Europe Remains Largely Ignorant of its Erdogan Problem
Neo-Ottomanism in Erdogan's Turkey
The troubling direction Turkey has taken under its strongman President are well documented. It is perhaps best summarized by former French President, Francois Hollande, who rightly pointed out that he is ”seeking to militarize the eastern Mediterranean; he has breached Nato obligations by buying Russian missiles; he has imprisoned hundreds of journalists and political opponents; he is obsessed with Islamism”. What has yet to filter through is the urgent need for Europe’s major powers to deal with the militarized, Islamist threat on it’s doorstep.
President Erdogan has brought Turkey to economic ruin with his efforts to create a warped, 21st century Ottoman empire. Initially, Erdogan rebranded his AKP party as pro-market and pro-western. However, before long their deep-seated Islamist ideology took over and Erdogan became more interested in combining the Kemalist foreign policy of former President Özal with a more Islamist worldview. Today, Europe is bearing witness to the fruits of that approach, with Ankara exporting jihadist fighters to Libya, potentially triggering another migrant crisis, and ratcheting up tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Whilst it may alarm, it should not surprise observers. President Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism wants the world to come to terms with Turkey’s Islamist power beyond it’s borders. This repackages Ottoman-style imperialism in the Middle East and Mediterranean, with a Muslim Brotherhood inspired agenda manifested through projections of Turkish power in hotspots such as Syria, Libya and Greek waters. It echos the proxy activities undertake by Iran, in allowing deniability and obscuring the exact nature of Turkish activity.
Europe’s ignorance of Turkey and it’s new hard-line Islamist ambitions has echoes of the region’s recent past. During the Arab Spring in the early 2010s Obama tacitly embraced the Muslim Brotherhood, fundamentally failing to understand their destabilizing and undemocratic ethos. Likewise, Europe is not only failing to act upon Turkey’s Islamist inspired expansionism, but appears not to have properly understood the ideology that motivates them.
Erdogan’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood go back to the 1970s, when he was a pupil of Necmettin Erbakan, the father of Turkish Islamism. Muslim Brotherhood branches in the Gulf helped support Erbakan and Turkey’s Islamists during an era of secular dominance. Hence, when the AKP and Erdogan came to power, it’s as if they wished to repay this early education with financial and resource support. This was further helped by the Obama Administration’s seeming support for the democratic ideals they mistakenly thought the Brotherhood embodied, giving Turkey a free hand.
As a result, we are seeing Turkey, in close partnership with Qatar and Iran, majorly expand their destabilizing influence throughout the region. They have been instrumental in develop Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, all preaching a hard-line doctrine which aims to undermine the moderate and open approach taken by many Middle Eastern states. Examples include Islamic Action Front in Jordan, the Iraqi Islamic Party, Islamic Action Front in Lebanon, and Libya’s Justice and Construction Party.
Furthermore, Turkey and Qatar have funneled money and resources into mosques across Europe which parrot the hard-line Islamist message, seeking to separate congregants from the fabric of the secular, European societies in which live. All these are part of Turkey’s long-term strategy to project it’s power and ideology on Europe’s doorstep.
As Erdogan’s imperialistic ambitions have grown, Europe has lacked a unified response, borne in part of it’s failure to truly understand the roots and nature of the problem in the first place. Turkey is running loose, being given an effective free hand by the European powers. In the Eastern Mediterranean for example, their reckless sabre rattling actions against Greece have seen only a weak response offering minimal deterrence.
If the European Union is meant to be an organization of common interests and protecting it’s member states, then with Greece it is failing. A recent European Council summit was stretched out as Greece and Cyprus rejected statements on the basis that there were no prospects of sanctions against Turkey. As the countries directly experiencing Turkish menace, their concerns have been largely ignored.
If Europe is to effectively push back against the problems Erdogan is sowing for them to reap, then they need to start listening to the concerns of countries like Greece and Cyprus. However, to truly understand how to push back against Turkish destabilization and aggression, they must first get their head around the Islamist roots of their foreign power projection. It doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.