The Empire Strikes Back: A New Ottoman State in the Middle East?
What had been hidden in Turkey's behavior vis-à-vis the events in the Arab World has now become clear. What had been subjected to analysis and to drawing conclusions has now become an openly declared policy. This was made clear by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a parliamentary discussion last week, in which he said that "a new Middle East is about to be born. We will be the owner, pioneer and the servant of this new Middle East".
The theorist of Neo-Ottomanism is relying on people rising up against their governments in order to reshape the region. The regimes that have fallen represented an obstacle to his ambitions, and what remains of them is either threatened with collapse or tied down by its weakness and lack of vision. To assert this, he told those who opposed him in parliament: "Go to Cairo. Go to Tripoli. Go to the streets of Beirut, Tunisia, Jerusalem, and ask about Turkey's policy on Syria. They will hug you and express their appreciation for Turkey's honorable policy". He also adds that "We will manage the wave of change in the Middle East. Just as the ideal we have in our minds about Turkey, we have an ideal of a new Middle East. We will be the leader and the spokesperson of a new peaceful order".
Davutoglu speaks with complete confidence in the name of Arab peoples in the Maghreb and in the Levant, on the basis of Turkey's alliance with the new forces in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and of its position in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and with the United States. It is a position that cannot be taken lightly, its progression hindered only by the reality in Syria, which had tried throughout the past years to be a main regional power.
The history of the Ottoman Empire, which Davutoglu read well before formulating his theory of Neo-Ottomanism, tells that Sultan Suleiman I (Suleiman the Magnificent) defeated the Safavids and advanced into the Levant, where he also defeated the Mamluks at the battle of Marj Dabek, then headed to Egypt and conquered all the lands of the Arabs. And here is the new sultan, returning to his history and fighting Iran in Syria, after having lost a battle in Iraq, hoping to set off from there to the remaining Arab countries to spread his Islamist model of rule.
And here we are again, peoples and tribes quarreling amongst themselves, some being led by Ankara and others being led by Tehran. Talk of Arabs and Arabism has disappeared, having become "empty rhetoric", as claim intellectuals who see the utmost modernity in the return to sects and confessions. The struggle over and in Syria exceeds the struggle of those who have risen up against oppression, who aspire to freedom and democracy (as important and necessary as those values are).
It is a struggle for control over the entire Middle East, its location and its wealth. And the greatest evidence of this is that those who have joined the uprisings are trying to restore the darkest manifestations of history. The future of the region is being shaped by renewed ancient empires. As for its peoples and its governments, they are tied to this or that new power. And when they rise up, their dreams and ambitions are stolen from them, and they are sent back to the barns of bearded ideology to be tamed all over again.