Michael Totten

The Middle East is Now Even More Complicated

I’m still not exactly sure what’s going on inside Turkey, but I’m pretty sure Tony Badran at NOW Lebanon is right about what its new foreign policy means for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Populism in the Arab world is second nature and despite its disastrous track record, it never seems to go out of fashion. Non-Arab regional players like Iran have understood this and have cynically used populism to their advantage. And so, when Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared recently that Gaza “is a historical cause for us,” one could be forgiven for snickering.

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The appeal of sectarianism also puts the lie to Arab nationalism’s supposed secularism. As Turkey seeks to paint itself as Hamas’ patron, some Arab states have reasoned that this represents a Sunni counterweight to Iran’s patronage of the Islamist group.

But while such transnationalism finds assets in the fractured Levant, it creates problems for established states, namely Egypt, bordering Gaza, where the recent political developments played out. As much as Israel, Egypt finds itself a target of this Turkish resurgence — not to mention Iran’s. It was only fitting that we were reminded the other day by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah of the need for the ideas and values (such as “the culture of resistance”) of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution to be spread throughout the Arab and Islamic states. This also happened to follow Nasrallah’s hint of an operational capacity in the Red Sea.

Just as Iran’s Islamic Revolution was expansionist by definition, the AKP’s “neo-Ottomanism” also posits a Turkish-dominated realm. As the potential for Iranian-Turkish competition grows and the Levant once again assumes its historical function as a contested space between more powerful nations vying for regional influence, the Arab states are becoming ever more secondary, their populations easily manipulated by regional populist leaders like Erdogan.