Lately the Middle East has been experiencing a period of extreme turmoil since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to the fall of Saddam’s regime and the end of the Arab political romanticism and rhetorical slogans and narratives within the Arab population. The fierce emergence of the Jasmine Revolt in Tunisia in 2010 was a surprise that later sparked across the region; one has to believe in the surprise factor of the region’s political trajectory and dynamic history.
Recent events however show that there are two lines of approach that are diametrically opposed — the regimes are taking one line, and the population another. The Arab street has been waiting for a political leader (a-Zae’em) since Gamel Abdenasser and Houari Boumédiène when it comes to making a stand against the Western hegemony led by the U.S. in the region.
President Trump wants to “make America great again” at home and abroad, notably through his MENA foreign policy or “doctrine,” a doctrine that differs a great deal from the neocons’ and the pragmatists’ vision. Trump’s doctrine sounds adventurous and dangerous for the entire region to some extent, according to many MENA analysts in the U.S. and in the region. His latest decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem indicates he is either purposely embracing his Arab regime allies or unpredictably wanting to shake the status quo with his bold electoral campaign promises for his evangelical base and the Jewish lobby in Washington D.C.
Though President Trump’s MENA actions have already caused collateral damage and have unmasked all the leaders of the Arab regimes; consequently those leaders have lost their credibility and political credit in the eyes of the people and the elite, including the Islamists. Add to that the lack of competency and direct democracy.
Paradoxically the masses and the Islamist elite emotionally seem to find a leader or a-Zae’em in the persona of the Republic of Turkey President Erdoğan, whose MENA foreign policy imperatives started with the Daka-DakaMoment (Wait a minute) in Davos Forum in 2009, following the upset comportment in an unusual exchange with the Israeli President Shimon Peres over Hamas activities in Gaza, and the Mavi Marmara incident between Ankara and Tel-Aviv.
Interestingly, then-Premier Minister Erdoğan angrily left the Forum’s panel room, a gesture compared to Zidane’s head butt in 2006 World Cup Final, which for many Arab and Muslim masses was a sign of pride and dignity. Mohammed, a banker in Algeria’s Foreign Bank, drew a parallel.
Then-Premier Erdoğan with Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmet Davutoğlu took a clear supportive position for the Arab masses’ revolt in 2011; Ankara got heavily involved in the Syrian civil war with its “Open Gate Policy,” letting millions of Syrian migrants enter Turkey and stay. And last summer President Erdoğan got personally involved in the Gulf countries crisis, offering mediation on one hand, and full logistic and political support for Doha; and recently he has been a strong voice for the Palestinian people and cause on the diplomatic stage.
Like Ambassador Massouad Maalouf put it: …“ This is despite all the negative developments in Turkey’s domestic politics, President’s Erdoğan popularity has been increasing instead of decreasing, undoubtedly his position on Israel and his strong support for the Palestinians rights have helped his popularity including in the Arab countries…”
In the wake of the “Jerusalem Winter” President Erdoğan has positioned himself as a leader and a strong voice for the voiceless in the region. Unlike what the Turkish liberal elite and Turkish West Coast upper class believe, as well as the Arab regimes and liberal elite — nonetheless a large majority of the Arab population holds conservative values like the Turks, in this stance a majority of Turks in the deep country look upon themselves as religious like the majority of the Arabs.
“… Millions of Arabs were looking for a hero that they never found, then came Erdoğan, his recipe for governing a blend of Islam and modernity, which served as a model [that] they lack in their own countries…” as Ms. Mebarki Samia, an Algerian journalist in France, continued, “Erdoğan gave them (Arab masses) the opportunity to see Islam is compatible with democracy and good governance particularly during the Turkish President’s first year in office.”
For Ms. Maha Saleh, Editor-in-Chief of Ayn al-Dyar newspaper in Amman, Jordan: “… Erdoğan is a brave and an intelligent Turkish leader, who is leading his country and nation into prosperity. His first mission was to destroy the corruption, which then enabled him to establish a technical and an industrial revolution…” She continued, “I disagreed however with his Syria and Iraq policies; he is intentionally or not, collaborating for the destruction of these countries by allowing the terrorists and extremists to enter from Turkey! We cannot deny that Erdoğan inherited the legacy of being powerful from his ancestors’ Ottoman Empire…”
A shared conservative sentiment with the Arab masses, President Erdoğan shows it publicly in his speeches. Yet New Turkey’s (Yeni Türkiye) paradigm under the AKParti has become a political identity and reference for the masses and the Islamist elite in the Arab countries. After surviving the attempted coup in July 2016, President Erdoğan has emerged stronger than ever, his critics and bashers in the Arab countries and in the West are criticizing his State’s purification policy to remove Fethulla Gülen movement and its followers for good from the State’s systemic and the country’s institutional machine.
According to Professor Balçi, a Political Science professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris: “… Mobilizing Muslims of Turkey and other countries, it is important for President Erdoğan in terms of political legitimacy, but also a kind of strategy to win new political supports and new elections etc… At the same time the focus on Jerusalem can be a kind of diversion from domestic politics.”
President’s Erdoğan charisma, temperament and character have been not only intruding the Arab regimes, but to the U.S. in losing a pivotal and vital ally in the region. Even though Turkey has serious national security problems, the separatist Kurdish specter, the shade of ISO and the presence of millions of Syrian migrants in the country are still a direct threat to Ankara.
Thus the country needs a strong leadership domestically and regionally, even to use a popularity that sometimes comes from frustrated neighboring masses, who are willing to trade all their leaders for Erdoğan, as a young Syrian migrant in Urfa, Turkey told me.
Illegitimate regimes’ positions, and their American President ally, a limited President on MENA foreign policy complexities are making the New Republic of Turkey and its leader great again.