Erdogan’s third chance!


My Turkish friend was curious. It was spring, 2016, and I had just finished my TV interview about the improving relations between our countries, after a series of top official meetings and the establishment of a high committee to oversee bilateral projects and initiatives. My colleague wanted to know why Saudi Arabia had been so angry that since 2013 King Abdullah wouldn’t even talk to Mr. Erdogan. And why the change of heart now?

I told him that I believed it had something to do with the latter’s support of Obama’s plan to destabilize the Arab world, using Muslim Brotherhood Qatari money and Turkish organization. Iran helped, too. The so-called “Arab Spring” has destroyed the fabric of many countries, and if it had not been for the awakening of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the fire would have reached the rest of us.

“Usually, conspiracy ringleaders are not given a second chance. Yet, Erdogan was exempted. Turkey is a great Muslim country that we hate to lose it. I hope that after the failure of Obama’s anarchist project, Erdogan will realize his mistakes, leave the “Evil Camp” and grab this opportunity to join the greater project for peace and development in the Middle East,” I explained.

To my surprise, my friend did not offer a rebuttal. A steadfast supporter of Erdogan, I expected him to deny or defend his president’s policies. Instead, he finished his Turkish coffee, put away his cigarette and changed the subject! I took that as an admission of guilt, but hoped that I was wrong. Turkey used to be a strong ally in a dangerous neighborhood under constant threats from Iran and its militias, such as Daesh, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. We need each other to extinguish fires in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Our cooperation in education, science and technology would benefit all, as would investments in industry, infrastructure, tourism and other areas of development. Their expertise with our financial resources could have carried both of us higher and further. Our military and security alliance would have enabled us to bring peace and stability to the chaotic Middle East.

Alas! Ideology and historical aspirations won the day in Erdogan’s Turkey. The Neo-Ottomans and Muslim Brothers in the Justice and Development party never accepted defeat. They hung on to their empire dream - the resurrection of the Ottoman Empire, the Caliphate that would rule the world - once again. Just like the mullahs of Tehran work for the rebirth of the Persian Empire, the Islamists in Ankara have invested much of their new found power and wealth in their opposite scheme. One day, the two projects will definitely collide, such as in Syria, but for now, both can help each other face the new - but original - US strategy, that replaced Obama’s doctrine. For now, they will use every trick in the book to void and avoid US sanctions on both governments.

There was a time, only a few years ago, when Turkey followed the “Zero Problems” policy. It was the best time of its modern history. The economy blossomed and the future looked exceedingly bright. Then, ideology got in the way, and the now more powerful “Sultan Erdogan” felt he could realize his ultimate goal. Regional hegemony and Islamic leadership became his obsession. In the process, he alienated many partners, including the US, Europe and Arab countries. His forces are now engaged on many fronts - fighting Kurds, occupying Syrian lands and interfering in Iraq. His collaboration with sanctioned governments, such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela, has not helped.

As a result, Erdogan’s best achievement, the one that kept him in power and handed him even more authority, became his worst failure. As the country that thrived for over a decade officially entered its first recession in decades, the lira lost two-thirds of its value and his popularity suffered, as the last municipality elections have shown. His relentless two-month campaign made the whole election about himself and less about the candidates. Therefore, his party’s loss of the biggest cities in the country, including the capital Ankara and metropolitan Istanbul for the first time in 25 years is devastating. The people’s message is loud and clear: It’s the economy, stupid!

However, it is not too late, I believe, for a U-turn. Turkey it still a big number and a giant player. It has the second largest army in NATO and is an important country in the Middle East. The West and Arabs might be willing to forget and forgive if the “Big Boss” just listened to his people. Like the Iranians, they have zero interest in pursuing historical ambitions and ideological convictions. They have elected their government to serve their needs and realize their aspirations. Unless their representatives realize that, the next election will follow the same pattern. This is Erdogan’s third chance and there might not be a fourth! I hope he doesn’t waste it!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi