An extended version of this article appeared on Myśl Polska. You can find the original Polish here.
We are increasingly worried about the objectives of current Turkish policy. Recep Erdogan causes conflicts on all fronts, tries to demonstratively show independence from all external forces, plays his own games in various regions of the former Ottoman Empire, challenging all players present in this area.
The idea of establishing a province in Syria under the actual control of Turkey was precisely to prevent tens of thousands of fighters financed for years by Ankara from being liquidated. Unfortunately, Russia agreed to such a solution at the time, recognizing that it would be the only way to what was not very skilfully described as de-escalation. The fighters sent to Libya, trained during the Syrian war, did not decide to leave for ideological reasons. All costs associated with their transfer and maintenance were borne by Ankara, in addition to the vision of granting Turkish citizenship or the possibility of emigrating to Europe.
Turkey’s expansive Mediterranean policy has at least several reasons. Its intensification and most aggressive forms have for many years been associated with the creation of the so-called the Arab Spring,which lead to entire areas out of state control, no man’s land belts controlled by local militias and not in fact subject to any external jurisdiction. Turkish ambitions in the Middle East have been known for a long time, but in the Erdogan era they were radically expanded, including to African countries. The painful loss caused by the removal of the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir‘s team only accelerated the decision to increase involvement in the Libyan conflict, and even to officially participate in it as a party. After the loss of influence in Sudan, Ankara was left with almost nothing. On the southern shore of the Mediterranean, relatively strong state structures survived, primarily in the form of Egypt and Algeria.
The basic political instrument for the implementation of Turkish expansion was and remains the Muslim Brotherhood that still had numerous structures in the region, often considered a threat by local authorities and thus operating underground. This movement was established in 1928 in the Egyptiantown of Ismailia, and its founder was the Sunni priest Hassan al-Banna. From the beginning, the brotherhood’s primary goal was to recreate a transnational theocratic empire – the Great Islamic Caliphate, ultimately covering all the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, which was perfectly in line with the imperial visions of Turkish Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood structures throughout the Middle East were in conflict with local, often secular, regimes.
For example, in Syria, the authorities faced another revolt inspired by the Brotherhood in the 1970s. The local Muslim Brotherhood also dealt with the organization of terrorist attacks on representatives of the authorities and the Alawite minority. The structures of this international organization became particularly active during the so-called Arab Spring after 2011. As a result, they took over power, including in Egypt, where Muhammad Mursi became president, only to be overthrown by local military men in 2013 and brought to justice. Today the Muslim Brotherhood has real influence only in Tunisia.
The geopolitical significance of the Muslim Brotherhood consisted primarily in its use by external players seeking to weaken national and sovereign tendencies in Arab countries. During the Cold War it became an instrument in the hands of British and Americans. In Egypt, after 1970, it received the support of a high-ranking official of the British Foreign Ministry, James Craig, who, along with the then United Kingdom ambassador to Cairo, Richard Beaumont, lobbied in her favor, recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood as an effective counterweight to the Soviet Union left-wing national liberation movements such as the Egyptian Nasserists.
Soon Americans began to use the same strategy; the Muslim Brotherhood was supported by Zbigniew Brzeziński, and then the neo-conservatives. This ideological paradox did not bother anyone too much: the Muslim Brotherhood advocated a reduction in Western cultural influences, among them the concept of a secular state; and the West was separating itself verbally from Islamic fundamentalists. Anglo-Saxon neo-colonialism in the Muslim world without any inhibition used the services of this amazing ally.
The secret structures and influences of the Muslim Brotherhood were simultaneously expanded in the secular Turkey that emerged after the revolution of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His significance for the Erdogan Justice and Development Party was decisive from the very beginning. Turkey’s first Islamist Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, founded the organization Milli Görüş (“National Option”) in 1969, which was a Turkish branch of the Brotherhood. The late mentor of the current president in 1996 proposed as head of government the creation of a union of Islamic states in which, along with Turkey, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Malaysia would be found. Of course, this vision was quite utopian and did not arouse wider interest.
Erdogan initially tried to promote more moderate concepts of the presence of Islam in the life of the state, referring rather to the Sufi thought of Shams-i-Tabrizi and Rumi, however, the works of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al-Banna and his ideologist Sajjid Qutb were beginning to exert an increasing influence over the Turkish elites. Over time, the Turkish authorities gained full support from existing Brotherhood structures.
Erdogan and his entourage repeat tirelessly today that in Syria, Libya and other countries of the former Ottoman Empire, Turkish troops respond to the invitation of the local population. Of course, nobody invited them there, especially considering the memories of Turkish domination and occupation still vivid in the historical consciousness of the region’s inhabitants. Unlike Kemalist and secular Turkey, which tended more towards Central Asia and various concepts of Panturkism, nowadays Ankara seems to be consistently fighting for influence in the former lands of the Ottoman Empire, which was finally lost over 100 years ago after World War I. It is this religious-political motivation that induces her to fight for her influence in northern Syria, recognized as an important part of Turkish heritage, and to expand throughout the Mediterranean basin, trying to restore the once-extensive empire on contemporary maps.
French political scientist and publicist Alexandre del Valle, known for his views that the United States made instrumental use of Islam against Europe, noted: “Next to Qatar, Turkey is the country that most contributed to the destruction of Syria by four actions: by sponsoring the criminal structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, who tried to seize power in Syria; by transferring weapons to various Islamist groups; by intervening directly and armedly in the Syrian conflict; and ny organizing the transfer of thousands of foreign jihadists to Syria from her territory”.
It is impossible not to notice that Turkey’s activities in the region as part of her Neo-Osmanism doctrine lead to the destabilization of the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result also flooded Europe with subsequent waves of migrants. It turns out, therefore, that nolens volens Turkey’s strategy of expansion is part of the plan developed in Washington and Langley known as the Great Middle East, or more broadly the Balkanization of Eurasia. Ultimately, its implementation will not be beneficial for either Ankara or her neighbors.