By Arab News
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
I do not know to what extent Turkish officials understand how much damage the Arab world suffered from Syria’s actions. But I am sure they are more qualified than others at calculating their own interests and they know that they have an important role to play that is not over yet. However, we do not understand why.
The story of Turkey began years before the events in Syria with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s special interest in the Arab world and positive willingness to participate in it. He started off on the wrong foot when he agreed to support Assad’s Syria in its international battles, as well as enthusiastically supporting Iran in its nuclear program. It is a position he later corrected when the truth became clear to him.
Erdogan with his charismatic leadership won the hearts of frustrated Arabs first through the televised conference in Davos three years ago when he fired back strong replies to Israeli President Shimon Peres. Erdogan launched an attack on Peres and Israel’s policy of occupation and then threw the microphone and left the place angry on behalf of an Arab cause.
The subsequent position of Turkey that made it popular with the Arab world was when it decided to send ships to lift the siege on Gaza with European activists. When Israeli forces attacked in international waters, Erdogan vowed that Israel was going to pay a high price for the attack on Turkish ships and killing Turkish citizens. Since then his photos were lifted in Arab demonstrations and he became a star.
However, Erodgan’s error is that he raised Arab expectations, but did nothing important except stop joint military exercises with Israel.
The biggest disappointment was Syria. The Turkish government took strong positions against the regime of Bashar Assad, and fired consecutive threats against him that it would not stand idle in front of the massacres committed. But Turkey stood idly across the border for more than a year after the start of the massacres.
Later, the prime minister of Turkey, with his foreign minister, flew to Burma and had their photos taken with displaced Muslims. They made many promises. He made promises to the Syrians and the Palestinians. That took place only two days before the Islamic Summit in Makkah, but Turkey did nothing. Some observers criticized his action as just another public relations campaign.
From Israel to Syria to Burma, Turkey lost many frustrated hearts that had high expectations and hope, and here we wonder objectively: Are we burdening the Turks with too many expectations, or are we as usual, easy prey to leaders who can win over the Arabs with a few blaring speeches to the media, as Khomeini, Assad and Nasrallah did before him?
I think it’s a mixture of the two. Erdogan, the populist politician, knows how to get the applause of the masses to win his political battles and win the election in his country. At the same time, we Arabs have expectations greater than Turkey’s capabilities or do not take into account other circumstances.
Erdogan is known for his religious and political moderation. He proved through his leadership, both of his party and the government, that he owns two traits that help him gain public opinion and at the same time knows not to be involved in work beyond their abilities. Thousands of Islamists and Arab militants who appeared to receive him at the airport in Cairo were shocked later by his political speech when he commanded them to adopt a secular political approach in the state. The Islamists and militants became angry at him in Egypt and Tunisia.
The truth is that Erdogan and Turkey’s Islamists are different in their perception of the role of religion in the state from their counterparts from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in Arab spring countries. This results in a wide cultural gap between them.
Under Erdogan, there is still much hope for Turkey’s significant role in Syria in saving the Syrian people in every sense of the word in urgency and movement. Turkey is militarily stronger than all the Arab countries and has a direct border with Syria unlike Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Therefore, Turkey has greater interests in changing the system to the satisfaction of the majority of the Syrian people to ensure the stability of the region and the protection of Turkey.
There is hope that Erdogan’s government is expanding its activities in support of the opposition. And we know they were the first to support the rebels without which the Syrian revolution would probably not continue. We also are aware of the rumors that Turkey is under Western pressure to prevent it from supporting the rebels are just lies. Indeed, it’s the exact opposite.
We are also aware that Turkey has complicated calculations linked to Syria. Any military intervention may reflect negatively upon it, such as Iran intending to create problems inside Turkey, and would support the Kurdish opposition’s armed forces against it.
Such reasons justifiably worry Turkey, but we also know that Turkey’s higher interest became associated with the fall of the Assad regime, the establishment of a democratic Syrian system, to ensure the stability and unity of Syrian territory, and to prevent the establishment of separate Kurdish states.
This is in Turkey’s interest as well as in the interest of Syria. Consequently, Iran and Russia, now an ally of the Assad regime, would accept dealing with the new Syrian government. And their respect for Turkey will become stronger and more positive.