Turkey’s Hegemonic Bet: Neo-Ottomanism with Pan-Islamist Face


Finding itself at a crossroads, increasingly isolated by its Western allies and no longer the dominant Muslim voice it once was, Turkey is now flexing its pan-Islamist muscles. But the MENA wants other alternatives.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj

By Tamba François Koundouno –

Jan 7, 2020

Rabat – At a pan-Islamism and anti-Islamophobia-themed meeting, recently held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the initiative of Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, and Qatar, Turkey’s President Erdogan, ever the pertinent and cunning political communicator, seized the occasion to broadcast to everyone who would listen what has become a driving principle (in spirit, at least) of his and contemporary Turkey’s foreign policy projections: saving the Arabo-Muslim world from the incessant, perennial onslaught of an essentially anti-Muslim global order.
In the Malaysian capital, Turkey spoke about resistance and the need for a robust Muslim fraternity so that the MENA region, of course under Turkey’s guidance, can rise to the security and socio-economic challenges of globalization and modernity.

Saving brothers in need
Erdogan’s message was clear: now is the time to revive pan-Islamism. This was later echoed by all participants of the small circle of countries who, by sprinkling their rhetoric with “Muslim unity” sonnets and giving their gathering a theme that could speak to Muslim sensibilities the world over, effectively styled themselves as the saviors, or the forerunners of a much-needed “Muslim coalition” to liberate the Muslim world from the apparently ensnaring grip of the West’s dominant, judeo-Christian paradigm.

There is nothing new to such pan-Islamism-flavored rhetoric in Erdogan’s political communication toolkit. The Turkish leader has to some degree already effectively styled himself over the years as the “daring one” and the “Reis” (chief) who stands up to the West. But the Kuala Lumpur gathering came with a more consequential, even audacious, twist: the creation of a new economic system to extricate the Middle East and North Africa from the grasp of the all-mighty American dollar.

All this was merely a glimpse of Turkey’s regional ambitions as it looks to capitalize on the image of the selfless and sweetly paternalistic hegemon, primordially interested in safeguarding the wellbeing of “fellow Muslim” countries.

Days after the Malaysia meeting, on December 26, Erdogan announced Ankara’s plans to send troops to Libya to support the beleaguered Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in its struggle to fend off sustained attacks from the troops of General Khalifa Haftar.

The Turkish president said he was responding to an invitation from Tripoli as France, Italy, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, and Russia-backed Haftar, appearing to have the upper hand in the struggle for Libya, prepared to launch a “final assault” on the capital Tripoli. Ankara, once again the savior and the righteous voice in a volatile region long gone berserk, Erdogan suggested, was only legitimately flying to the rescue of the GNA, the rightful government of Libya.


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