Alwaght- The Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit at bloc’s 30th summit in Tunisia claimed that the Turkish and Iranian meddling have prolonged the crisis in the Arab world. The Iranophobic comments under Saudi pressure have always been part of such Arab gatherings. However, this is the first time, the Arab League brazenly accuses Turkey of intervention, opening the door to speculations about an open shift in the Arab policy towards Ankara.
Over the past two decades, the Justice and Development Party of Turkey, adopting Muslim Brotherhood ideology, has been trying to create strategic depth in the region by entry into the most important cases of the Muslim world. Such policy in its earliest stages stirred a sense of concern and rivalry among some of the important regional countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Naming Turkey as a source of threat to the Arab stability is significant at a time when the US is struggling to unite the Arab states under a military coalition, dubbed Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA).
To draw a picture of how Turkey and the Arab League act in the future regional developments, we need to examine the roots of such stances in the policies of main Arab actors.
Arab NATO and Muslim gaps
Raising the idea of founding an Arab version of NATO has been a divisive issue among the Muslim countries.
The Arab NATO plan was pushed closer to implementation when Donald Trump assumed the power at the White House. Despite the fact that the alliance foundation ostensibly pursues a policy of curbing the increasing Iranian influence in the region, it in practice seeks to chase the secret plans of a number of key Arab actors as well as such interventionist foreign powers as the US.
The plan was pursued even more seriously since 2017 by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both holding a couple of reasons to do so. The two countries seek an upper hand in the West Asia region but find Turkey as the main hurdle to realize this ambition. On the other hand, Ankara’s increasing closeness to Moscow is in stark contrast to Washington’s regional policies. So, the pursuit of Arab NATO seemed to bring an appropriate opportunity for the Americans to put strains on the Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan.
The Arab military alliance is of common avail to the US and the Israeli regime. It can help shift the Arab-Israeli dispute to an Arab dispute with Turkey and Iran. Once materialized, this goal can represent a cheap or even free service by the alliance to the two Americans and mainly the Israelis.
Additionally, further rifts between the regional countries will mean further profits for the American arms companies which will sell further weapons in an atmosphere of competition. Add to this the increase in the regional countries’ calls for the US to expand its regional military presence to protect them.
Egypt, still grappling with risks of a new uprising similar to that of 2011 which ousted the dictator Hosni Mubarak, still finds the Muslim Brotherhood movement a serious threat. But with the rise of military alliance, it, on the one hand, can review its focus from home to foreign affairs and, on the other hand, press through the military coalition Turkey and Qatar, both staunch supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement with deep ideological and political roots in the Arab countries.
Sticking points with Turkey
In addition to the concerns about the increase in Turkey’s power and Ankara’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo and Riyadh are strongly worried about shifting the Sunni world’s leadership from them to Turkey. For three reasons, Ankara is qualified for such leadership.
First, historically, Turkey was the seat of the long-ruling Ottoman Empire. Until the end of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine was a fully Muslim territory protected against the Western and then Jewish occupation.
Second, Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party are extensively following a policy of neo-Ottomanism and restoration of the Ottoman-era glory in West Asia and North Africa. This approach triggers a serious competition between Saudi Arabia and Egypt with Turkey in these areas.
And third is the softened tone of a number of Arab countries towards the Israeli regime and their siding with the new Israeli and American plans in the region, mainly Riyadh’s vague and secretly positive stances towards the “deal of the century”, a deal pursued by the Trump administration and is expected to deprive the Palestinians of their lands and the right to return home. This is while such a strong Muslim state as Turkey challenges the American policies and condemns the Saudi-Egyptian green light to the American plan. This encourages the Muslim world’s public inclination to see qualification in Ankara to lead the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is strongly opposed to such Turkish popularity and goes to great lengths to frustrate it.
Saudi impasse in Qatar, Syria policy
The main reason the Saudi-led diplomatic campaign of Qatar isolation failed was the Turkish support to Doha. Shortly after Saudi Arabia and three of its allies— Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain— imposed a blockade on Qatar, the Turkish parliament approved a bill to send 5,000 troops to the small Arab emirate. Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s vice-president, during a visit of the Turkish sea base in Qatar last week, said "we are friends with those who are friendly to our Qatari friends”, adding "we won't allow those who look with hostility to be our friends.”
On the other side, when Aboul Gheit talked against Ankara and Tehran during the Arab League summit, Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani left the meeting in protest.
In Syria too, Saudi Arabia and the UAE find Turkey a firm obstacle ahead of their demands. Turkey opposed a Saudi-Emirati plan to deploy Arab forces to the Eastern Euphrates River of Syria. Turkey’s media read the plan a step to undermine Turkey’s security as the Syrian region borders Turkey.
Riyadh failure in Arab League’s 30th summit
The 30th summit of the Arab bloc was a showcase of the Saudi failure to foist its agenda on the participating states. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated parties have a strong foothold in such member states as Sudan, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, making it hard for the Saudis to win support for the anti-Turkish and Iranian attitude.
The anti-Turkish remarks mirrored siding with Saudi interests. The centrality of the Saudi interests was a divisive issue at the summit. While the Arab world had a priority of taking a unified stance against the annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights by the Israeli regime, Riyadh embarked on a mission of abstracting the attention from the Israeli and American threats to the region.
The Tunisia summit was a test of the practicality of the US and Saudi-eyed Arab alliance. However, the statures against the Israeli atrocities in Gaza and violation of Syrian sovereignty in Golan Heights indicates that the Arab world still indisputably deems Tel Aviv and Washington as its main enemies.