by Conn Hallinan, November 02, 2012
Two years ago, Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a driving force in international politics. It had made peace with its regional rivals, partnered with Brazil to take a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis, and stepped in to avert a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea.
Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply.
What happened? The wages of religious solidarity? Ottoman deja vu?
There is some truth in each of those suggestions, but Turkey’s diplomatic sea change has less to do with the Koran and memories of empire than with illusions and hubris. It is a combination that is hardly rare in the Middle East, and one that now promises to upend years of careful diplomacy, accelerate unrest in the region, and drive Turkey into an alliance with countries whose internal fragility should give the Turks pause.
If there is a ghost from the past in all this, it is the growing alliance between Turkey and Egypt.
The two countries are among the most populous in the region, and both have industrial bases in an area of the world where industry was actively discouraged by a century of colonial overlords (the Turks among them). Ankara recently offered $2 billion in aid to cash-strapped Egypt, and both countries have moderate Islamist governments. Cairo and Ankara have also supported the overthrow of the Assad regime.
“Apparently now Egypt is Turkey’s closest partner in the Middle East,” Gamel Soltan of American University in Cairo told the New York Times. But although Egypt was once among the Ottomans’ wealthiest provinces, 2012 is not the world of sultans and pashas—and, in this case, old memories may well be a trap.
Egypt is deeply mired in poverty and inequality. Indeed, it was as much the economic crisis gripping the region as aspirations for democracy and freedom that filled Tahrir Square. …