Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Resurgence of the Ottoman Empire?

By Ali Alyami

Like other Muslim regimes and groups, the Islamist leaning Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan are using the Palestinian issue as a tool to promote themselves as heroes and fatten their bank accounts. By challenging Israel’s Gaza blockade and defying the U.S. designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, the Turks have achieved their intended objectives: money and fame among disenfranchised and marginalized Arabs and Muslims.

The Arab media, including the popular London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, are lionizing Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as “This phenomenal Ottoman Sultan …who sent his armada to break the Gaza blockade is a man of action not words and sentimental speeches.” In a visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara, on June 10, 2010, the Saudi Finance Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Assaf, announced his government’s commitment to invest $400 billion in Turkey over the next four years. This is lucrative compensation for sending a few aid boats carrying goods and a horde of Turkish religious extremists, among others, who are driven by more than their love of Arab cultures and political systems, a sense of justice or protection of human rights.

Turkey has been a functioning democracy for the past seventy years, because its founder, Kamal Ataturk, separated the mosque from public policy and government operation. What he could not do was convince the Turks that Islam is a belief, not a way of life. Since men use Islam to control every aspect of Muslims’ lives and their perceptions towards both themselves and non-Muslims, Turkey remained culturally Muslim. Therefore, most Turks remain faithful to Islam and its teachings, which many Muslims and non-Muslims argue is incompatible with plural democracy governed by non-sectarian rule of law, as in Western societies.

Ataturk was aware of the threat sectarian Turks posed to his movement; consequently, he entrusted the military as a safeguard of the newly founded democracy under the rule of law. This unwieldy arrangement still holds, but has been steadily eroding due to regional and global developments and the Islamist-leaning party, AKP, currently in power.

Having failed to meet the democratic standards necessary to secure membership in the European Union and facing economic hardship, the revisionist Turkish President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan began to look for strategic and economic allies in the Arab East with an eye on the oil-rich Arab ruling families around the Persian Gulf. They found receptive partners, especially in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been trying to convince the Turks to rejoin their Muslim brethren for years, but the relationship between the two historically bitter enemies remained strained until the Saudi King, Abdullah decided to fly to Ankara with a coterie of 400 business executives on August 8, 2006.

Despite King Abdullah’s poor reception when he arrived in Turkey, he and the business executives were able to make impressive progress with Turkish officials. They signed a variety of trade and cultural treaties with Turkish officials. Since then, Saudi-Turkish trade and cultural relations have accelerated momentously. These widening economic, cultural and religious ties the Turks intend to use to re-establish themselves as a regional Muslim power are interpreted to be the driving incentive that led the Turks to send their boats to Gaza. They want to convince the suspicious Gulf oilmen and their victory-starved populations that investments in Turkey will produce lucrative dividends. The Saudis are taking credit for the Turkish flotilla episode; consequently the West’s reaction to the incident is favorable towards Arabs. This is attributed to fear of a backlash, including an increase in terrorism against the West and its interests and security.

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