Can Erdogan solve his problems by auctioning off the Brotherhood?
It is not clear if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will succeed in the pursuit of his policy which is based on auctioning off the Muslim Brotherhood members who had sought refuge in his country and under his wings. This scepticism stems from the doubts about whether the Brotherhood is a commodity suitable for sale and barter. Such a policy could only achieve purely tactical results in the service of a Turkish president who faces many crises, each of which has its own character.
But the bigger problem faced by this man remains his untrustworthiness. Erdogan has never held on to a specific policy but rather let his outsized dreams get hold of him at a certain times, the same way that his Muslim Brotherhood roots with all their backwardness and illusions control him today.
If Turkey wants to improve its relations with its Arab neighbours, especially with Egypt, and with its more immediate neighbours such as Greece and Cyprus, along with the Europeans in general and the United States in particular, then Erdogan has no choice but to follow a different approach. He must first give up his illusion. In addition, he must realise that Turkey is not a superpower and that the Ottoman Empire ended more than a century ago and that there is no way to bring it back to life.
It is difficult to guess whether the Turkish president will, before anything else, take a step towards actually shedding a mindset that is not commensurate with Turkey’s position and capabilities.
It will make it easier for him if he is able to conduct a comprehensive review of the events of the past few years in which he has involved Turkey in situations it did not need. Erdogan launched attacks in directions he should not have attacked and levelled accusations left and right, when he should have waited as was the case in the wake of the attempted coup against him in mid-July 2016.
It would have been better for him to think about the real reasons that led to the coup instead of letting loose his unbridled imagination … This is if the coup was not prepared by some of his supporters and he subsequently used it to tighten. his grip on members of the security, military and professional institutions as well as of the judiciary, that had remained outside his control.
Erdogan was able to gain short-lived successes, especially in Syria, where for ten years he pursued a wavering policy. He could have built a model of a civilised Islam that would have made any Turk proud and proved that Islam is a religion of love and tolerance, with ability to adapt to world progress.
However, the Turkish president, having carried out a domestic coup through which he transformed the Turkish regime into a presidential system tailored to his wishes, preferred to tie himself to radical Islamist movements of all kind and fully commit himself to the Muslim Brotherhood and its global offshoots, starting with “Al Qaeda” and ending with “ ISIS ”.
Erdogan played all strings and believed that he could go about realising the dream of the return of the Ottoman Empire. He rekindled all the hang-ups born of Turkey’s historical predicament as it was forced to sign restrictive treaties after the end of the First World War, after it ended up on the losing side.
In 2010, he was faced with the siege of Gaza, a siege that suited both Hamas and Israel. He dispatched a ship to Gaza with the aim of breaking the blockade of the local population, after Hamas had turned the strip into an open-air prison for two million Palestinians. The result were fatalities among the crew of the Turkish ship, which was soon compelled to withdraw so dispelling any illusion that Turkey could challenge Israel.
Dozens of events can be used to illustrate the mistakes that the Turkish president has made in his attempts to play a role greater than his size and the size of his country.
But the main mistake remains a domestic error as Erdogan’s influence declined in the three major cities, Istanbul, the capital Ankara and Izmir.
It is true that he can win any general election because of the countryside and the its simple inhabitants whom he can always delude through the use of religion. It is also true that the Turkish economy has suffered a lot as a result of Erdogan’s policies, as he defied Europe with flimsy arguments, harassed peaceful countries such as Greece and insisted on the division of Cyprus and continued Turkish occupation of a part of the island.
He also insisted on going to Libya in order to turn Turkey into a major player in the Mediterranean basin. He disregarded European interests. In the end, he did what Iran, with whom he was covertly and overtly allied, had done before. He has in fact often helped Iran bypass US sanctions.
What is now forcing Erdogan to change is not only the economic situation of Turkey, but also the need to deal with a new American administration whose president, Joe Biden, does not like him. Furthermore, there is a good number of officials in the new administration with sympathies for the Kurds, who happen to be one of the Turkish president’s major concerns.
Erdogan has opened up to a receptive Egypt after he implemented part of what was requested of him in the field of the local media . There are reports that he sought to gain credence with Saudi Arabia by offering to send drones to Yemen in order to draw a line in the sand for the Houthis. Turkey may thus have played a role in thwarting the attack of the Houthis and their “Ansar Allah” group on Marib.
One can only welcome the latest steps taken by Erdogan. But only time will tell if the Turkish president, who has tried in the past few months to restore relations with Israel, will succeed in his overtures or if he is just conducting a PR campaign.
Yes, only time will tell whether Erdogan has changed and whether he can be trusted. There is no doubt that Turkey is a very important country in the region, but it still needs its neighbours. It also needs to establish a normal relationship not just with the Arabs, but also with the whole world. Much will depend on whether the new US administration is ready to believe it is dealing with a new Erdogan … or if, after all, the man cannot get rid of the impulses that have controlled his past due to his Muslim Brotherhood roots.
All these deeply-rooted and Brotherhood-connected impulses have led him to transform Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, once again to satisfy a populist craving that has no place in the twenty-first century among civilised countries.