With a seemingly endless war going on in Syria, Arab states slowly coming apart, terrorist cells continuously operating and economic as well as military interests from countries like Russia and America, the Middle East has become a complicated and turbulent region.
While the role of the world’s greatest hegemonies inside the Middle East seems clear, there are regional powers whose presence is often underestimated or forgotten.
So, with a strained relationship with the Unites States and failed negotiations to form part of the European Union, what is Turkey’s international and regional role?
“Every decision Turkey makes, even the ones that affect the international sphere, are related to their domestic policies.” Agustín Berea a Middle East specialist said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Everything Tayyip Erdoğan does is for his public and his public is the Turkish people.”
In a developing country where the society is divided between those in favor of business and liberalism and those who are much more conservative and traditionalist, Tayyip Erdoğan came in as a reformist, progressist and with strong ties with the conservative sectors of the Turkish society.
In the beginning of Erdoğan’s mandate, talks about joining the European Union were strong.
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However, such discourses have gradually faded over time.
Historical issues, such as the occupation of Cyprus, and the recent violation of human rights, as well as the authoritarian government, have been enough to declare that Turkey does not reach the standards to form part of the union.
Although the Republic of Turkey was founded with the objective of having a legitimacy based on secularity and laicism, the Turkish society remains strongly attached to its religious basis.
“Demographically, there’s a lot more people who identify themselves with the East than with the West. Geographically, the part of Turkey located in Europe and the Mediterranean, although highly populated, represents a minority,” Berea said.
Not only that, but the agenda of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan does not tie with the agenda of other international actors such as Russia and the United States.
“His main goal is to solve internal conflicts,” Berea said.
The inability to tie Turkish interests with those of other countries has resulted in strained relationships with the American president Donald Trump and the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Moreover, it has also resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations with the Iranian president Hasán Rouhani.
While Erdoğan’s ability to project his influence at an international level is questionable, with one of the world’s largest and most powerful armies, Turkey’s regional power is undeniable.
“Turkey cannot reach just any part of the world. However, its mobility and ability to effectively achieve its goals within the Middle East are higher than the one of countries like Russia or even the United States,” Berea said.
These goals include neutralizing the threat of ISIS within Turkish borders, the liberation of the city of Raqqa, and toppling the Assad regime. However, this would require more time, planning, and manpower than the one Turkey currently has in Syria.
This year, as early as February, former prohibitions considered to be secularization measures, such as the banning of the of Islamic veil and religious demonstrations, have been lifted. This has led many to believe that Turkey is no longer the champion of secularism.
“Muslim sectors are much closer to the government and it would seem like Turkey’s regional allies are projects that align with the agenda of political Islam,” Berea said.
Turkey is not the only nation of the Middle East that seems to be going back to projects and governments based on the Muslim religion.
“Countries in the Middle East have experienced with secular governance models and it is the opinion of many that such projects have not worked so far,” Berea explained.
Iran, Syria and Egypt are some of the countries that have experienced with these secular governance models.
The idea of going back to a caliphate comes from these failed projects of democratic nations and the people in the Middle East want to go back to a moment in which society and political structures worked better.
Could we expect Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to fail or to be toppled by a revolution in Turkey?
“The only way that there could be a successful coup against Erdoğan is if he openly spoke about religious structures within the state. This is unthinkable for the Turkish army,” Berea said.
Although political leaders have known how to handle their differences and act with moderation, the future of the Middle East is now more uncertain than ever.
With so many international actors involved in a small region, the situation seems to be bound to escalate to major proportions.
“My fear about Trump is that he may not know how to handle himself in moments of tension,” Berea said.
While conflict is possible, it doesn’t seem likely yet.
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Cover Photo Credit: Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS