Turkey and the Mideast: Towards a New Muslim World

The coming to power of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2003 has meant a progressive succession of political, economic and social changes in the Republic of Turkey. Thanks to his charisma and his great ability to conceive great political maneuvres, Erdogan has managed to concentrate the power of the state around himself by moulding an opposition incapable of dealing with him. He has done this with the aim of materializing a state project that places Turkey as a strategic player in the international system and the Middle East. In this way, Turkey's foreign policy has taken a gradual and significant turn in favor of Erdogan’s personal interests which are in line with his new state vision.

Turkish President Erdogan, photographed by Paul Morigi in 2013.

Turkish President Erdogan, photographed by Paul Morigi in 2013.

Meanwhile, in July 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced an economic blockade against Qatar, accusing the small country of creating instability in the region by supporting terrorist groups. For its part, Qatar rejected the accusations, calling them an attack on its sovereignty.

Against all expectations, Qatar has managed to maintain its economic and social stability despite the fact that 40% of its food entered through Saudi Arabia by land. In this way, the blockade has only increased bilateral trade between the small emirate and the states of Iran and Turkey, making them important partners. In fact, with the fall of Turkey’s currency—the Lira—in the last year, Qatar announced that it would invest 15 billion dollars in the Turkish economy to alleviate the country’s economic problems.

Therefore, diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Turkey remains in a stage of tension. Riyadh rejects Turkey’s cozying up to Qatar to such an extent that, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohamed Bin Salman, described Turkey as part of the "evil triangle" alongside Iran and radical Islamist groups.

This statement is not only explained with the Qatari issue. The Saudi kingdom perceives as a threat the new Turkish foreign policy and its positioning of troops in countries such as Syria and Iraq, added to its recent amicable dialogues with Russia.

In this sense, Ankara understands that in order to materialize its state project and revive the impetus and power that characterized the Ottoman Empire, it must displace Saudi Arabia as the main leader of the Sunni Muslim world. Both in Syria and in Iraq, it has successfully deployed its military forces, which allows it to maintain influence in both states, especially in a conflict as important as the Syrian civil war, which has the added dimension of the prospect of Kurdish self-determination—directly threatening Turkey. With respect to Qatar, Ankara warns of an opportunity to confront, at least indirectly, Saudi Arabia; it intertwines trade agreements with the small emirate, which has its own agenda and is endowed with a large quantity of natural resources like natural gas. Thus it is evident that Ergodan’s aspirations—which due to his personalistic leadership are also Turkey’s aspirations—are to establish the country as the main regional actor, whose agenda is distinct from the West and its allies.