As the Saudi regime has lost all credibility and influence on the global stage as well as among its own traditional constituency, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is substituting the Saudis as the region’s ideological, intellectual, and geopolitical spoiler.
Since the start of the proxy-war on Islamic Iran in Syria, the Saudi regime and Turkey vied for the same constituency in the Muslim world to increase their regional and global geopolitical influence.
The crisis in Syria made the US-bestowed title upon the Saudi regime, “leader of the Sunni Muslims” up for grabs.
When Erdogan’s political party came to power in Turkey via the electoral process, many Muslims, including some of those writing for Crescent International held an optimistic view that Turkey would re-institute its Islamic political identity.
However, unlike many others, editorially Crescent International never viewed Erdogan’s political triumph as ascendancy of the Islamic movement.
This aspect which brings clarity to what the AKP always symbolized is best summed up by Dr. Karin Kneissl.
Prior to becoming the foreign minister of Austria, she pointed out in a 2007 interview that “actually I think that this kind of government [AKP] was pushed more by the United States of America rather than by the Europeans. The reason for this is that the US wants to show that AKP party is the right model of an Islamic party. I personally don’t think that the AKP party is a typical model of an Islamic party. The US and Britain, who pushed for the AKP victory wanted to show that the path for all Islamic parties to follow was the path taken by the AKP.”
With the above in mind, it is important to understand that Erdogan’s regular flipflopping and his monetary dependency on the GCC regimes makes it impossible for the AKP-led government to reconfigure its image and priorities.
Still being the better alternative among most other regimes in the Muslim world, Erdogan’s government will continue to hold significant influence over the Muslim Street.
Erdogan’s manipulative and Machiavellian use of Turkey’s history and its soft power nudged many Muslims towards a secularized and westernized geopolitical framing of the Muslim world.
Time has shown that it is impossible to alienate Islam from Muslim public identity.
Today, the goals of external powers that aim to sideline Islamic socio-political movements are quite restricted.
Washington and its surrogates have no problem doing business with Erdogan or the body-chopping regime of the Saudis, if western strategic economic and political interests are prioritized.
Unlike the Saudis, Turkish political system is more sophisticated and has some popular legitimacy.
Thus, legitimizing western policies and narratives via Turkey appear far more plausible than through the primitive and disgraced Saudi regime.
Turkey’s substitution of the Saudis as Washington’s ideological model for the Muslim world will bring some immediate benefits for both.
In the long run, however, the AKP model will also be bankrupted.
This is partly because in its relationship with Erdogan’s Turkey, there is a give and take mechanism, which was not present in America’s vassal-like treatment of the Saudis.
This mechanism will be difficult to control due to Turkey’s internal dynamics, geopolitical ambitions and regional developments.
Also, internally Erdogan’s AKP ruling caste is not doing as well as it appears.
Its main weakness is that it has become too dependent on Erdogan as a person.
Once he leaves office, there will be a rude awakening for his clique when it discovers that it cannot garner widespread popular support.
While the Muslim world has lost Turkey as one of the vanguards of Islamic revival, Washington is unlikely to be able to keep Ankara on its leash on a long-term basis.