Erdogan provokes Twitter reactions after threat to Gulf countries

“These countries did not exist yesterday and perhaps they will cease existing in the near future, but God Almighty will continue raising our flag in this region forever,” Erdogan said.

Monday 05/10/2020
An image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a Twitter account. (AP)
An image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a Twitter account. (AP)

LONDON – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan published a video on Twitter threatening unspecified Arab Gulf countries that he said “did not exist yesterday” and “perhaps… will cease existing in the near future.”

The video, posted on Erdogan’s official Twitter account with an Arabic translation, triggered widespread controversy on the social media platform, which is widely used in the Arab Gulf.

Erdogan’s comments came during the opening of the 27th legislative session of his country’s parliament October 1, during which he paid tribute to the late Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.

Erdogan’s tweet, translated into Arabic, says “some countries in our region did not exist yesterday” and “perhaps… will not exist in the future.” (Twitter)
Erdogan’s tweet, translated into Arabic, says “some countries in our region did not exist yesterday” and “perhaps… will not exist in the future.” (Twitter)

Erdogan said Sheikh Sabah was “a different, rational and wise leader, unlike the rulers of some countries in the region, whose decisions lack reason, logic and fairness.”

He added: “Some of these countries target us because we tell the truth and stand with the oppressed and justice in the world.”

“These countries did not exist yesterday and perhaps they will cease existing in the near future, but God Almighty will continue raising our flag in this region forever,” Erdogan said.

Some Twitter users in Arab Gulf countries considered Erdogan’s statements to be hostile or even  a “declaration of war.” Others wondered which countries he was referring to –Turkey’s ally Qatar, which was founded in 1971, or the UAE, Bahrain (also founded 1971) and Saudi Arabia.

Others raised questions as to whether Erdogan “was preparing a war strategy to bring down the regimes of these countries” that would see him  “send his army as he did in other countries,” but most saw the threats as mere bluster.

Egyptian thinker Magdi Khalil wrote on Twitter: “The clear arrogance put aside, the statements of Erdogan reflect important facts, including Erdogan’s annoyance with Gulf countries that have stood against his ambitions. The presence of a Turkish military base in the Gulf region is a strategic danger to Arab countries, including Qatar itself.”

Turkey and Qatar have fought wars side by side, and both work to advance a mass media campaign to support their strategic objectives.

While there has long been tension between Turkey and other Arab Gulf states, Erdogan’s social media remarks mark the first he has used war-like rhetoric to provoke the countries, observers said.

Twitter user Hammed Yahya posted: “Not only he [Erdogan] posted the video on his Arabic account, he also had the statements translated into Arabic. The least we can say is that it is a declaration of war! If it had happened with Europe or Canada, the NATO alliance would have met and things would have become serious! To threaten that Gulf countries will not exist in the future! If this is not a threat, what is the threat?”

An electronic war waged by Turkey is raging on social media, in which Ankara hopes to shift public opinion in its favour. Erdogan is looking to promote Turkey as the “new heart of the caliphate” and advance his expansionist policies supported by Islamists in the region.

Saudi Twitter user Abdullah bin Amera writes: “Turkey is only 97 years old as a country. The Saudi state was established in 1157 according to Hejri calendar, that is 285 years ago. (Twitter)
Saudi Twitter user Abdullah bin Amera writes: “Turkey is only 97 years old as a country. The Saudi state was established in 1157 according to Hejri calendar, that is 285 years ago. (Twitter)

Erdogan has put out many incendiary statements against Arab audiences on Twitter, which differ from his comments directed at the West or his homeland.

Saudi Twitter users reacted harshly to Erdogan’s recent statement, with the hashtags “# Erdogan_Treating_Arabs” and “#Shut up Erdogan” trending on the platform.

Saudi Twitter user Abdullah bin Amera wrote: “Turkey is only 97 years old as a country. The Saudi state was established in 1157 AH, that is 285 years ago. And if [Erdogan] is talking about the Ottoman Empire which was established in 687 AH, we would like to remind his that Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Islam, which appeared 1442 years ago.”

Experts say Turkey is aiming to expand its hegemony and geopolitical influence with a project that is similar to Iran’s, but that differs in its tools and methods of implementation.

While Iran plays up sectarian strife through its proxies and militia groups, Turkey uses other tools such as political Islam, including through the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, as well as soft power such as tourism and popular television dramas.

For years, Turks have advanced their agenda in secret, but it has recently begun to appear in the open. In light of Turkey’s domestic economic crisis and setbacks abroad, Erdogan has no choice but to press on with this strategy in an attempt to weaken Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia.

Some in the Gulf argue that Turkey’s hostility must be confronted, calling on Arab Gulf states to react firmly by summoning their ambassadors and consuls from Ankara and Istanbul and cutting all official dealings with the Turkish regime until it returns to the path of reason.

“Perhaps the month of October will mark a key shift in dealing with Erdogan,” Saudi Twitter user Munther Al Sheikh Mubarak wrote. “What preceded the recent statements definitely differs from what will follow. Direct threats are unacceptable and require the Gulf countries to take clear action against Turkey by suspending all relations with it.”

Others, however, argue this would simply play into Erdogan’s strategy and unnecessarily drag Arab Gulf states into a war of words.

Some Twitter users called on those that are “deceived by the Turkish president” to be vigilant and pay attention to the hostility the Turkish president harbours for Arab countries.

“A message to everyone who has been deceived by Erdogan: His threat to our countries are direct and plain-spoken,” Ahdeya Ahmed, who heads the board of directors of the Bahraini Journalists Association, wrote on Twitter.

Other Twitter users focused on Erdogan’s body language and tone of voice in his recent video message, which they felt indicated he was frustrated and troubled. They argued the best course of action would be to deal with Turkey in a “cold war”-like manner.

Saudi Twitter user Munther Al Sheikh Mubarak wrote: “Perhaps the month of October will mark a turning point in dealing with Erdogan.. Gulf countries must take clear stands towards Turkey”. (Twitter)
Saudi Twitter user Munther Al Sheikh Mubarak wrote: “Perhaps the month of October will mark a turning point in dealing with Erdogan.. Gulf countries must take clear stands towards Turkey”. (Twitter)

Soner Cagaptay, author of “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey,” said, “Erdogan is the inventor of populism in the 21st century. His career shows the extraordinary impact that a person can have on an entire country.”

A study of Erdogan’s last term in office ranked the Turkish president as  the most populist of all right-wing leaders in the Global Populist Database, which tracks levels of populist discourse in speeches of nearly 140 leaders in Europe and the Americas.