Turkish citizens have taken to the streets in droves in recent days to protest violence against women and to denounce a lingering economic crisis caused by a sharp drop in the pound. Some even called on the government to step down.
Authorities responded with tear gas and waves of riot police wielding shields. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered an investigation into the fall of the pound and urged his people to hold on as Turkey wage a war for economic independence against what he describes as the nefarious designs of foreign actors.
“We did not think about this economic policy overnight and decided to apply in the morning,” Erdogan said on Friday, repeatedly calling on the central bank to reverse the policy and implement a hike. interest rates. “We have been preparing for this for 19 years.
While the Turkish leader seems compelled to take an unshakeable stance at the national level in order to maintain a sense of invincibility within his base, he has over the past year become much more internationally open.
Consider Mr. Erdogan’s meeting last week with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who visited Turkey for the first time since 2012. The two countries were in disagreement for years on several key regional issues, but change began earlier this year after senior officials said they saw no obstacles to warmer relations.
Turkey announced the arrival of Sheikh Mohamed at the White Palace with an honor guard, the Emirati national anthem and a 21-gun salute. After the meeting, during which the two sides discussed bilateral and regional developments, the UAE announced a $ 10 billion fund to invest in Turkish energy, health care and food, as well as investments in Turkish ports, finance and startups and a commitment to boost bilateral trade.
The lira, which has lost 40% of its value since February, has recovered in response to the news. However, this injection of money will not “save” the Turkish economy. Yet it can do something even more meaningful: further encourage regional unity and consolidate Ankara’s shift in foreign policy positioning.
A year to 18 months ago, Turkey appeared as an international pariah, on the brink of war with Greece, opposing the Gulf States in several regional disputes, the recipient of severe American sanctions for the purchase of missile defenses Russia and facing new EU sanctions for its eastern country. Mediterranean aggressions.
This year, Turkey and Greece held two rounds of talks to discuss the lingering differences, and Erdogan had a friendly meeting with US President Biden on the sidelines of the G20 last month. As recently as last week, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay met with Saudi Arabia’s trade minister in Istanbul, signaling a further warming of relations between Ankara and the Gulf.
The Council of Europe is threatening to initiate infringement proceedings against Ankara for the continued detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was again refused release by a Turkish court on Friday. But Brussels appears to have withdrawn the sanctions, at least for now, as Turkey reduced its naval profile around Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean.
In addition, Ankara somehow maintains relatively friendly relations with its warring enemies, Ukraine and Russia, and raised the possibility of detente with Armenia earlier this year while at the same time remaining closely aligned with Azerbaijan. Last week, Erdogan became personally involved in the release of an Israeli couple detained while on vacation in Istanbul, then spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog .
As with Egypt, obstacles remain to be overcome for a full rapprochement with Israel, but there is no doubt that Turkish ties with the two countries have improved markedly over the past year, in part thanks to Ankara who limited the reach of media run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi would like Ankara to extradite dozens of Muslim Brotherhood exiles living in Turkey, while Israel has urged Turkey to close Hamas offices in Istanbul and sever ties with the terrorist group.
In fact, almost all of the states mentioned above have persistent complaints against Ankara, from its stance on Syria to political prisoners such as Kavala, and from the Aegean border claiming to have allegedly used refugees as a weapon. But seldom in international relations are points of contention erased in a flash. Engaged diplomats are often forced to resolve a thorny issue behind closed doors for months, if not years, before they can turn it into mutual acceptability.
What matters at any given time is therefore the direction of travel. And even if Mr. Erdogan remains opposed to a domestic economic turn, to the apparent detriment of his popularity, it is clear that since the darkest days of the pandemic last summer, Turkish foreign policy has sought to emerge from the crisis. cold.
I first highlighted Ankara’s decision to end regional isolation in January, and the friendly vibes have mostly continued in the meantime. The reasons for this change are mostly irrelevant.
The crucial development is that Turkey seems more and more willing to join the international community. Ten years ago, Ankara liked to boast of having “zero problems with its neighbors,” but in 2013, major Western media claimed that Turkey suddenly had problems with all of its neighbors and beyond.
Now Ankara may have found that elusive middle ground, where both sides can come to terms with lingering issues while maintaining productive ties. Enemies turned friends with Turkey may doubt Mr. Erdogan’s commitment to international standards and open relations. But there is no doubt that improving Turkish ties with its neighbors and the West is a positive development for regional stability and prosperity, and for all those Turks who take to the streets in desperation.
Posted: Nov 28, 2021, 2:00 p.m.