Turkey's Hopes for the Middle East Dashed in 2012

Article Summary
Turkey was hoping that 2012 would be a year of easy economic opportunities in the Middle East, and a time to gain ‘strategic depth’ in the region. The democratic transition underway in Egypt, as well as the crises in Syria and Iraq are all issues which have altered the strategic environment in which Ankara finds itself. These issues will require its utmost attention, writes Semih Idiz.

The Middle East will have to face three tough issues this year: The introduction of democracy to Egypt, the [replacement] of the Bashar Al-Assad regime by a stable administration, and the prevention Iraqi disintegration. If we add to this the increasing tensions between Iran and the Western and Sunni regimes of the region, it becomes easy to see that Turkey will [actually encounter numerous challenges] in the Middle East - an area the AKP government had big hopes for.

First, let’s look at Egypt. True, the elections are making headway, but strife in the country is also on the rise. The Egyptian army has made it clear that it can not be a constructive player, and that its primary goal is to guarantee its own privileges. Given that this is true, clashes between Muslims and Copts, as well as between liberals and fundamentalists, will benefit the army - especially since those who fear the fundamentalists are likely to change ranks with the hope that the army will save them.

As for Syria, it is time to recognize that it getting rid of [Bashar] Al-Assad is no easy task. The regional balance of power and the international [state of affairs] are unripe for it. Syria is becoming an element of competition between the United States and Russia, and Iran’s all out support for the Baath regime helps Assad.

Even if he is deposed this year, not only the situation will remain unstable - but it will get worse. If Egypt, with its long-established traditions, is having trouble achieving stability in post-Mubarak era,  then it is hard to see how a sociologically splintered Syria can do it.

The struggle for dominance between sects and tribes, nurtured by a frenzy for revenge that dates back to 1982 [during the Hama massacres], almost guarantees that we may well face an upheaval that will make us miss the days of Assad and the Baath [Party]. It is certain that [this struggle] will negatively impact Turkey.

Let us not forget that [in a post Assad world] not all of those in Syria will be friendly to Turkey. Especially the Nusayris [the Syrian Alawites], who will become sworn enemies of Turkey, a country which they view as responsible for the loss of privileged status. These developments will put pressure on Turkish-Iranian relations into the context of Shia-Sunni strife. Once we come to terms with the fact that Iraq is now under the rule of a Shiite majority, we will also learn that our relations with Iraq are not as sturdy as most people think.

Turkey’s emergence as protector of the Iraqi Sunnis will increase tensions. The irony here is that we can only cooperate with the Kurds in Iraq. No wonder that, despite the shadow of the PKK, Ankara is trying to consolidate its relations with Erbil [capital of  Iraqi Kurdistan].
The year 2012 for Turkey in the Middle East will not be a year of opportunities - it will be a year of crisis management. The environment is no longer [suitable] for Turkey to conjure plans for the region through the philosophy of “strategic depth.” Turkey, just like the West, simply did not foresee the “Arab Spring.”

It is time for Turkey to redefine its role in the Middle East. To do so, it must make use of real, and not unrealistic, parameters.

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