Erdogan´s Politics Opportunistic or Islamic?

First let me express myself in a simple way. I admire the Turkish people and their glorious Islamic history very much. For over 500 years the brave Turks defended Muslim lands, provided security and raised the banner of Islam in Europe. Alhamdulillah. Islamic architecture, calligraphy, charity, infrastructure, economy and law flourished in the House of Osman. Our Turkish brothers and sisters were the champions of Islam and for that I have great respect, honor and good wishes for them.

Ending the Islamic Caliphate was not one of the best episodes of that great nation. What did they gain and what did the world loose is a question that needs to be fully understood and talked about. I am afraid it is not much of a concern in the mainstream Muslim intellectual circles. The main topics understandably circle around the civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, the chaos in Libya, the ruthless dictatorship in Misir, the new war on Yemen, development of nuclear technology in Iran, the fall of Iraq and ofcourse the issue of Palestina.

Above are obviously serious issues and they are happening as of this moment. It would seem bit fundamentalist if one brought up the issue of the Caliphate in these on going discussions. This branding of fundamentalism for going back in time to understand the root of the problem is in fact the very problem itself. let me try to make it simpler. The fall of the Islamic Caliphate in Istanbul triggered the rise of almost all the current political, social and judicial problems in the Middle East and in the greater Muslim world.

With the fall of the Caliphate, Middle east was divided up into a dozen so-called independent nationalistic nation states by the victorious British-French allies. Each neo-colony having its royal family protected by the European powers. The Arab revolt was orchestrated by the British against the Ottomans to achieve this very aim. Sherif Hussein and his sons were the treacherous leaders whose doings helped the Europeans make independent Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and later on Saudi Arabia after the Nejdi Sauds evicted King Hussein´s family from Arabia. Thanks to them, the Saud family was able to launch their Wahabi campaign first in Arabia followed by global outreach with billions of petro dollars. The Wahabi Salafi sect also pumped in funds for militant outfits at the behest of their western masters to fight proxy wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya against communist Soviets. As a result, we now have groups like ISIS and TTP.

We must remember that in the 19th century Ottomans had dispatched Egyptian soldiers under the command of Ali Pasha´s son to quell the uprising of Wahabism in the Nejd. The leader Abdul Wahab was caught, chained and brought to Istanbul where the Islamic Qadhi (judge) handed down capital punishment for his extremist (and murderous) views. This was 2 centuries ago! It is that same Kahrijite (extremist) group which is now in control of oil wealth pocketing billions for their immoral luxuries and for spreading Kharijite wahabism across the entire world.

President Erdogan is a complicated figure in my opinion. On one hand he should be respected for bringing back Islamic sensitivity in Turkish politics. Under his AKP one can see the smiles of millions of muslimeen in the beautiful land of Islam in Turkeye. Economy has improved, infrastructure has developed, education has progressed, people are living in security, all of which jointly makes Turkeye an ideal Islamic country for our modern times. On the world stage, Istanbul has exposed the cruel, barbaric nature of Zionism. Support for Palestine has won many hearts for Mr Erdogan. Muslim world will always remember Mr Erdogan as a patriotic pan Muslim pan Islamic politician who could have been the president of the entire Muslim Ummah, wth overwhelming majority votes.

However, there is another side to Mr Erdogan which puzzles me. Why does he swing back when it comes to Saudi Arabia? In Misir, Erdogan backed the Muslim Brotherhood and its leader Mursi. Saudis bankrolled El-Sisi who overthrew the legitimate government, killed hundreds of innocent people and finally pulled the country back to iron fisted dictatorship. Fast forward into 2015, Saudis attack the blessed land of Yemen starting with air attacks. Unfortunately, Erdogan has backed this move rather strangely since his previous positions showed his position for Muslim unity over Muslim bloodshed. Why did he make an exception for Saudis?

After his Teheran visit things begin to look a bit different. What started out as an anti Iran anti Shii stand after his verbal throws at the Islamic Republic for backing the Houthis, ended as a reconciliation between Turkeye and Iran whereby Mr Erdogan is said to have expressed Ì don’t care about Sunni or Shii, I care about Muslim blood in Iraq. I care about Islam`. This statement, non sectarianism viewpoint, is good and welcoming. I do believe Turkeye has a major role to play in Muslim political map. My take on Erdogan is still positive although he is deemed to be an opportunist by many Muslim writers. What he needs most is a Caliph!

Erdogan’s Legacy

Anyone who has been to Istanbul in the last few years will likely testify Turkey is a comparatively role model state for muslims for our times. Scenes of firefighting on the streets of Ankara gives a feeling of betrayal mixed with curiosity. It is really a shame that scenes of firefighting at Taksim Square should remind one of Tahrir Square. Irritating it must be for a country aspiring greater leadership in the region.

Admirers of Turkish people, culture and history comment, “this should not have happened here, the government should have softened up, Turkey is not Egypt or Syria, and Erdogan is no Mubarak or Assad”. The last point demands a closer look. No other leader since Kemal Ataturk was both as successful and as admired as Mr Erdogan. Mr Adnan Manderes won 3 consecutive elections in the 1950’s before he was removed in a coup. It was Mr Erdogan who brilliantly united the political, economic, social and international policies under his stewardship and paved the way for the republic’s superior standing in the region and beyond.

During the transition stage in Egypt one newspaper ran a headline “Lend us Erdogan for a month”, hinting at his legendary ability to get things done efficiently. Political analysts in the Middle East believed Erdogan could resolve many problems in the most turbulent region in the world. Back at home Taksim Square has brought an unwanted scenario to the legendary premier.

The protests which started out for environmental protection have turned into an anti-Erdogan, anti-AKP movement due to heavy handed actions of the police. This comes at the worst possible time for the administration. Turkey’s position on Syria has created a complex situation as the ups and downs of the Syrian civil war has complicated Erdogan’s position domestically and internationally.

Turkey threw its weight behind the rebels in a bloody civil war that may have taken up to 80,000 lives already. Did Turkey do the right thing by supporting the rebels in Syria? While an average person would like to see the end of Baathist control in Damascus very few in fact know about Syrians’ choice for leadership.  The other side of the story is the militant group’s loyalty was purchased by secretive monarchies fearful of mass uprisings in other Arab capitals.  The civil war, if this hypothesis is true, would be a proxy war at others’ behest. This puts Syrian lives in the line of fire for the sake of the region’s self seeking administrations. This does not go well with the Turkish civilization. Turkish people, historically famous for their invincibility, strength and bravery, will not compromise on this all important matter of being partly responsible for the loss of Syrian lives. Turkey is providing food, shelter and medicine for refugees at the Syrian border.

Western media is talking about Erdogan’s replacement by 2015. Under AKP’s rules Mr Erdogan cant run for a fourth term. There are three names going around, among them are, foreign minister Mr Ahmet Dovotoglu, whose popularity runs beyond not only AKP but also beyond Turkish borders. Mr Dovutoglu is said to be a favorite in Tunis, the birth place of the Arab Spring. Deputy Prime Minister Mr Arinc is also believed to be eager for the next role.

Ali Babacan was previously Minister of Economy in the 58th cabinet from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). On August 29, 2007, he was named Minister of Foreign Affairs of in the cabinet of re-elected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Babacan succeeded Abdullah Gül, who became President.

Babacan, unlike most populist politicians, keeps a low profile, preferring to build his own political elevator through am intelligent mix of efficiency, loyalty, vision and delivery. Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by premier Erdogan provided the bedrock for a steady political course to chart through what used to be a turbulent path. Post Arab Spring North African governments have in one way or another tried to fashion themselves as Muslim democracies based on the AKP model. Ali Babacan was one of the co-founders of AKP.

While Mr Dovutoglu enjoys a popular support base in and outside Turkey the responsibility for taking over from the most successful modern leader of the Republic may fall on the hands of an extra-ordinary, quiet, efficient minister of Economy. An important reason for this may be his international reputation amongst the world’s most influential people.

Since the fiery days of 2011 Arab Spring stability has been remote. The current situation in the Middle East and Africa is gasping for a fresh breath of air. A lot is depending on the outcome in Syria where regional powers have taken positions which look impossible to reverse without a miracle.

Assad’s forces are on the counter offensive after resting Qusayr from the rebels. Assad looks all set to take control over the strategic region of Aleppo. Furthermore, Assad is better positioned after the hugely damaging report about the use of poison gas “sarin” by the rebels. Earlier it was assumed Syrian forces had used chemical weapons. Assad and his international supporters now have a case in hand. Rebels’ usage of deadly chemical weapons has severely damaged any chance of imposing “No Fly Zone” military intervention strategy, although this position could be temporary.

Premier Erdogan had taken a strong stand against Bashar Al-Assad. If Bashar wins, one must assume, his rivals will logically loose. More importantly, those who had supported the rebels will need to answer why they provided support and shelter to militants who used chemical weapons on civilians. States backing rebel groups could be accused of helping fuel the rise of another armed militant insurgency in the region.

For Mr Erdogan this sort of accusation will not fit in at all with his legendary status. Under his leadership Turkey became debt free from IMF. AKP’s political and social framework was admired and promoted as a role model for the greater Muslim world. Erdogan’s statesmanship, leadership and vision has a confirmed place in Turkish history. The premier’s legacy should not come to an unceremonious end. It would be a loss for the republic and its admirers.

Syria and the Balance of Power

Foreign powers and proxies

In the age of republics Turkey and Iran have transformed their old political structures bringing in a new dimension for acquiring greater influence in the muslim world. The race now is between two republics instead of two empires.

The difference between the two republics is that while Turkey is secular and democratic with a soft Islam approach Iran claims it is Islamic and democratic leaning towards hardliners. It is also observed that Turkey is the only muslim member state of NATO and is generally not considered to be anti US whilst Iran is pro Russia and has no diplomatic relations with the US.

The ruling elite and the common people don’t always share the same vision for allies and friends. For eg, Baathist rulers of Damascus are closer to the Islamic republic more than they ever were with Iraqi Baathists in Baghdad. During the US war in Iraq refugees flooded Iraq’s western border where they were quite well received by Syrians. Again, as the civil war currently rages refugees from Syria are flooding the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Syrians commonly will be more comfortable in Turkish or Iraqi lands rathe than of Iran.

Between the people of contiguous countries there exists a logical cultural, religious and linguistic sharing which would be the natural basis for state relationships. Middle-eastern countries’ policies however are often questioned whether they truly reflect the peoples’ collective desire for bonding or are they acting as proxies for foreign powers. It is often the case that a country in the US camp is generally not hostile towards Israel and vice versa. A regime change carries the hope that Syria would move away from the Russian camp and into the US camp making Israel more secure.


Balance of Power

In the Arab Spring of 2011 the Al-Khalifah family, Bahraini ruling dynasty, was nearly overthrown by an uprising had it not been for Saudi forces which came to rescue the royalty from its citizens. The massacres in Bahrain were no different from the one in Syria today except that the international community had sided with the ruling dynasty instead of the people. Bahrain has also been a naval base for the US Navy’s 7th fleet.

The fact that the revolution in Bahrain failed does not, and should not, imply that Bahrainis have forgotten the bloodshed and are now happy to be once again under the old royals. The horror of massacres lives in a nation’s memory for generations as repeatedly seen in the history of nations.

The burning issue for Gulf Arabs is the possibility of uprisings and revolts against the ruling dynasties. The possibility of monarchs fall raises the prospect of a radically anti western government taking over and fundamentally altering the balance of power in the region. That should also be Israel’s biggest concern which is a key security point for the US.

The promoter of change in the current balance of power is arguably Iran supported by some other non NATO countries. Hence Iran and its partner Syria are natural targets for the current power holders and their allies abroad.

The only muslim country and NATO member with a powerful army which can set things right for the continuation of the existing balance of power is Turkey. Military intervention in Syria will most probably drag in Iran, Russia, NATO and possibly Israel and China into the conflict.

The balance of power in the region will not change unless the Iran-Russia alliance moves away from Syria. That will not happen unless the top brass of the Baathist regime have been replaced by a popular government which also depends on the peoples’ desire to be liberated.

Justice and Freedom

In the Persian Gulf it looks like the fear of another country falling into the Iranian camp is more dangerous than supporting a popular struggle for freedom and justice. On that premise there are three broad groups with regard to the Syrian uprising.

Firstly, there is the pro interventionist group which are clustered close to each other in the Persian Gulf. Their worst nightmare is the rising power of Iranian ideology amongst their shite citizens which can one day dislodge them from power. These states are against any change in their own societies whilst they advocate for external intervention to change Syria. Interestingly, these states do not move when Palestinian blood is shed but are deeply touched by the cleansing in Syria. They are also important US-NATO partners in the regional strategy.

Then there is the pro Assad group all of whom have fixed their regional ambitions in Syria the heart of Arab modernism. They don’t want regime change and will oppose any western intention to intervene militarily. These countries are also non NATO countries.

The third group comes from the Arab street. They don’t want war and they definitely don’t have any sympathy for dictators like Assad. War, they say, will probably split the country into 2 or 3 separate independent states which will be a permanent source for future conflicts.

Alawite, Sunni and Shite Syrias would be a catastrophe in terms of unity and strength for the most strategic Arab country. Earlier, Iraq was practically divided into 2 states, a shjite-sunni Iraq and a semi autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan following Gulf War I and II. The victor in these divisions is the evil concept of sectarianism and racism amongst common folks.

Arabs were not destined to be ruled by iron fists. Their culture tells any reader of history how fiercely independent they always have been. Arabs now believe they can make a change and they need every help they can get for liberating their societies.

People don’t war politicians do, goes the saying. In case of war the greatest casualty will be the loss of innocent lives which had nothing to do with any of this regional strategic game. But freedom and liberty comes at a price. Are the Syrians collectively prepared to pay that price?

However the only way for changing Syria is by prevailing the collective will of the people over dictatorships. The armed struggle, may be argued, came too early too fast in Damascus. The revolution has to be fully home grown and non militant if it wants to succeed.

Syria – Turkey relations go back in history

Ottoman-Safavid historic connection with Syria

Turkey for 5 centuries was the center of sunni muslims’ political and military supremacy. Teheran on the other hand became the shiite capital after the 1979 revolution which brought the shite vilayete faqih (rule of the jurists) to power. The Grand Ayatollah of the Islamic Republic is considered as the global religious leader of shite muslims. Former sultans in the Ottoman empire enjoyed that same status in the sunni world before the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924.

In the age of empires Turkish Ottomans and Persian Safavids rivalry for supremacy continued in the larger Islamic empire that stretched from Morocco to Indonesia. Their last war was the Ottoman–Safavid War of 1623–1639 as the last of a series of conflicts over control of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Syria). After initial Persian success in capturing Baghdad and most of modern Iraq, the war became a stalemate, as the Persians were unable to press further into the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottomans themselves were distracted by wars in Europe and weakened by internal turmoil. Eventually, the Ottomans were able to recover Baghdad, and the signing of the Treaty of Zuhab ended the war in an Ottoman victory, with Mesopotamia remaining thenceforth in Ottoman hands, until lost in the aftermath of World War I.

Syria-Turkey relations

9 people have so far been killed in clashes in southeast Turkey. Syrian rockets fired into Turkish territory killing 4 people triggering a volley of Turkish wrath as a result. Fighting remained limited on both sides though  knowing that an all out war would be suicidal and war with Syria is considered as a “worst case scenario” by the Turkish government. Damascus-Istanbul relationship go back in history as the Turkish Ottoman provincial capital was located in Damascus which they lost in large part due to the Arab revolt in WWI.

The Arab Revolt

Until the end of WWI Syria, Iraq, Hejaz (Saudi Arabia), Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and most of North Africa were under the Ottoman rule. The Arab revolt which started in the Hejaz went against time honored Islamic tradition as muslim Arabs joined hands with non muslim Allied forces to fight against their co-religionists the Ottoman of Turkey. On the night of September 30, 1918 Allied forces led by General Edmund Allenby marched into Damascus as Turkish authorities abandoned the city.

That night, Turkish authorities fled the city in anticipation of the Allied occupation, ending hundreds of years of Ottoman rule in Damascus. Allenby’s forces were aided in their campaign in Syria by a force of Arab nationalists, led by Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca. Since 1916, Hussein and his sons, encouraged by British contacts such as T.E. Lawrence—the famous “Lawrence of Arabia”—had given their support to the Allies backstabbing their co-religionists. When the Allies occupied Damascus, Arab riflemen fired their guns in the air to celebrate the fall of the Turks in that city. Barely a month later, Turkey sued for peace, signing an armistice with the Allies on October 30, 1918. Turkey without its caliphate could be compared to a Great Britain without its monarchy.

Modern Turkish Model

Dictators like Mubarak were experts at suppressing the thoughts and opinions of their citizens. Use of secret police (mukhabarat) for spying on opposition, rights activists and free thinking writers marked the high points of their tyrannical career. Freedom and liberty of people were crushed for the sake of financial aid which mostly ended up in the elites’ pockets anyway.

Turkey after the end of the Ottomans built a pluralistic republic without totally abandoning its Islamic history, culture and civilization. Its more open to modern ideas, science, technology and progress in general. Religious clergy has its place in houses of worship and society is governed by politicians and administrators. There may be issues concerning governance or economic development from time to time as is the case with any administration anywhere in the world but the Turkish system stands out shining in a region where the dark forces reigned in Stalinist police state models.

Arab youths want a better future, they deserve a better future, like their Turkish brothers and sisters. They would like to see an open, pluralistic, democratic and liberal society built on the principles of Justice and Freedom. This is the model AKP ruling party of Turkey has been advocating for its people. And hence the “Turkish model” has become a spiritual inspiration silently shaping the Arab youths’ mindset.

Revolutionaries during the height of protests at Tahrir Square very clearly expressed their dreams to fashion their society along the Turkish model. One Egyptian newspaper ran a headline “lend us Erdogan for a month” echoing the Turkish spirit solemnly whispering amongst the people at that time. In 2011 Arabs revolted against their authoritarian rulers hoping to bring in the Turkish Model for the Arabs.

Turkey wants to avoid war

Syrian forces shelled its northern border area where the rebel fighters are said to be headquartered. Fighters are apparently receiving ammo from there and naturally Syrian forces pounded those sites in order to cut off the vital link for the arms supply. However, shelling the rebels also meant firing on Turkish lands. Turkey responded in kind but stopped short of a full blown ground assault.

Bashar Assad has his hands full fighting a civil war, and Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan would presumably like to avoid war. His administration suggested this weekend that Syria’s vice president would be acceptable as the leader of a transitional government. It’s a frantic effort to avoid war which may not be avoidable in the future.

But wars are often fought by countries whose leaders didn’t really want them. (See World War I.) A common reason is that neither regime feels it can afford to be seen by its people as backing down. But perhaps more important are some other dynamics pushing these countries toward war:

[1] Turkey could decide before long that war is preferable to the alternatives. Many of Syria’s Kurds hope to use the civil war as an opportunity to carve out an autonomous or even sovereign Kurdish region in Syria, and Turkey fears that this could prove contagious, emboldening Kurdish separatists in Turkey and energizing longstanding dreams of a new Kurdish nation that comprises parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

[2] NATO: The fact that a Turkish-Syrian war could draw America into the conflict will make such a war more attractive to some backers of American intervention. That includes presumably leaders of some Arab states.

[3] The Syrian regime is fighting for its life, and along the Turkish-Syrian border lies the lifeline of its enemy. The rebels are being supplied with weapons via Turkey and are seizing control of border crossings inside Syria, and their goal is to build, from there, an expanding zone of control. It would be in the loyalists’ best interest to keep control of border crossings and disrupt the rebels’ supply of arms and ammunition near the point of origin. It means shelling along the border will not stop any time soon.

“Those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here, they are making a fatal mistake,” Mr Erdogan said. “We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from war either. This nation is where it is today having gone through inter-continental wars.”

By going to war Turkey could risk its own trajectory of power and supremacy in world politics risking many of the economic and social achievements it has worked so hard for. Turkey cant fall into another fatal war where its territorial unity could come under the scanner. But can Turkey back down from its superior moral position as the leading muslim state in the world having the ability to save the Syrian people from Bashar Al Assad?

Syrian Uprising Dragging Middle-East to War

Arab Spring blew away the long overdue dictatorial regimes of Ben Ali, Husni Mubarak, Ali Abdallah Saleh and Muamar Ghadafi leaving behind ashes of their brutal legacies. After tasting victory the winds of change sadly failed to remove a trained doctor and the current president of secular socialist (Baathist) Syria Bashar Al Assad. A man whose regime is credited with killing over 31,000 till date since the uprising began in 2011.

Syria is more complicated than Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or Yemen in all aspects. It is the central point of that complex political web from where the regional balance of power is anchored in the middle-east. This fact was best known to former empires, Umayads, Abbasids, Ottomans, French and the Soviet Union, all of whom controlled their middle-eastern holdings from Damascus.

Turkish retaliation recently in the southern border area is a grave danger to the entire region which stands to drag international powers in a direct confrontation risking further divisions in the volatile geography. Turkey also understands any unilateral full scale war would mean playing right into the hands of separatist Kurdish groups’ desire for carving out an independent territory called Kurdistan out of southern Turkey. Opening two war fronts is surely not in Turkey’s best interest. Better not to make the same mistake made by Saddam Hussein who supposedly attacked Iran on others’ behalf only to bleed in a devastating 8 year war.

Iran has been a supporter of the Baathist regime since the Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979. These two countries, Iran and Syria, are the alleged financiers and friends of Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, all of whom call for an armed struggle against Israel. Through its ally in Damascus and the loyalty of paramilitary groups based there Teheran keeps its levers on the wheels of power and influence in middle-eastern politics.

Arab kingdoms are eager to see the back of Assad and with that an end to the Iran-Syria backed threat of domestic revolt against their monarchies. Assad’s departure they hope will change the direction in the sphere of influence away from a pro Russian-Iran camp to a pro US-Gulf camp which should be friendly to Arab monarchs. The reward for making this strategic shift could be billions of dollars in aid packages for reconstruction and development work.

Russia and China have taken a strong position against any NATO intervention. For international powers Syria is the central point for projecting their superpower ambitions. Syrian port city Tartous hosts the Russian naval fleet in the middle-east from the Soviet era and Putin will put every pressure to protect his only regional base in the Mediterranean. China is also not ready to lose its strategic future in the region through another regime change. With two permanent UNSC members against military action NATO will most likely back off from immediate armed confrontation.

The country which should benefit the most from regime change in Syria is its arch enemy Israel. Syria with a sizable army of its own has a long list of die hard paramilitary groups experienced in combating Israeli defense forces. A pro US-Gulf regime in Damascus should make the situation more favorable to Israel’s long term objectives in the Arab world.

Syria today looks like former Baathist Iraq wherein a sunni minority controlled a shiite majority population until their leader Saddam Hussein was caught and hanged after Gulf War II. End of Saddam also spelled the end of the Baath rule in Baghdad. The Baathists of Damascus know that their survival too depends directly on Bashar al Asad’s survival and Bashar’s regime in turn depends on the minority Alawites’ majority control of the armed forces. The shite Alawites and secular Baathist control of Damascus are inter-connected which means the conflict against the secular Baathist regime ironically and sadly holds a certain religious element to it.

In this situation should the international community support war in Syria or should they accept the oppressive regime of Bashar Al Assad?