Erdogan under siege

Hany Ghoraba
Thursday 3 Sep 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more and more unbalanced in his recent threats, even threatening to push the region to the brink of war

The number of inflammatory and threatening statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over recent months has been escalating at a meteoric rate, and due to their hollow nature, they have become a source of ridicule across the globe. Hardly a day passes without a new threatening statement made by Erdogan towards Greece, the EU or countries in the Middle East. 

The tone of Erdogan’s latest wave of threats reveals a state of despair as a result of recent events that have brought his megalomaniacal ambitions of restoring the so-called “glories” of the former Ottoman Empire to reality, however. Among these was the recent signing of the historic Egyptian-Greek naval demarcation agreement that set the maritime and economic borders of the two countries. The agreement has been ratified by both the Egyptian and Greek parliaments despite the objections of the Turkish regime. 

France has also entered the fray as Erdogan has become a menace in the Eastern Mediterranean region and has threatened French allies as well as the French state in its efforts to carry out the war on terrorism in Africa, notably in Libya. French President Emmanuel Macron stated earlier this week that enforcing red lines was the only language that the Turkish regime understands in his explanation of his country’s involvement in the region. 

Macron said he had set out red lines to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean that were backed by military force. France has been a strong backer of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in their feud with the Turkish regime. 

Macron has backed Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s position on Libya and has shown his understanding of Egypt’s concerns regarding the Turkish intervention in that country. France has also deployed several warships as well as a number of fighter jets to Cyprus in support of the Republic of Cyprus against Turkish threats. Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus have also conducted naval drills in the region as a message to Erdogan that his ambitions will be met with military force if necessary. 

However, these actions have not deterred the Turkish president and his Islamist regime from issuing more threats. One of Erdogan’s lieutenants, Metin Külünk, has called for the establishment of a “Greater Turkey” that would include parts of Greece, half of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Armenia and parts of Syria and Iraq. In doing so, Külünk, a member of Erdogan’s Islamist AKP Party, has simply expressed the expansionist ambitions of the Turkish regime. Fortunately, of course, Turkey is capable neither militarily nor economically of carrying out even a fraction of such neo-Ottoman threats or ambitions. 

Why attempt to provoke the animosity of almost every country in the region with such unbalanced statements? The answer lies in the domestic politics of Turkey. The AKP has long rallied Islamist and neo-Ottoman Turks who still believe in the expansionist ambitions of Erdogan. It is this deluded and radical constituency that Erdogan and the AKP are counting on to stay in power and to quell the protests of traditional republicans and secularists in Turkey. 

However, the signs of Erdogan and his regime being able to maintain this sort of politics are dim, and with every statement he and his followers make more and more countries are rallying against the Turkish state and what were once simple diplomatic spats have been approaching fully-fledged war. 

Turkey’s disregard of the sovereignty of other nations will have severe consequences, and Erdogan’s attempt to play the NATO card, relying on Turkey’s membership of the alliance, is no longer working since he has made just as many enemies inside NATO as he has among his regional neighbours. 

Should matters continue as they have thus far, an unprecedented war or at least a military skirmish between members of the NATO alliance could occur at any moment. 

The usually indecisive EU is mulling major economic and political sanctions against Turkey as a result of Erdogan’s military and political aggression in the region. Should these sanctions be approved, they will be a major blow against the already bleeding Turkish economy, which has witnessed the freefall of the Turkish lira against the US dollar and other currencies along with contractions in both GDP and international ratings. 

According to the latest Finch Ratings report on the Turkish economy, it has seen a “depletion of foreign-exchange reserves, weak monetary policy credibility, negative real interest rates and a sizeable current account deficit partly fuelled by a strong credit stimulus… exacerbating external financing risks.” These and other factors have led the international credit-ratings agency to give Turkey the dismal rating of BB-. 

To counter such economic and political pressures, which have been merged with a wave of domestic disapproval owing to his impetuous policies, Erdogan’s domestic media machine has gone into overdrive to inflate his supposed achievements, such as the unethical conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul into a mosque so that he can proclaim himself a pious Muslim leader. 

Lacking any tangible economic achievements in recent years, Erdogan has been attempting to distract the Turkish population with the announcement of the discovery of a major natural gas field in the Black Sea. The announcement was made using the usual theatrical methods of Erdogan’s speeches. However, experts have other opinions about the discovery, and opposition analysts such as Abdullah Bozkurt have questioned the reality of the new discovery. Erdogan has proclaimed such discoveries before, they point out, the last time being in 2019, and they have given rise to no real outcomes or developments.  

The Russian news outlet Russia Today has questioned the credibility of the recent Turkish discovery, for example, said to hold 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas, which is modest compared to Egypt’s Al-Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean, for example. Russian experts have said that the alleged Turkish field lies 2,100 metres underwater and would require a hefty investment to exploit efficiently. The Russian media has concluded that the alleged discovery would be hard to exploit economically, given the steep costs of extraction and the growing supply glut in the market. 

As the noose tightens around the neck of the Turkish president, Erdogan’s reckless behaviour is becoming more aggressive and unpredictable. Time is not on his side, and with every waking hour the Turkish economy is bleeding more. More and more of Erdogan’s opponents are rallying their forces to curb his megalomaniacal and neo-Ottoman ambitions. 

Egypt, France and Greece have the military means to stop any Turkish aggression should Erdogan resort to this as his final card. The Turkish regime will face overwhelming odds should it attempt military action, and neither its membership of NATO nor its recent attempts to appease the Russians will be able to assist it in an effective way.

*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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