Turkey’s clout in the Middle East is taking a beating with the brutal sidelining of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood derailing Ankara’s hopes to lead a regional surge of Islamist political power, analysts say.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was an early supporter of the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak and subsequently nourished close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey invested both politically and financially in the Arab world’s most populous country after Mohamed Morsi was sworn in as Egypt’s first democratically elected leader in June 2012, aiming to bolster Ankara’s influence and show that Turkey was not the only country where Islam and democracy could coexist.
Morsi’s overthrow and the brutal crackdown on his supporters have now dealt a harsh blow to Turkey’s dreams of playing a leadership role in the broader Middle East region in the wake of the Arab Spring, analysts said.
“Turkey hoped the transformation in the Middle East would work in its favour because it would gain clout if Muslim Brotherhood-type governments came to power in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria,” said Professor Ilter Turan at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.
“This plan did not work in Syria, and it collapsed in Egypt,” he told AFP.
“Turkey is forced into isolation in the Middle East, losing its control of the situation in the region.”
NATO member Turkey had banked on expanding its influence in the Middle East thanks to robust economic growth under the AKP and an Arab power vacuum created by the region’s popular uprisings.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a popular leader on the Arab street because of his angry outbursts over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, has championed democracy movements across the region and sought to position his country as a role model and moral compass.
After the fall of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, his government allied itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which heads the country’s new coalition cabinet.
And Erdogan has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of his former ally Bashar al-Assad as the uprising against the Syrian leader turned into a fully-fledged civil war.
Turkey sharply condemned Wednesday’s deadly crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters, which Erdogan termed a “massacre” and President Abdullah Gul called “unacceptable”.
“The frustration voiced by Turkey’s leaders stems not only from the pictures of violence or failure of democracy in Egypt, but also from the collapse of the government’s dreams to become a regional player,” Turan said.
Morsi was overthrown by the military on July 3 after massive protests against his rule, leaving Egyptians divided between his supporters and those who argue he let the economy tumble while seeking to concentrate power in Islamist groups’ hands.
Erdogan condemned Morsi’s ouster as a “coup”, a stance that has infuriated the interim government in Cairo and sharply curbed Turkey’s ability to influence events in Egypt.
“Turkey has responded morally to the crisis but politically it’s isolated,” said Huseyin Bagci a professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.
Analysts also said events in post-Mubarak Egypt had strained relations between a trio of Sunni powers — Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — that were once united in their stance.
Bagci argued that Turkey, already embarrassed by the unprecedented anti-AKP protests that swept the nation in June, is now too isolated to claim a leadership role.
“Turkey has lost its chances of leadership in the region,” he said.
Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said that Sunni split would have regional implications.
“The Sunni coalition that was going to make Turkey stronger in the Middle East has collapsed after the Egypt crisis,” he told AFP.
“This will impact regional policies, including on Syria.”