Zero allies

Ioannis Kotoulas
Wednesday 24 Mar 2021

Turkish interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries is being effectively repelled by the formation of new regional power equilibrium

A new power equilibrium is steadily emerging throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Turkish interference is receding on all fronts due to the decisive stance adopted by a network of states composed of Egypt, Greece, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. External actors such as France and the US have also helped indirectly to create this new geopolitical reality.

Turkish foreign policy over the last decade can be roughly distinguished into two essential phases and relative strategic frameworks. The first was introduced by then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu and was based on the notion of “zero problems” in Turkey’s immediate neighbourhood and greater periphery. It was sophisticated in nature and aimed to project Turkish soft rather than hard power and legitimise indirectly Turkish hegemonic ambitions over larger areas. 

This policy was gradually overturned when Turkey, under the increasing influence of radical Erdogan circles and in response to major events, adopted an aggressive revisionist policy that saw interference in many countries and multiple fronts extending from Libya to Syria and the Caucasus.

The decisive event was Turkey’s decision to back Islamist movements in various states after the Arab Spring. The most notable case was, of course, in Egypt, where Turkish support for the networks of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group ended in failure as the joint efforts of the Egyptian people and army assured stability and the decisive return of Egypt as an international actor after the 30 June Revolution. 

Turkey has also supported jihadists in Syria and most notably in Libya, adding to the political deadlock that has fortunately recently been overcome as a result of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s initiatives. Turkish maximalism and interference have been decisively defeated and effectively repelled in the Mediterranean due to new regional networks that have two states at their core, Egypt and Greece. 

Turkey has gone from a “zero problems” doctrine in its foreign policy to a “zero allies” reality. Turkish interference in the region has severely damaged its relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and put a limit on its ambitions in both Syria and Iraq. Turkish relations with the two Hellenic states of Greece and Cyprus have always been problematic due to Turkish aggression and illegal actions. Greece has also repelled Turkish destabilisation efforts, which have included the use of mass migrant flows as a weapon.

Time is clearly not on the side of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has hastened to make inappropriate statements regarding its interpretation of the mindset of the Egyptian people, often repeating its meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Egypt, as the leader of the Arab world, has declared through its Foreign Ministry that any improvement in bilateral relations with Turkey will have to be based on Turkey’s real respect for territorial sovereignty and the requirements of Arab national security. 

This is a clear message from Egypt that it will no longer tolerate Turkish intervention in Libya, Iraq and Syria or its hostile attitude towards major Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has lost sympathy throughout the region, keeping it only in isolated enclaves, often in coalition with another external actor, Iran.

The New Mediterranean as a geopolitical region does not include Turkey because of its rupture in relations with almost every state in the region. Initiatives such as the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) highlight the formation of a new regional power bloc. The inclusion of France as a full member of the forum and of the US and EU as external observers shows that there is now a major transatlantic and Mediterranean axis connecting the US, France and Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and the Gulf countries.

Well-informed forecasters today predict that Turkey will become ever more unstable in its internal politics and external relations. Internally, the Turkish regime will increase social oppression to unite the ethnic Turkic segment of the population against the ethnic Kurdish part that is rising in terms of both numbers and of political influence. This widespread oppression will most likely rise to new heights after the Turkish decision to form a front against the Kurdish segment of Turkish society. 

Externally, Turkey will continue for a period in its vain overtures towards Egypt and other states, but it will take no concrete steps that could prove the sincerity of its intentions. Only if Turkey withdraws from Libya, Syria and Iraq and stops its aggression against Greece and Cyprus will it be able to prove its intention to behave like a normal state towards its neighbours. 

But if Turkey abandons its overseas ventures and military interference in Libya, Syria and Iraq, its foreign policy will lose its legitimacy for the political audience of Islamists and Eurasianists that dominates the AKP. Turkey has thus trapped itself in a diplomatic deadlock, leaving it with zero allies for the foreseeable future.

*The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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