Europeans began their new life in the
fifteenth century, while we were delayed by the Ottoman Turks until the nineteenth
On the other hand, Turkish chroniclers have described Arabs as traitors who
stabbed the Ottoman state in the back when it was defending the region from
colonisers. Clearly the history between both sides was not pleasant and after forming the
Turkish Republic and the independence of Arab countries, both sides decided to
disconnect and focus on their domestic interests away from each other.
However, from 2002, things changed after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the Turkish election. There was a new policy in Turkey which was set by Ahmet Davutoğlu amid strengthening relations with neighbours, which he perceived as Turkey’s “strategic depth”.
Thus Turkey adopted a “Zero Problem Policy” in order to to focus on mutual interests rather than differences. Such an approach was not easy to implement given the historical barriers and bloody memories, but as Davutoğlu argues, Turkey had no option to move forward until it changes the old perception that it is surrounded by foes.
Prior to the so called “Arab Spring,” Turkey succeeded in changing its image in the Arab
world – from a bloody and notorious image to a positive one thanks to a number of factors
which increased its popularity and attracted Arab investors and tourists. Consequently
the Turkish economy improved rapidly to unprecedented levels as new markets, which for
a long time were closed, have been opened for business.
One factor that attracted Arabs was Turkey’s democratic system which was perceived as
a “model” in the region. Even former US President George. W. Bush once referred to
Turkey as a peaceful Muslim country, praising its political system.
Another factor was the vocal support to Palestinians which increased Erdoğan’s popularity as he openly criticised Israel many times over its operations in Gaza. Thus, Khalid Meshaal, the previous head of Hamas, once praised Turkey and its leadership by calling Erdoğan the leader of the Muslim world.
Third, the economic reforms and the impressive growth in the country’s
budget matched by an improvement in the political relations with neighbouring countries.
But again, since the “Arab Spring,” things started to change as some Arabs started
questioning the feasibility of having strong ties with Turkey, given that it showed clear
expansionist aspiration. For example, Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood across
the Middle East and North Africa, which caused a clash with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirate – all had designated the group as a terrorist organisation.
Not only this, but Turkey supported Iran’s nuclear aspirations which is another existential matter for Arabs.
Furthermore, Turkey’s lawless military intervention in Syria, Iraq and Libya is a stark sign of disrespecting the sovereignty of countries and more proof of Ankara’s desire to exploit resources from neighbouring countries.
For all these reasons, many Arabs have become skeptical of Turkey’s intentions in the
region. And even the factors that once attracted some Arabs to Turkey do not exist anymore. Turkey is losing its classification as a democrat state and turning to autocracy.
And as for its vocal stance against Israel, it appears that it is all empty words given that during Erdoğan’s rule, term business with Israel has reached its peak and keeps flourishing. Even the economy, which one day was the most important factor in attracting investors, does not
exist anymore as the country is suffering severely and its currency keeps bleeding.
Turkey cannot expect Arabs and Greeks to turn a blind eye over its continues malign
activities in the region. The Neo-Ottoman notion that they are the legitimate heir of the
Ottoman Empire and have a responsibility to all subjects in its former territories is totally
outdated and does not fit in the current century.
Furthermore, the idea that Turkey can lead the Muslim world is another obsolete delusion. In the 21st century, relations between countries are based on respect and mutual interests, not on dominance and exploitation.
Turkey needs to understand that, otherwise it will loose many markets in the region which will damage its collapsing economy and currency even further.
And it is not a secret that calls for boycotting Turkey and its goods is everywhere on Arab social media.
And while Turkey is loosing its good relations with major Arab players, Greece, on the
other hand is becoming closer to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the the UAE and other regional
Tourists have switched their destination from Turkey to super great places in
Greece, such as Mykonos, which have become a must go place for Arab tourists.
Even on the military side, the cooperation is unprecedented between Athens and other
Arab capitals. Recently, Greece sent Patriot defence missiles to Saudi Arabia to help
protect its energy infrastructure. Additionally, just days ago, UAE fighter jets have been
dispatched to Greece for a joint drill with the Hellenic Air Force. And surely the naval drills in the Mediterranean between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus take place almost every year.
In the near future, much more work can be done to enhance the political and business
relationship between Greece and its regional friends, which will isolate Erdoğan and
destroy his expansionist dreams completely.
Moreover, politically, forming a united front in Washington against Turkey is a great option to push for sanctions against the Erdoğan regime and force his regime to respect the sovereignty of nations.
After all, Arabs and Greeks share the same geographical area and the same common
threat. It is also important to remember that any multilateral business agreements and
political cooperation between Arabs and Greeks would be at the expense of Turkey’s
balance of power, and such moves will eventually force Ankara to understand its reality as
a normal isolated country in the region and not a superpower caliphate.
Abdulrahman Taleb, is a British-Arab researcher in Middle East North Africa studies.
The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Greek City Times.