Erkan Ertosun, a lecturer at the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Ankara’s Turgut Özal University, told Today’s Zaman in an interview that though democracy lost out, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries won in Egypt.
Ertosun published his first book in July 2013. In it, he examines factors that shape Turkey’s Palestine policy in detail, and provides his readers the opportunity to see developments in bilateral relations between Turkey and Palestine gradually by arranging them in chronological order.
‘Gulf countries try to prevent the democratization of the region’
The July 3 military intervention in Egypt ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi. The international community is concerned about the democratization of the country, lives lost in city squares and Morsi’s arrest. The regional effects of the Egyptian coup are of interest, but they are hard to predict.
When asked what the long-term effects of the Egyptian coup on regional balances of power will be, Ertosun said that Egypt has always played a leading political role in the Arab world and in the region. Most of the region’s leading ideologies, like Arab socialism and nationalism, emerged in Egypt, and hence developments in Egypt have major influence in the region.
Ertosun added that the coup in Egypt revealed that militaries are still effective in Middle Eastern countries and that the coup gave neighboring nations a negative impression.
Asked about the reasons behind the Egyptian coup, Ertosun pointed to Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Quoting Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, Ertosun said that three months before the military coup, it was known that $1 billion dollars was given to Egypt for preparations for the civil unrest.
“Being anti-Muslim Brotherhood countries, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are happy that ‘democracy’ will not spill over into their states,” Ertosun said, adding that Gulf countries’ main goal is to block democracy from entering their states like an epidemic.
The over $10 billion in financial aid that Gulf countries supplied to Egypt after the coup showed that they were content with the military intervention. After a year of fearing that the Muslim Brotherhood’s policies would spread, Gulf countries are ready to do their best to help Egypt recover from its economic depression, which was one of the main justifications for the military intervention, according to the academic.
“Saudi Arabia announced that it would donate $5 billion in financial aid to the new government in Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates followed, promising $3 billion. The main criticism of the Egyptian people against Morsi was deteriorating economic conditions. Now, the financial aid of the old monarchies could sustain the Egyptian economy at the expense of democratic rights,” Ertosun said.
According to Ertosun, although the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Muslim Brotherhood see eye to eye on their policies, Morsi failed to follow Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s path. Morsi also made mistakes that paved the way for the coup, he said.
As a Muslim country, Turkey — as well as the ruling AK Party — was seen as a secular and democratic role model in the Arab world when the Arab Spring started in 2010.
Regarding the long-term effects of the military coup, Ertosun believes that Egypt’s relations with Palestine will be highly affected.
“The Morsi government’s mediation between Hamas and Fatah was perceived as an alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas by the military-backed interim government. Therefore, the new government will take a firm stance toward Hamas,” the author said, adding that the Egyptian army’s destruction of many tunnels that were critical channels of transit for the people of Gaza only a few days after the coup means that the army serves the interest of Israel and wants to stymie the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah.
During Morsi’s presidency, Hamas and Cairo built cooperative bilateral relationships, as money, weapons and fighters entered Gaza through tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Israel, fearful of harming its relations with the Brotherhood, stopped its military operations in Palestine. Since Morsi took the presidency, Israel halted its military attacks. However, after the coup that ousted Morsi, Israel is more comfortable interfering with Hamas.
Gezi Park protests triggered Turkey’s harsh stance on Egyptian coup
The Gezi Park protests began as a bid to protect trees in Gezi Park in İstanbul’s Taksim Square after the demolition of the park’s walls and the uprooting of its trees, but soon grew into a nationwide anti-government movement.
Ertosun sees the Gezi Park protests as the mainspring of the AK Party’s harsh stance on the Egyptian coup. Ertosun said that the AK Party’s harsh criticism of the Egyptian military intervention is a manifestation of its anxiety about the Gezi Park protests.
“When they watched the Gezi Park protests broadcast live by the international media for hours, the military intervention in Egypt created anxiety among AK Party politicians. Ankara became quite anxious about the theory of anti-government demonstrations aiming to overthrow the AK Party, [demonstrations] which would be supported by international intelligence services, and started to impose restrictions on a national basis, particularly on social media, which contradicted the AK Party’s support for democracy in the international arena,” Ertosun said.
On the question of what will happen next in the region, Ertosun said that he is pessimistic about peace in the near future and that “Ikhwan’s protests in Cairo’s Rabia al-Adawia Square are quite massive. It seems that if Ikhwan continues its protests, the Egyptian military will take harder measures, which will have dramatic results for the Egyptian people.”
The supporters of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, have been assembling in Rabia al-Adawia Square for weeks to protest the military coup in Egypt. Anti-Morsi and pro-Morsi protests have been continuing in Tahrir and Rabia al-Adawia squares for weeks and have resulted in more than 300 deaths.
The policy of ‘values’ and ‘principles’ has negative cost
About Turkey’s stance on the Egyptian coup, Ertosun believes that country’s reaction was sincere. Touching on the differences between Turkey’s reaction and those of Western countries, Ertosun said that while Turkey is shaping its foreign policy by its values and principles, the West has always followed “realistic” policies.
“If Turkey continues to criticize the West for its lack of support for democratically elected Morsi, the relations with the USA and European countries will be strained,” the academic said. Rumors are circulating that Ankara is getting lonely on the international stage.
Criticizing the attitudes of the US and Europe, the author said, “Although they always seem to give lip service to the spread of democracy, the Egyptian experience shows that the West’s anti-Islamic stance outweighs its support for democracy.”
After Erdoğan said at an iftar (fast-breaking dinner) for ambassadors on Tuesday that “Turkey’s foreign policy is not interest oriented but value oriented,” Turkey’s foreign policy became a highly controversial topic. Ertosun also drew attention to Turkey’s value-oriented foreign policy, saying that it won’t help Turkey’s regional relations — particularly with oil-rich Gulf countries.
“The AK Party’s policies determined by ‘values’ and ‘principles’ have certain political and economic costs. Gulf countries’ investments are important for Turkey’s economy. However, during recent years, the only country that Turkey could agree with regarding its political stance on regional issues has been Qatar. Now Turkey should take the positive and negative consequences of this policy into account and make a rational decision on future relations with Gulf countries,” Ertosun said.
Turkey should take political approach to Syria
When asked how the consequences of the Syrian civil war will affect Turkey, which shares its longest land border with Syria, Ertosun said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, still holds power and that Turkey should seek a political way to solve the problems on its border.
“Assad cooperates with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the north of the country and the situation on the border is very fragile now. Turkey must refrain from military conflict with Syria. Turkey should support political solutions for the ongoing situation in Syria as soon as possible. It is necessary for Turkey to focus on political solutions for a settlement between Assad and opposition forces,” he said.
A theory for a possible end-game in Syria that has been circulating since the beginning of the civil war — involving the partition of Syria into three parts, an Alawite zone along the coast, a Kurdish zone in the northeast and a Sunni zone in the rest — gained strength when the PYD took control over Syria’s northern border. Ertosun said that a partitioned Syria would increase instability in the region and would be a severe blow to Turkey.
“As Turkish politicians have said, Turkey won’t keep silent before the declaration of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria. In the event of such a separation, there would be a hot conflict between Turkey and Kurdish groups in Syria,” he said.
Normalization process with Israel should be accelerated
When asked about the normalization process between Turkey and Israel, Ertosun said that Turkey has always supported the Palestinians but added that Ankara should try to balance its bilateral relations with Israel amid the developments in Egypt.
“After the fall of Ikhwan in Egypt, Israel’s hand is much stronger. Turkey should continue talks with Israel and complete the normalization process as soon as possible. If Turkey has more problematic relations with Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel, this will create a very disadvantageous situation in the region for Turkey.”
Regarding the main cause of problems between Turkey and Israel, Ertosun said that there are many reasons for positive bilateral relations, but that Israel’s strict measures against the people of Palestine in Gaza are the principal reason for Turkey’s stand against Israel. Ertosun went on to say that Turkey should play an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foster good relations not only with Hamas, but also with Israel and Fatah.
Turkey’s relations with Israel started to deteriorate in Davos in 2009 with a battle of words between Erdoğan and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. After the Mavi Marmara, a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, was raided by Israeli army forces — resulting in nine deaths — dialogue between the two countries ended and relations have been chilled since. Despite American mediation and a telephone apology from Israel to Turkey for the deadly raid, the normalization process between the two countries is stalled.
Escalating violence in Iraq is also contributing to unrest in the Middle East. Bomb blasts, suicide attacks and car bombings have killed more than 200 since the beginning of the month of Ramadan.
Ertosun said the solution is the democratic representation of all ethnic and religious groups in the Iraqi Parliament, and stressed that the only thing that matters is reconciliation in Iraq but also that this reconciliation will be hard to achieve without the mediation of a larger country.
Turkey should be careful about Iran, a significant regional power in the Middle East, according to Ertosun. He said that previous Turkish attempts to mediate between the West and Iran only drove a wedge between Turkey and the West.