Erdoğan's march in the Middle East on fire

A new protagonist is emerging with arrogance on the international scene. We have known him for some time, even in his amazing outpourings and deeds, capable of surprising, most of the time irritating, but with whom we always end up coming to terms - at least at an institutional level - because he becomes trapped in his utilitarian game, however ambitious and smart.

It is the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who in spite of an evident domestic political weakness and the subordinated judiciary, with which he exercises great power, is today the major actor who the world most measures in the Middle East.

Erdoğan is also able to expand and expand Turkey’s influence elsewhere: from the Balkans to the Caucasus, from Africa to Europe, even competing with China for regions with a strong Muslim presence and openly challenging NATO, the United States, the West, in fact he threatens all of them by acting on his own.

The pressure of the new Sultan, inspired by the enterprises of the Ottoman Empire (of which he has neither the vision nor especially the tolerance) emanates in different directions.

In the Aegean Sea, the tap of the refugees - intercepted and hosted by Turkey - is opened or closed, depending on the level of blackmail currently available.

With Europe the pressure manifests itself with amazing regularity. Then, complaining about an allegedly small amount of funding for migrants, he ends up obtaining a continuous flood of funds.

In Syria, it became evident in the early years of the war, by supporting ISIS under the counter with an anti-Assad gloss, and by recently breaking through the border, chasing away Kurdish locals and marching into the country.

In Libya, an agreement was concluded with the Tripoli government of Prime Minister al-Sarraj; a memorandum of understanding that allows Turkey to pass over Cyprus and conduct fossil fuel explorations in the gas fields up to the Gulf of Sirte.

And so on.

The latest adventurist plots of Turkish foreign policy now give the country a path towards the waters of Somalia, - again, in search of oil - and in the Sahel to reach economic, political and religious agreements.

 This is a hard and salty lesson to a Europe long focused on soft power, brutal in its disarming clarity.

But arrogance and systematic violation of the international rules have far less to do with fairness and respect for the diplomatic game. The 'Lord of the Bosporus' who loudly roars at every international forum is now looked upon with endurance and fatigue. Yet, he is present at every summit, takes part in closed-door discussions among top leaders, and with his very presence he contributes to establishing the new world order.

 The slaps from 'Mr Tayyip' (Tayyip Bey) - as he is called at home, when one has the audacity to name him - have been steering European countries for years with unrepentant constancy and they are inversely proportional to the release of pro-refugee contributions assigned to him by the European Union.

The Turkish bill issued to Brussels has reached 6 billion euros, to which a new one billion, the seventh, will soon be added, after a suggestion to Angela Merkel's Germany.

 The case of the relationship between the German Chancellor and Turkey would deserve further investigation.

As pointed out by the Turkish scholar Cengiz Aktar at the conference on Turkey and the Kurdish question that took place in the first week of February in the European Parliament, Merkel has flown between Ankara and Istanbul a dozen times in recent years, including seven trips between 2017 (immediately after the failed military coup of July 15, 2016) and the first days of 2020.

"All this is insane", Aktar commented with a smile.

However, the economic and political reasons that strengthen relations between Berlin and Ankara are formidable, and German companies benefit greatly from this.

The pressure that Ankara exercises through the refugees and migrants - 3 million Turkish citizens and another half a million Kurds from Turkey are present in Germany - is of such magnitude that it forces the chancellor to converse politely with the skilled Erdoğan and perhaps sometimes to kneel before him - ending up irritating some of her allies in the EU.

The Turkish president with formidable determination keeps Europe orbiting around his will, with the buzz of the refugee flow.

Now, with drones, mercenaries and tomatoes, he conquers the Tripoli market. The jihadists of the Caliphate of ISIS ingratiated themselves with unconfessable favours and illicit passports, making the country the jihadi highway, a base of the holy war.

With the weapon of threats, Erdoğan now undermines NATO as well: he buys Russian missiles from an international ally mirroring his image of ruthlessness and cynicism - Vladimir Putin. He then places the weapons in Turkish bases where, to install them, Russian experts and technicians will be hosted…

In a nutshell, he is a master of canniness, and of overturning international agreements.

The division over Turkey does not spare the Arabs either. Hamas, the Qatari emirate, are all friends of Erdoğan.

Saudi Arabia (with the illusion of modernity stopping in front of a Mohammed bin Salman who is too tied to illiberal schemes) and the rest of the Arab countries watch the Turkish head of state, to say the least, with distrust.

Iraq has made good or bad deals with him: North Kurdistan continues to benefit from commercial traffic with Ankara's companies.

Shiite Iran, still shaken by the American killing of the powerful General Soleimani and close to a bitter confrontation between President Rohani and the more conservative Ayatollahs, considers Sunni Turkey as an actor with whom it is better to speak, rather than confront its leader while the winds of war with Israel continue to blow.

 In short, the game with Turkey is wide. But to fully understand it, you need to focus on the inside of Turkey. Erdoğan is weak there. There, he is fearful. The protests and opposition of secularists, liberals, intellectuals, artists continue relentlessly on the eve the centenary of the republic, which is 2023.

In Turkey, a relentless economic crisis slapped his own voters, who, not surprisingly, abandoned him in the big cities (Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Antalya, etc.) in the local elections of early last year. They instead opted for secular, Republican opposition candidates.

In Turkey also, the large Kurdish voter block, from the areas of South East Anatolia to the emigrated cities of the west, stubbornly opposes him, in spite of an unprecedented oppression that now threatens prison for tens of legally elected mayors.

The heart of the matter is, Erdoğan is weaker than the world thinks. This he does not show, but we must all be aware of it.

This article is reproduced in English with the author's permission from an original published in Italian on blog platform Piazza Levante. The views are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

https://piazzalevante.it/2020/02/12/la-marcia-turca-di-erdogan-nel-medio-oriente-in-fiamme/
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.