Turkey’s most recent steps in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean raised questions in foreign capitals about that country’s international standing. As Americans grappled with President Donald Trump’s call to delay the 2020 elections, the European media went berzerk over the Hagia Sophia’s reclassification as a mosque. On the one hand, they called on European leaders to respond to “Sultan” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom they charged with neo-Ottomanist expansionism. At the same time, European reporters appreciate that Erdoğan has been filling the power vacuum that the United States left behind, empowering his country in the process. They also understand that the Turkish president, as an experienced leader, does what his European counterparts fail to do and takes his country to a new level of agency.
As the United States redefines its global role, Europe suffers from a severe shortage of effective leadership. People are clearly disappointed with French President Emmanuel Macron’s performance. It remains unclear who is supposed to fill the void that Chancellor Angela Merkel will leave behind in Germany. Under the circumstances, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the Turkish president could exert more influence over the continent’s politics. Europeans thus confess, albeit reluctantly, that their bloc is compelled to work with Turkey. They are also witnessing how France and Greece are attempting to get the European Union to sanction Turkey for the sake of their narrow national interests.
Turkey’s new sense of agency, which the July 15, 2016 coup attempt could not tame, is really what outsiders find hard to stomach. Due to the country’s decisiveness and proactive steps in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean, they can no longer impose the old rules of the game on Ankara. Turkey, with its navy and drilling vessels roaming across the Eastern Mediterranean, is not just another country complaining from the sidelines. Quite the contrary, it is at the very heart of the current power struggle. Likewise, Turkey, with its military presence in Libya, plays a central role on the ground and in diplomatic talks over the future of Europe and North Africa.
It is crucial that this new reality is fully appreciated and a new balance of power emerges in line with Turkey’s interests. That redistribution of power must be fair, firmly rooted in international law and in line with the local people’s wishes. The idea of excluding Turkey, a country with one of the longest Mediterranean coastlines, from the East Mediterranean energy negotiations is but an empty dream.
The ongoing, ideologically charged smear campaign against Turkey won’t discourage Ankara. What Erdoğan has done to give Turkey a new sense of agency has already become a cornerstone of Ankara’s policy, which won’t change even if the nation’s political power were to change hands. Opposition figures, who recklessly question Turkey’s actions today, will come to appreciate the country’s national interest, whether they like it or not, if and when they end up running it.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among the countries doing everything in their power to contain Turkey’s growing regional influence. Abu Dhabi also runs an anti-Turkish campaign to get Egypt to join Libya’s civil war. In an attempt to encourage Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, Egypt’s usurper president, the Emiratis seek to fuel pan-Arab nationalism. All the talk about a so-called Turkish invasion, colonization and “meddling in Arab affairs” is part of that campaign.
In the wake of the most recent attack on the al-Watiya air base, however, Turkey set its eyes on the UAE’s destructive efforts. In recent days, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar took Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s earlier critique to the next level: “We will hold them accountable at the right time and in the right place.” The wording of that statement indicates that the UAE’s aggressive operations in the Middle East and North Africa have become intolerable for Turkey. The excessive amount of money that Abu Dhabi throws at Western lobbyists cannot conceal how destabilizing its involvement has been in Yemen, Syria and Libya nor can the Emiratis hide that they, through the Qatar blockade, drove a wedge between Arabs – or engaged in acts of manipulation in Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.
The West’s silence in the face of the UAE’s destructive aggression, too, is an admission of hypocrisy. That pretense is possibly due to Mohammed bin Zayed’s inability to become anything more than a middleman.
Indeed, the Arab people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between Erdoğan’s sincerity and the ambitions of crown princes for hire.