Last week I attended a forum in Abu Dhabi, which gave me the opportunity to talk to dozens of Middle East experts from all over the world. It was organized by the Emirates Policy Center (EPC) under the competent leadership of Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi, whose efficiency rivals her modesty.
I tried to better understand how Turkey is viewed by the scholars and opinion leaders from the Middle East and Middle East experts from around the world. In this article I will summarize their views on Turkey’s Egypt and Syria policy. Other aspects of Turkey’s foreign policy such as Turkey-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relations, the Kurdish issue and the Nov. 1 general election in Turkey will be summarized in my article next week.
Turkey’s Middle East policy and its relations with the GCC countries were raised by several panelists. Furthermore, I discussed these issues with them outside the meeting.
Most of the Middle East experts told me that they fail to understand why Turkey has taken its present course of action in its relations with Egypt. Almost all of them understand Turkey’s justified reaction to the military coup in Egypt. However, they believe that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement failed in Egypt. According to their assessment, former President Mohamed Morsi, once elected, thought that he could turn a deaf ear to the expectations of those who did not support him. This attitude of Morsi led to the military intervention. Without condoning the military coup, the experts admit that the regime of current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has now established its authority in the country and is governing it. Turkey is the only country in the world that considers Morsi to be the legitimate president of Egypt. This policy isolates Turkey in the international arena. They believe Turkey has to find a way to adjust its Egypt policy to the realities in the field.
Turkey’s Syria policy
On Syria, the experts with whom I discussed the subject were divided according to whether they come from the Gulf region or not. Most of the experts from the GCC countries were eager to encourage Turkey to send ground troops to Syria as a “fait accompli” and dislodge the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), without looking for international legitimacy. They believe this could be carried out as a NATO operation with US air support in the form of a “coalition of the willing” as was done in Libya. They could not give me a satisfactory answer when I told them that in the Libyan case international legitimacy was secured at the outset when the Russian Federation and China abstained from supporting the resolution but refrained from using their veto. Now the Russian Federation says that it would not support a UN Security Council resolution that violates the sovereignty of a member country of the United Nations.
The view of the experts who do not come from the GCC region differed from this radical position. The experts from Russia believe that Turkey should refrain from any type of military involvement in Syria unless invited by the legitimate Syrian authorities, as is the case with Russia at present. Turkey would be violating the territorial integrity of a member country of the United Nations if it were to carry out any sort of military operation within Syrian territory. They re-emphasized each time that the Russian and Iranian cases are different since these countries are present in Syria upon the request of the “legitimate” authorities of the country.
Experts from countries other than Russia and Iran have a wide range of different views regarding the role that Turkey could play in the Syrian crisis. Some believe that Turkey’s role has to be confined to a contribution to the fight against ISIL. This could be in the form of not tolerating ISIL fighters crossing its border into Syria. It could also be in the form of facilitating the efforts of the international community by letting anti-ISIL coalition countries use military facilities in Turkey, such as İncirlik Air Base, or in the form of sending its own aircraft to carry out bombing missions of ISIL targets in Syria.
I will continue to summarize the views of the opinion leaders in my next article.