Jordan, Turkey: From strategic alliance to cold ties

Friday 08/04/2016
Jordan’s King Abdullah II at Nuclear Security Summit

Leaks to the Guardian newspaper and Middle East Eye online service have revealed a muted and different side in Jordanian-Turkish rela­tions with reports of strong criticism from Amman about the Turkish leadership.

The leaks were based on what was described as “minutes of a meeting” in January between Jordan’s King Abdullah II with a number of members of the US Congress in which the monarch strongly criticised Turkish policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The leak came hours before Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Amman and also coincided with Jordan’s centennial celebrations commemorating the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule.

The celebrations added to the “implicit confusion” in the relationship that Jordan, being an heir to the revolution, has had with successive Turkish governments. Traditionally, the Turks looked at the Arabs siding with Britain and France in the World War I as a “betrayal of the historic bond and later the Islamic one” between the states and people of the region.

The countries maintained relations “of strategic nature” by being close allies of the United States and the West. The ties prospered in the 1990s, after Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel saw both countries in joint manoeuvres with Israel.

However, after the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party took over in Ankara, lukewarm relations turned cold with estrangement in the past five years, especially during the “Arab spring”.

Jordan blames Erdogan for his alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the king accused of being affiliated with the Free Masons and described its members as “wolves in lambs’ clothing” in an interview with the Atlantic magazine in March 2013.

According to the leaks, the king said Erdogan “believes that Islamic extremism is a solution to the problems of the region”, including Syria, while he backs a “third-way solution” for the country away from despotism and radical Islam.

Criticism of Turkey is also heard in Europe and the United States, including Turkey allegedly providing substantial facilities to the Islamic State (ISIS), such as allowing its fighters to cross into and out of Syria and Iraq.

The king confirmed reports disclosing oil smuggling trade between ISIS and Turkey.

Accusations against Turkey are not confined to supporting extremism in Syria. The king clearly accused Erdogan, in the leaked report, of supporting Islamic militias in Libya and Somalia.

In his perspective, “extremism is manufactured in Turkey”.

The statements attributed to the Jordanian monarch are in line with those made by US President Barack Obama to the Atlantic, in which he described Erdogan as a “tyrant loser” and blamed his personal ambitions for his country’s domestic and foreign crises.

Observers say the statements coincide with UN reports suggesting that democracy was receding in Turkey and that its rights charter, particularly on the freedom of the press, opinion and expression, was eroding.

Turkey was regarded as an advanced model of “civilian Islam in harmony with democracy and secularism”. But such a view changed after its political speech became dominated by religion — mostly reflecting the Sunni sect — and Erdogan’s personal ambitions transformed the country’s system from a parliamentary to a presidential one in addition to pushing Kurdish issue back to square one.

The “Alawite issue” has surfaced for the first time since the establishment of the republic while the country is witnessing “an identity struggle” among its various components.

We can now understand what the king told the Atlantic three years ago: Democracy for Erdogan is a “bus ride he disembarks when he arrives at his destination”.