How Turkey’s Hegemonic Bet on Neo-Ottomanism with Pan-Islamist Face is Costing it Friends and Allies
Finding itself at a crossroads,
increasingly isolated by its Western allies, and no longer the dominant Muslim
voice it once was, Turkey is now flexing its pan-Islamist muscles.
At a pan-Islamism and anti-Islamophobia-themed meeting, recently held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the initiative of Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, and Qatar, Turkey’s President Erdoğan seized the occasion to broadcast what has become a driving principle (in spirit, at least) of his foreign policy projections: saving the Arabo-Muslim world from the incessant, perennial onslaught of an essentially anti-Muslim global order.
In the Malaysian capital, Erdoğan spoke about resistance and the need for a robust Muslim fraternity so that the the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, surely under Turkey’s guidance, can rise to the security and socio-economic challenges of globalization and modernity.
Saving brothers in need, but also driving friends and allies away
Erdoğan’s message was clear: now is the time to revive pan-Islamism. This was later echoed by all participants of the small circle of countries who effectively styled themselves as the saviors, or the forerunners of a much-needed “Muslim coalition” to liberate the Muslim world.
There is nothing new to such pan-Islamism-flavored rhetoric in Erdoğan’s political communication toolkit. The Turkish leader has to some degree already effectively styled himself over the years as the “daring one” who stands up to the West. But the Kuala Lumpur gathering came with a more consequential twist as the MENA seeks a new economic system to extricate itself from the grasp of the all-mighty American dollar.
All this was merely a glimpse of Turkey’s regional ambitions. Just days after the Malaysia meeting, Erdoğan announced Ankara’s plans to send troops to Libya to support the beleaguered Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in its struggle against the troops of General Khalifa Haftar.
The Turkish president said he was responding to an invitation from Tripoli as France, Italy, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, and Russia-backed Haftar prepared to launch a “final assault” on the capital Tripoli. Ankara, once again the savior and the righteous voice in a volatile region, was only legitimately flying to the rescue of the rightful government of Libya. The announcement wasby the Turkish parliament on January 2.
To critics and regional foes, the move was a dangerous threat to regional stability. But Erdoğan swiftly fired back, arguing that “They are helping a warlord. We are responding to an invitation from the legitimate government of Libya.”
These two episodes—the Kuala Lumpur meeting and the decision on Libya—are inextricably linked; they share the same ethical and ideological underpinnings. What they convey is the pointed nostalgia of a country determined to claim the prestige and diplomatic (or geostrategic) prominence and reverence it thinks it deserves.Yet these same moves have been driving Turkey’s erstwhile neighboring friends and allies, including NATO, while effectively confining the carefully crafted concepts and ideals of “strategic depth,” “zero problems with neighbors,” “a center country,” and “order setter,” which were supposed to guide its foreign policy, to the long-forgotten pages of history.