Monday,19 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)
Monday,19 March, 2018
Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s meddling

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists on covering up his many domestic political and economic problems by performing the role of the bully in the region, interfering militarily with his neighbours, and airing Ottoman-era threats to other countries. While these policies are unlikely to help Erdogan’s status, which has been badly shaken by the failed military coup more than a year ago, they will be strongly resisted by concerned nations, threatening more instability in an extremely volatile region.

On 20 January, Erdogan violated international law and conducted a military operation inside Syrian territory with the claim of fighting Kurdish separatists who allegedly posed a threat to his country. There was no evidence whatsoever that Syrian Kurdish militias, who received strong US support in the fight against the terrorist Islamic State group, provided any refuge for Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). However, Erdogan claimed otherwise, and ordered the Turkish army to relentlessly bomb Syrian towns along the border.

Observers were right to doubt the chances of success for such a Turkish adventure. If taking over the one small town of Afrin needed such a massive bombing campaign for over one month, how long would it take to conclude the costly military operation? The only result of Erdogan’s bombing campaign so far is the killing of many innocent civilians and hardship for thousands of others.

Lengthy talks between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Erdogan last week have clearly failed to overcome the sharp differences between the two NATO allies over the Turkish military operation in northern Syria. Relying on ties with Russia alone, which has its own interests and priorities in Syria, will clearly not provide a face-saving exit for the Turkish president.

Erdogan, who is suffering from the illusion of restoring the “glory” of the Ottoman Empire, did not stop there, however. He decided to open a new confrontation with Cyprus and Egypt, this time over maritime borders and gas explorations in the Mediterranean.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed in a recent interview that international companies drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus were within his country’s continental shelf, turning up the heat on them, and asking them to stop.

In an interview with a Greek newspaper, he said that Turkey “is prepared to take all necessary measures” to protect its rights, and those of the Turkish Cypriots, in the eastern Mediterranean after previously demanding a share of the revenues from any findings.

Cavusoglu claimed that Plot 6 of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), where hydrocarbon explorations are already taking place, belongs to Turkey, not Cyprus.

Egypt warned Turkey against any infringement on its economic rights in the eastern Mediterranean under a maritime border demarcation agreement signed in 2013 with Cyprus that allows exploration for gas in the area.

The discovery of the massive Zohr gas field in 2015 has spurred a race for exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, an area that is believed to hold big natural gas deposits crucial for energy-hungry Europe.

Turkey claims a part of Cyprus’s EEZ. In addition, Ankara maintains that exploiting the island’s resources can only take place after a comprehensive settlement, where both communities can share in the wealth. Needless to say, Turkey has been stalling in reaching any settlement for the dispute over Cyprus for decades, resulting in tension in the region and a lengthy delay in its demand to join the European Union (EU).

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, warned against any attempt to contest the 2013 accord and said it had been deposited with the United Nations. He added that any such attempt “was rejected and would be confronted”.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara have already been strained since then defence minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi removed former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013 after mass protests against his rule. Ankara did not only provide refuge for hundreds of fugitive suspected terrorists who were involved in acts of violence against the Egyptian army, police and civilians, but also became a centre for propaganda television channels that belong to the Brotherhood, airing nothing but lies and rumours on the situation in Egypt.

Certainly, Erdogan would be doing himself, the Turkish people and his country a big favour if he worked on solving his own domestic problems first before trying to escape his fragile situation by taking up external fights. That’s a failed policy that didn’t work with many other governments, and it’s unlikely to succeed in the case of Erdogan.

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