Years ago, when Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul, he gave a fiery speech to a crowd of followers where he proclaimed that “Democracy is merely a train that we ride until we reach our goal. Mosques are our military barracks, minarets are our spears, and domes are our helmets.” When these words landed him in prison, he most likely realized that there are lines which should not be crossed in a secular state. It seemed like he had learned his lesson, especially in light of what happened at the time to the powerful military establishment of the Virtue Party (later re-established as the Happiness Party*) which was led by Islamic Prime Minister Erbakan. As many Islamists currently do, Erdogan went on to destroy secularism by pretending to embrace it, and to undermine democracy by actively participating in the democratic process.
Despite a successful and stable rule after having “tamed” Turkish state institutions in his party’s favor, Erdogan was still obsessed with his most cherished dream: to become the Caliph of all Muslims, under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the Ottoman Empire. After being diagnosed with cancer, the matter became more urgent, as Erdogan wished to see his dream realized before his time on earth ran out.
Thus, he sought the help of Ahmad Dawood Oglu – a personal friend, who is both an academician and a Muslim Brotherhood adherent – to devise a road map for an Islamic caliphate. The main aspects of this plan can be deduced through a careful observation of Erdogan’s conduct and his party’s actions, as follows:
First: to manage relations with neighboring countries based on a zero-conflict strategy, which was proposed by Ahmad Dawood Oglu. This strategy aims to promote friendly relations and build trust between neighbor States, as a necessary first step to achieve dominance over the region. Thus, the image of a friendly, non-antagonistic Turkey was cultivated by eliminating any conflicts with its neighbors, hence the term “zero-conflict.” Indeed, Erdogan seemingly took on the role of peacekeeper, seeking to achieve constructive cooperation with all of Turkey’s neighbors.
Second: to be perceived in the Western World as one that possesses a magical formula to transform militant Islam into democratic Islam, which is particularly important in the aftermath of September 11. This formula is presented to the West as a means capable of attracting and containing political and Jihadist Islam movements, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, within a peaceful democratic process. In its eagerness to contain these movements, the United States rushed to embrace Erdogan’s proposition, to a point where Washington started referring to Erdogan and his Party as a role model and pioneer that managed to pull off a miracle that Muslims have failed to achieve for 1400 years.
Third: to achieve an economic boom as a means to establish and strengthen power and even help in dismantling the structures of the old State in favor of the new model, with the blessing and support of the Western World. Erdogan followed two approaches to achieve this economic boom: first, by encouraging and promoting Western investments in Turkey to help in the success of this model; second, by working to increase the volume of Turkish exports to Islamic countries once all conflicts were eliminated, as well as to attract Islamic and Arab investments to Turkey. Though the resulting economic boom was more of a bubble that can burst at any moment it still did its part in consolidating Erdogan’s power.
Fourth: to implement dominance and “brotherhoodization” strategies. With the US and Western World’s involvement, these strategies will eventually bring the entire region under Islamist control, and particularly a Muslim Brotherhood rule, which will pave the way for Erdogan to finally live out his dream of becoming a Caliph.
However, Erdogan’s temper, arrogance and mad scrambling to achieve his dream worked against him, revealing the truth about the man and his designs, as his plan started to unravel bit by bit.
The first revelation came through a clash with Israel. Preening like a peacock, Erdogan has been introducing himself to the Arabs as one of the knights of old, coming to deliver Palestine. Instead, he was taught a bloody lesson by Israel, which made him realize his own stature in the context of this complex issue, and forced him to recognize the international redlines.
The Taksim Square redevelopment project provided another clue. Erdogan had allied himself to a number of corrupt businessmen, including his son-in-law who owned the contracting company managing the project. The public fury against him was stunning, and being a conspiracy theorist, he believed that he was the victim of an international conspiracy designed to depose him. The conflict with his own people revealed an ugly and tyrannical side of Erdogan. Suffice it to say that Turkey has currently the largest rate of imprisoned reporters globally.
However, the major eye-opener was the so called Arab Spring, or what should by rights be called the Muslim Brotherhood Spring. Erdogan was part of the international powers that formed an alliance to strike Libya. When Libya fell, followed by Tunisia and Egypt falling into the hands of Islamists, he rushed to pay these countries a visit, with Intelligence agents in tow, presenting himself as a major player and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. Erdogan’s obsession reached new heights, even though he tried to pretend otherwise while visiting Cairo, making a show of rebuking the Muslim Brothers in Egypt for rushing into proclaiming their vision of an Islamic caliphate while the region was not yet amenable to the idea. However, he left all pretense and reason behind when it became obvious that Syria was not easily succumbing to the Muslim Brotherhood. He turned Turkey’s borders with Syria into an assembly of hardened terrorists brought in from all over the world, equipped with weapons and funds and aiming to bring Bashar Al-Assad down. Finally, the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt seemed to have pushed him over the edge. Faced with the loss of his long-held dream, he became semi-hysterical, ranting, raving and throwing accusations right and left.
The Arabs have ever been suspicious of Erdogan’s attempts to establish closer relations. There were reservations about his ambitious agenda and the role he played in the Arab Spring. These reservations were particularly justified when, in the course of Davos Forum, he told an Arab president during a special meeting that, “western democracy is akin to a bus station but the final destination is the Islamic caliphate.” Later, the façade totally crumbled and his ugly side was fully revealed after the June 30th revolution in Egypt.
Since the beginning, the Arab attitude towards Erdogan seemed mostly along those lines: we accept you as a trade partner in an interconnected world, but we reject any attempt to revive the ugly Ottoman history, and reject a return to a Caliphate that we contributed to topple. We accept you as a Turkish but not as a Muslim Brotherhood adherent. We recognize you as a regional power, but we reject you as a dominant power. We have suspicions regarding your role as an agent of the West seeking to reshape a region labelled as “the sick man of the world.”
Erdogan’s model has failed regionally and internationally on both political and religious levels. The economic bubble will most likely burst soon, heralding an internal collapse. Eventually, he will be exposed as an individual who ruthlessly pursues his Ottoman and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired dreams at any cost, even if the people of the region will inevitably be the ones to pay the ultimate price.
* “Saadet” or Happiness party is a pro-Islamist political party that has been set up in Turkey in 2001 by members of the Virtue Party, which was shut down in 2001 by the country’s Constitutional Court.