Translated by: Selin Çetin
Hello, good day, hope you had a good week. Today, on “Transatlantic”, we will mainly scrutinize a single topic with Gönül Tol, which is: the new pursuits to revise Turkey’s foreign policy. Actually, to be more precise, this search is for a complete 180-degree shift from the current existing policy. I will solicit the questions and Gönül will provide the answers. Particularly we will discuss the Middle East, and the subjects Gönül is well-versed in. But before this, I would like to provide my own perspective about the matter, on this broadcast. See me as a kind of “overture”, but we’ll air the main broadcast today at 17:00 with Gönül Tol, I recommend you listen to it on “Transatlantic”. I would also like to inform you that Ömer Taşpınar will not be able to attend.
Yes, the Egypt issue has flooded public consciousness. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Turkey began to develop diplomatic relations with Egypt again, and that relations with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, could be improved. Currently Turkey –Ankara–has put realpolitik at the front of their foreign policy and seems as though they intend to “start over with a clean slate” with everyone. However, it is not possible to say that the response to this was reciprocated by Egypt. Since some emphasized -at first anonymously, then Foreign Affairs officials, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself- that there were few developments, but they were very preliminary, and plenty more had to occur. Especially concerning relations with Egypt, we know Turkey’s urgency to build an alliance with Cairo is because of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean). Besides Libya, Turkey cannot find any other supporters in the Eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Greece and Southern Cyprus attract almost all imperative international support in this region, making Turkey seriously uncomfortable. This is why Egypt is vital here, but the statements from them, either in an official or semi-official way, express that they will not come to any solution that Southern Cyprus and Greece would not accept concerning the Levant issue.
The most significant problem with Egypt, beyond territoriality, is an ideo-political one. The fact that General Sisi overthrew the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood leading to a coup d’état, applied enormous political pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, incarcerated masses of people, sentenced many to death, there were numerous lives lost in conflict, etc. And here, in the international arena, one of the few countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood, which was overthrown from power, is Turkey. For a long time since the coup, Turkey has been aware of the Muslim Brotherhood settling in their country and publicizing their propaganda towards Egypt, essentially through social media. Turkey owns up to this quite openly, Erdoğan’s infamous “Rabia” sign is a symbol exhibiting this. The “Rabia” incident that started in Egypt has also become a symbol of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) domestic policy. Therefore, if Turkey does not revise their relationship and support of the Muslim Brotherhood, I do not believe that the government in Egypt could ever develop a strong relationship with Ankara. It is also uncertain to what extent Erdoğan may be able to back down from this. Diplomatic relations will be something Ankara wants to pursue on issues such as regional security, energy, and through bypassing the Muslim Brotherhood, that is, not putting it on the table; but it seems the Egyptian administration will not be very willing to do so. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that this process has only just begun, and it is not possible to predict how it will evolve, as of yet.
Alongside Egypt, for the last few years we cognize that Ankara has had serious problems with other countries in the region along the Gulf, besides Qatar. These problems, particularly in terms of the economy of Turkey, caused significant financial strain which is very apparent. Formerly, when Turkey had good relations with Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, this had irrefutable contributions towards their economy. However, the recent political tensions and disagreements sometimes over Iran, but especially over Ankara’s view of the Islamic movement, their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other similar movements in the Arab world; has caused Turkey to face serious problems with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Most recently, the assassination of Cemal Kaşıkçı in Istanbul has strained relations with Riyadh, and brought the difficulties experienced with the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to the surface. Despite this, we recognise that Turkey does not want to continue to escalate tensions. Instead, they want to return to the old days when there were less strains on their relationship, but to what degree can Turkey make this a reality? Truthfully, this is highly precarious because of the nature of their domestic policy. I do not believe it is possible for Erdoğan to adequately distance his relationships with Islamist movements in certain Arab countries, to the satisfaction of regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and countries such as the aforementioned, Egypt. At least, it will not be quite possible for him to do this in plain view. In this regard, there is a very serious problem at hand. Therefore, the strides Ankara wants to take in its foreign policy, and the occasional 180-degree shifts it wants to make is highly linked to its domestic policy. The majority of these issues came into fruition and developed into crises, due to the effects of Turkey’s internal politics.
Here it is necessary to open a separate parenthesis for the United Arab Emirates, because it is not a subject matter that is well-known or discussed in great length, in Turkey. Yet, the United Arab Emirates follows a much more active foreign policy in the Gulf, than Saudi Arabia in some cases. Moreover, we know that Turkey experienced more problems with the United Arab Emirates than Saudi Arabia, which even extends to the July 15th coup attempt. There is a certain faction in Ankara who wholeheartedly believe that the United Arab Emirates is involved in this coup attempt of the Gülenists somehow, and that they sponsored it too. This stands before us as a very challenging predicament to solve. Another problematic country in the context of relations with Islamist movements, is of course Israel. The issue Israel brings to the agenda the most when discussing alliances with Turkey, is Hamas. Hamas, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey, has become a very serious organisation. It carries out its operations from here, which Turkey did not feel the need to hide excessively, but now that they want to re-establish relations with Israel, their view has shifted. One of the predominant reasons Turkey wants to build alliances with Israel, is again for economic gains. Israel also has major influence over the Levant issue. Despite all diplomatic crises, Turkey’s relations with Israel, especially economically, still continue. There is dynamic economic activity between these two countries. In fact, these relations can improve twofold, in the absence of a diplomatic crisis.
Another concern of course, far beyond Israel’s own power, is the international influence they possess as a country. This sometimes is the direct authority Israel has itself and sometimes they are supported by Jewish lobbyists in Western countries. Turkey has lacked the support of Jewish lobbyists -especially from the United States (US)- for decades. Whereas, for a long time, especially in the period before the AKP, Jewish lobbyists were able to aid Turkey’s development. Now, Turkey, as well as being deprived of this support -and we need to note this especially- they also face another inordinate obstacle. However, here the same issue arises again. Can Turkey loosen its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to ascertain new and adequate relations with Egypt, and can they sacrifice their connections with Hamas, in order to develop their associations with Israel? Beyond loosening ties, Turkey would also have to give up support and patronage from these organisations. Will they give this up? Honestly, it is hard to say. Any further developments will come at a painful cost. Even if Turkey decides to make these changes and sever its relations, this will never be completely feasible, because the interlocutors will ask too much of Ankara. As soon as Turkey agrees to these conditions, they will make advancements in their foreign policy, however, may suffer major problems within its internal affairs. Therefore, these are strenuous decisions to make and arduous disputes to solve.
Upon inspection, regionally Turkey faces another critical problem, an entirely dissimilar issue: Syria. There is a lot to be said on the Syrian issue. How many years has it been since the war began? The biggest victim of which is the Syrian populace, but perhaps the second or third greatest victim of the Syrian civil war is Turkey. Although Turkey has suffered because of the war, it is also one of the primary reasons why the war has lasted this long. How Turkey may begin to re-establish relations with Syria, and what kind of transition period could take place, is possibly the most uncertain and challenging problem of all. This is because there is no possibility that the Assad regime will be overthrown in Syria. It was once very believable, the days, even the hours were counted. It was seen as such a given that Erdoğan in 2012 said, “we will be able to perform our prayers in the Umayyad Mosque” in Damascus, in no time. Years have passed, none of this took place, and it does not seem that it ever will. We are faced with a situation where Erdoğan’s government may even be overthrown in the next election, before the Assad regime.
Finally, an additional change in Turkey’s foreign policy will have to be with the West. There have been a few blatant variations in Ankara’s statements when speaking about its relations with the European Union (EU) and the US. Although, it seems these changes will not likely be indemnified easily by the West. One of the principal reasons why Turkey needs to urgently amend its associations with the West i.e., the EU and the US, is economical. The current economic crisis Turkey is facing, combined with the financial pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, has left Ankara with no other choice than to seek monetary relations with the West. They are backed into a corner with only one way out. Since the West is aware of Ankara’s desperation to acquire aid and that their hands are tied, they are acting very cautiously, with no haste. An indication of this can be demonstrated from the newly elected American president, Joe Biden not yet calling Erdoğan. No one from the EU has reached out to the Turkish president either, apart from Merkel, whom we know will be exiting the political scene very soon. Nonetheless, the Greens and the Social Democratic Party of Germany have made advancements gaining power in the last two state elections. We discern that these two political parties, especially the Greens, have an even greater sensibility towards Turkey’s democracy, constitutional government, and human rights, than Merkel. This is imperative considering the EU will bring up issues of human rights and democracy in Turkey. Up until this point, the actions that were announced such as the “Human Rights Action Plan” did not impress the West in any way. The trials of human rights defender Osman Kavala and politician Selahattin Demirtaş, the people arrested from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and incidents such as former journalist Ahmet Altan’s case… all stack up against Turkey.
To conclude, the rulers of Turkey feel as though they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They arrived at this predicament by sacrificing their foreign and especially their domestic policies. Ankara, by constantly being stern and belligerent during attempting to build relations with other countries, and by utilising argumentative and abrasive language both in its domestic and foreign policy, has reached the end of the road. The most interesting fact about this matter is that it is unclear who even determines Turkey’s foreign policy, as of late. In the past, there were experienced ministers such as Ahmet Davutoğlu and Abdullah Gül, determining Turkey’s foreign policy unlike Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs. He is someone who is responsible for the execution of only a few things. Primarily, Turkey’s foreign policy is managed by the Presidency, namely Erdoğan and a few people around him. Presently, Turkey’s foreign policy has no backbone. For a long time, there was a foreign policy that operated with domestic politics calculations. At least it had a backbone. However, this was a flawed foundation.
Now, Turkey is attempting to move towards a foreign policy that is based on pragmatism and realpolitik again. However, the fundamental problem is that no one trusts Ankara. No country has faith in Ankara’s stern reactions and in their lending hands. Since we are on the topic of realpolitik, this is the reality. Of course, the actual point of foreign policy is interest, mutual interest, and Turkey, who wants to follow a realistic foreign policy, is attempting to remind this to other powers. However, because other countries see Turkey as more desperate, they are placing their interests and their expectations above Ankara’s. Therefore, at the moment, it seems that Ankara will seriously stumble in its efforts to resolve problems with different segments of its foreign policy. Some may remember, Turkey was once given the job as mediator to help solve the problems between Syria and Israel -which are extremely complex issues that still exist today- again during the AK party’s rule. It was quite taxing, but not impossible. Nowadays, Turkey has no serious relations with important regional powers such as Syria, Israel, or Egypt. They do not even have diplomatic associations on an ambassadorial level with most of the aforesaid powers.
What was all this for? Let’s say between the last five to ten years, why was all of this done? What did Turkey gain from this? What did Turkey gain from challenging other powers and from using harsh lexicon? It did not benefit them much and the only thing that it demonstrated was Erdoğan’s ability to prolong his rule. Ankara should have understood by now that by fighting with Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the EU, it would not get them anywhere. Especially Erdoğan’s serious argument with the French Prime Minister Macron and his determination to develop bilateral relations by holding a long meeting with Macron in the days when he was challenged can be an exemplification of this. All of these actions actually demonstrate the following: Turkey challenging and threatening other powers in its foreign policy, is a result of its domestic policy goals, interests and expectations. What is more, due to the -particularly economic- crises it is facing now, Ankara is attempting to shift its foreign policy. However, since all the interlocutors of critical powers have witnessed this process diligently, it is unlikely they will provide the prompt results Ankara seeks. We will discuss this again in further detail with expert Gönül Tol, at 17:00 today on “Transatlantic”. These were my evaluations of Turkey’s domestic policy.
Yes, that is all I have to say, have a good day.