By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
8 October 2020
• Egypt’s Ban of Jewish Festival Raises Controversy
By Mohamed Saied
• Islamic State 'Beatles' Charged With Hostage-Taking of Americans
By Elizabeth Hagedorn
• British Archaeology Falls Prey To Turkey's Nationalist Drive
By Amberin Zaman
• How Europe Has Misunderstood Turkey
By Sami Hamdi
Egypt’s Ban of Jewish Festival Raises Controversy
By Mohamed Saied
Oct 7, 2020
A general view of the ceiling of the Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue, also known as Temple Ismailia or Adly Synagogue, Cairo, Egypt, Oct. 3, 2016. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images.
Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld Sept. 26 a previous ruling prohibiting the annual celebration of the birth of a Jewish rabbi in Beheira governorate, in the Nile Delta in the northern part of the country.
The court, which is the highest administrative court for administrative appeals in Egypt, ordered removing the shrine in which Rabbi Yaqoub bin Masoud, known as Abu Hasira, is buried, from the list of Islamic and Coptic antiquities in Egypt. In addition, it rejected a request to transfer his remains to Israel, which was submitted by Tel Aviv through UNESCO in 2012.
The court based its refusal to transfer the rabbi's remains because Islam respects the divine religions and rejects the exhumation of graves, and because Palestine is an occupied land and legitimizing the Jewishness of the state must be avoided by keeping this shrine on Arab land.
The appeal was filed by the Egyptian government; the previous ruling thus became final and irrevocable.
The previous ruling was issued by the Administrative Judicial Court in Alexandria governorate in December 2014, before the government challenged it without disclosing the reasons for the appeal.
The Administrative Judicial Court ruling was issued following a lawsuit filed by Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Mohammed Attia, in which he demanded transferring Abu Hasira’s remains to Israel and canceling the annual Jewish celebration that takes place at the shrine.
Following the December 2014 ruling, concerns emerged about its implications on cultural diversity in Egypt and the freedom to hold religious rites. Magda Haroun, head of the Jewish community in Egypt, denounced the court’s decision to ban the celebration of Abu Hasira’s birth, describing it as unconstitutional.
On Dec. 30, 2014, Haroun told the press that the Egyptian Constitution guarantees followers of the three monotheistic religions the right to conduct their religious rites.
In another statement that same year, Haroun had rejected the decision to remove Abu Hasira’s shrine from the records of Egyptian antiquities and said that this would lead to the demolition of his tomb, even though Abu Hasira has a great position with the Jews of the Middle East in general and Moroccans in particular because he was of Moroccan origin, and it could increase religious tourism.
The Administrative Judicial Court’s decision, which was upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court, annulled the 2001 decision of then-Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to include the Abu Hasira shrine, the Jewish cemeteries around it and the hill on which it is located, among the Egyptian antiquities.
The court also ordered removing the shrine from the records of Islamic and Coptic antiquities in Egypt because it lacks archaeological characteristics, and informed the UNESCO World Heritage Committee of this decision.
Abu Hasira was a Jewish rabbi of Moroccan origin who lived in the 19th century (1808-1880). He hailed from a large Jewish family, some of whose members immigrated to Egypt and other countries, while others remained in Morocco throughout the ages. Many Jews believe that he is a blessed figure, but some question this narrative.
A celebration of the birth of Abu Hasira is held every year between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, in a synagogue in Damatyuh village near the city of Damanhur in Beheira governorate. Hundreds of Jews make the pilgrimage to the shrine, especially from Morocco, France and Israel.
In 2001, an Egyptian court banned the celebration, but the Egyptian authorities allowed it to be held annually until 2010.
Since the January 2011 revolution and until now, no programs, grave visits or celebrations have been organized, due to popular rejection. Egypt informed Israel at that time that it was difficult to hold the celebration due to security reasons. Celebrations stopped in 2011, but some were held to a very limited extent in 2018, then ceased again.
Annual celebrations used to take place in Damatyuh village, where the hill where Abu Hasira is buried is located; buses full of visitors used to travel there to hold religious and ceremonial rituals in the vicinity of the shrine. However, the celebration always sparked great controversy, as the citizens of the village, in addition to political forces and movements, expressed their rejection of what they considered normalization with Israel. As a result, security guards would need to be present during the event.
Those who oppose holding the celebration believe the celebrants often engage in activities that violate the values and customs of the rural community in Egypt, such as drinking alcohol, among other rituals contrary to public morals. This was stressed by the Administrative Court in the merits of its ruling when it said that the celebration contradicts the dignity and purity of religious rites.
The Israeli media has always expressed anger at banning the celebration and refusing to transfer Abu Hasira’s remains to Jerusalem.
Prior to all the controversy, the annual official trips from Israel to the shrine began following the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
On Sept. 29, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that the residents of Beheira governorate were overjoyed with the ruling banning the Abu Hasira celebration, explaining that the residents used to suffer under the celebration’s strict security measures that impeded movement inside the village and nearby villages.
Meanwhile, Egyptian experts expressed concern that the decision to ban the celebration would be used to tarnish Egypt's image regarding the freedom to practice religious rites or be exploited politically by Israel.
Ammar Ali Hassan, a professor of political sociology at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that Egyptians in general do not differentiate between Judaism as a religion and Zionism as a political project through which the State of Israel came to exist, considering that this is a major reason for the popular refusal to celebrate the birth of Abu Hasira.
He added, “Israel presents itself as a state for the Jews, and its exploitation of the Jewish religion as the ideology of the state created this confusion and justified it.”
Hassan noted that although Egypt and Israel have signed a peace agreement, Egyptian society still does not accept the idea of full normalization with Israel. He added that the collective mind of Egyptians refuses to let relations with Israel go beyond an agreement concluded between two authorities to end a state of war between them.
“There are always doubts among Egyptians about whether or not Israel has good intentions toward Egypt. As long as these doubts exist, I do not think that Egyptian society can go beyond normalization of formal relations between the two countries,” Hassan concluded.
Islamic State 'Beatles' Charged With Hostage-Taking Of Americans
By Elizabeth Hagedorn
Oct 7, 2020
Alexanda Kotey (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by Syrian Kurdish forces
Two Islamic State members linked to the kidnapping of four slain Americans will stand trial in the United States for hostage-taking and terrorism-related charges, the Justice Department announced Wednesday, in what the families of victims said was “the first step in the pursuit of justice.”
British nationals El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, whom their captives nicknamed the "Beatles" for their accents, make up half of the notorious Islamic State cell that the US government has tied to the murder of more than two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and American aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Elsheikh, 32, and Kotey, 36, are each charged with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death, four counts of hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder US citizens outside of the United States and conspiracy to provide material support to both terrorists and a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. If convicted, each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“They have underestimated American resolve to obtain justice for our fellow citizens,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers in a news conference unveiling the charges Wednesday. "These men will now be brought before a United States court to face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment."
The indictment comes more than two years after Elsheikh and Kotey were captured by US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria. Since last October, the US military has held them without charge at an airbase in Iraq.
The families of the four Americans kidnapped and killed by the Islamic State welcomed the news in a statement Wednesday.
“We are hopeful that the US government will finally be able to send the important message that if you harm Americans, you will never escape justice. And when you are caught, you will face the full power of American law,” they said.
During interviews with foreign journalists, the two men have downplayed their role in IS. Elsheikh and Kotey deny taking part in the executions and said their duties consisted mostly of extracting information from the detainees to be used in ransom negotiations.
According to the indictment, Kotey and Elsheikh worked closely with Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, a former IS commander and chief media spokesperson who reported directly to former IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Prosecutors allege that in their role supervising detention facilities the pair engaged "in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages."
It wasn’t clear until recently whether Elsheikh and Kotey would ever face trial in the United States. Attorney General Bill Barr had threatened to hand them over for prosecution in Iraq, where human rights groups say trials of IS fighters lack due process, if the United Kingdom did not promptly share key evidence.
British authorities have hundreds of witness statements and intelligence intercepts collected on the Beatles. A court ruling prevented them from transferring that evidence to the United States, a country where capital punishment is a possible outcome.
The parents of the American hostages urged the White House privately and publicly to rule out their execution so that US prosecutors could build the strongest case possible using the British-supplied evidence.
Barr relented in August, telling the UK government that he would take the death penalty off the table. That assurance cleared the way for a UK judge to reverse the ruling on evidence-sharing.
The Justice Department said Elsheikh and Kotey will make their first appearance in the US Court for the Eastern District of Virginia later on Wednesday.
The families were also unanimous in asking that the pair stand trial in a federal courtroom rather than be sent to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which they feared could be used as a further recruitment tool for groups like IS.
Marsha Mueller, whose daughter Kayla was held captive and killed by the group, told Al-Monitor in August she preferred the men receive a life sentence in a supermax prison.
“My hope is that they are tried and put away in life in prison and solitary confinement, and they are pretty much forgotten about,” she said.
British Archaeology Falls Prey To Turkey's Nationalist Drive
By Amberin Zaman
Oct 7, 2020
Turkish authorities have seized possession of the country’s oldest and richest archaeobotanical and modern seed collections from the British Institute at Ankara, one of the most highly regarded foreign research institutes in Turkey, particularly in the field of archaeology. The move has sounded alarm bells among the foreign research community and is seen as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wider xenophobia-tinged campaign to inject Islamic nationalism into all aspects of Turkish life.
In a confidential letter dated Sept. 17 that was addressed to the institute’s members, Chairman Stephen Mitchell described how on Sept. 3 the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had served notice that the collections belonged to the Turkish state and “would be removed the same day.”
“Beginning that afternoon and continuing the following day,” Mitchell wrote, “staff from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the General Directorate for Museums and Heritage from the Ministry of Culture and the Turkish Presidency took away 108 boxes of archaeobotanical specimens and 4 cupboards comprising the modern seed reference collections” to depots in a pair of government-run museums in Ankara. The institute’s request for extra time “to minimize the risk of damage or loss to the material was refused.”
The institute's director, Lutgarde Vandeput, confirmed in emailed comments to Al-Monitor that the Ankara-based center’s botanical collections had been seized. “The British Embassy is aware of the issue and we are in contact with the relevant authorities in the Turkish government,” she said. Vandeput declined to elaborate.
The British Embassy in Ankara confirmed in an email to Al-Monitor the issue had been raised with the Turkish government, but gave no further details. A British official speaking not for attribution said, “We will continue to push for best practice when it comes to preserving the collection.”
Firdevs Robinson, a London-based analyst who follows Turkey closely, said that Britain identifies Turkey as a strategic partner and “with the UK’s exit from the European Union, Turkey has gained additional value for securing a post-Brexit trade deal.” Yet while Britain does not engage in “megaphone diplomacy” with Turkey, its envoys “claim they do raise concerns and objections behind closed doors.”
Coming on the heels of the controversial conversions of the Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum into full service mosques this summer, the seizure has left the research community in a state of shock, sources familiar with the affair said.
In hindsight, the writing was on the wall.
The formal justification for the raid was based on a decree issued on Sept. 3, 2019. It authorizes the government to assume control of local plants and seeds and to regulate their production and sales.
Two days after the decree was published in the official gazette, Turkey’s first lady Emine Erdogan, a passionate advocate of herbal and organic food products, introduced the so-called “Ata Tohum” or “Ancestral Seed” project that envisages “agriculture as the key to our national sovereignty.” The scheme is aimed at collecting and storing genetically unmodified seeds from local farmers and to reproduce and plant them so as to grow “fully indigenous” aliments.
“Our farmers opened their treasure chests. In order to ensure that the heritage of this soil is transferred to future generations they entrusted their seeds to the state’s care,” the first lady said in a speech to mark the occasion. She said more than 1,000 different varieties had been donated since the project’s initial launch in 2017 and 11 different fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers and melons, had been grown as a result.
Ata Tohum is thought to be the brainchild of Ibrahim Adnan Saracoglu, an Austrian-trained biochemist.
He is among Erdogan’s ever expanding legion of advisers. The 71-year old has written academic tracts about how broccoli consumption can prevent prostatitis. He was with the first lady at the Sept. 5 Ata Tohum event.
Saracoglu took the stage after her and made no bones about the ideological underpinnings of Ata Tohum.
The professor railed against assorted Westerners who had plundered Anatolia’s botanical wealth and carried it back home. The late American archaeobotanist Jack Harlan was among the top culprits. “When the power that aimed to alter the genetic makeup of seeds and thereby bring humanity under its own control realized it was wrecking its own soil, it set its sights on Mesopotamia,” Saracoglu noted, in a thinly veiled reference to the United States. “Seeds” he intoned, “are the foundation of our national security.”
James Ryan, associate director of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University, described the Ata Tohum project as a “classic nationalist move to dig deeper and deeper into the past for justification of the [nationalist] policies that you are currently putting in place.” Ryan noted in an interview with Al-Monitor that these were nothing new.
He drew parallels with the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who “connected Turkish civilization back to the Phrygians and the Hittites” as part of his nation-building project.
Erdogan and his Islamist predecessors on the other hand “essentialise Turkish Islamic civilization as a competitor to the secular identity of the Kemalists.”
The Ata Tohum project displays “a similar kind of impetus,” he added. “You have these genetic ties to the land through these seeds as proof that our civilization belongs here and has been here since time immemorial. To want to have these [seeds] in the first place is part of the nationalist framework.”
Saracoglu did not respond to Al-Monitor's request for comment.
Turkish officials told the British Institute that its seed collections would be added to the soon to be completed Ata Tohum seed bank that is to be under the authority of the Turkish presidency.
In his letter to board members, Mitchell said Turkish authorities had offered oral assurances that the collections would continue to be accessible to researchers, “subject to necessary permissions being granted by the relevant authorities.”
He said that the institute was in touch with other researchers and projects, whose work had been “directly affected” by the government’s decision and that it was receiving legal advice on the matter.
Al-Monitor was unable to verify that other research centers had been subjected to similar confiscations. Bayram Balci, who heads the Istanbul-based French Institute of Anatolian Studies, told Al-Monitor that Turkish authorities had not removed any of its collections.
The ultimate fate of the British Institute’s seeds remains a mystery. It’s just as unclear what practical purpose they will serve. Dorian Fuller of the University College London Institute of Archaeology, who is counted among the world’s top archaeobotanists, has studied the institute’s collections. He told Al-Monitor in an interview that “the archaeology seeds are essentially charcoal, dead and inert.” As for the modern reference collection “we are talking about stuff that was collected 25 to 50 years ago and is not going to be able to germinate.”
“I don’t know of any case where someone has taken a gene out of an extinct or ancient variety of seeds and put into a modern variety. Mummy seeds is all nonsense. It’s all a marketing ploy,” he said.
Fuller added, “The obvious research purpose is that [the seeds] would tell us about lost variation in some of those species.”
“In that genetic diversity,” Fuller explained, one might find “genes for different forms of drought tolerance, disease tolerance or all sorts of things and that could be useful for future crop breeding.”
“But in order to get genomic information you only need one or two grains, not the whole collection. What [Turkish authorities] have done is they’ve removed this research resource from the wider Turkish and international community of researchers. It was a nice, small research facility, open to anyone who wanted to use it. Now it’s all gone,” he concluded.
How Europe Has Misunderstood Turkey
By Sami Hamdi
October 08, 2020
There is little doubt that relations between the European Union and Turkey have deteriorated over the past year, with tensions rising on a number of mutually important issues, such as the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and the general framework of cooperation between the two.
However, the reality of the matter is more complex than the simplistic narratives that dominate the general discourse, and a more levelled approach shows that the current tensions are more rooted in misunderstandings than in an inherent ambition to engage in an increasingly high-stakes wrestling match.
The reality is that Turkey’s long-term strategy was originally built on dialogue and closer political and economic integration with Europe. When the incumbent ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won the elections in 2002, it set its sights on EU accession, embarking on an expansive economic development program within a framework of greater alignment with EU protocol.
However, at a time when Turkey believed it was inching closer to accession, negotiations became more protracted. This caused frustration in Ankara, which soon grew dismayed that the EU had begun to drag its feet on the accession process. While the EU may well have had sincere and genuine concerns over the extent of Turkey’s development, the view from Ankara was that the real reason lay in more ideological considerations, which were seemingly confirmed when then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 declared that "Turkey is not part of Europe. It belongs to Asia Minor."
In other words, Sarkozy seemed to confirm the long-held fears of Turkish policymakers that while the EU ostensibly offered accession, it would never seriously consider allowing a Muslim-majority country to join, especially so long as France continued to hold significant sway over its administration. Whether this was the opinion of the EU or just France was irrelevant, as Brussels insisted Turkey continue to pursue accession without allaying these underlying concerns or demonstrating consideration for the sensitivities or misgivings that Turkish policymakers might have had as a result of the statements coming out of Paris.
Disillusioned and alienated, Turkey began to consider other alternatives for economic and political integration.
Turkey thus turned to the Middle East. As the economy improved in the late 2000s, Gulf investment began to flow in, yet Arab states nonetheless came to view Turkey with suspicion. From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, Turkey returning to the Muslim world under the leadership of a democratically successful party with Islamic leanings could potentially challenge its leadership of the Muslim World – won following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the fledgling Republic of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s subsequent decision to withdraw the country and insulate it from the ensuing regional chaos. While Saudi (and wider Gulf) investment flowed, relations remained cordial without any indication that a wider framework of cooperation might be established.
Having received a cold reception from Europe and the Middle East, Turkey turned to its immediate neighbours, cementing political and economic ties with Syria, Iran and Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), while focusing on its own internal issues.
The Arab Spring, however, threw the entire region into flux, and it was in the ensuing chaos that it became clear the extent to which Turkey’s foreign policy has been reactionary, scrambling to adapt to rapidly unfolding events that Ankara never had any intention of becoming embroiled in.
The Syrian conflict created a mass refugee influx and an emboldened PKK terrorist group with long-term ambitions of establishing any de facto autonomous region that might emerge from the Syrian chaos. Ironically, the Syrian civil war came at the exact time President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was pursuing a landmark peace process with the PKK and its Syrian offshoots, seeking to end the conflict and capitalize on the goodwill accumulated over the years as the Kurdish population continued to vote overwhelmingly for the AK Party.
Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK's imprisoned leader, personally sanctioned the negotiations in the initial stages. However, as Syria descended into chaos, the PKK began to stall on the peace process as the war offered a new prospect for the group to launch a renewed bid for an independent, or at least autonomous, state.
Turkish policymakers lamented the extraordinary circumstances that had scuppered the prospect of a historic peace agreement with the PKK and began to fret over Washington’s facilitating of logistics and weapons to the terrorist groups that enabled them to rapidly expand and entrench themselves on the border with Turkey.
Washington argued, and with some reason, that the terrorist groups were the only viable leverage they could use against a Bashar Assad regime backed by Russia and roaming militias backed by Iran. U.S. policymakers argued that an Iraqi model whereby the Kurds were denied independence but granted enough autonomy to be able to pressure Iran’s allies would be the most suitable outcome given the circumstances.
However, Washington failed to display sympathy for Turkey’s legitimate concerns that the empowerment of the PKK-linked terrorist groups would inevitably come at the expense of Turkey’s own security as an autonomous entity would provide a haven for the groups operating on Turkish soil. Washington had no answer to this concern except to insist that U.S. foreign policy on the matter was non-negotiable and to resort to political and economic pressure to force Ankara to concede.
Turkey turned to Europe, calling for support to establish a safe zone and provide financial support to temper the economic impact of housing more than 3 million refugees. However, Turkey found a reluctant EU embroiled in its own internal strife as it sought to combat the rise of the far-right who had capitalized on discontent toward the issue of refugees and wider migration.
The U.K. voted to withdraw from the EU, with immigration dominating the dynamics surrounding the vote, while Italy’s former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini swept into power on an anti-migration mandate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was similarly punished in local elections. In other words, the view from Ankara was that the reluctant support for Europe was rooted in political expediency. European leaders did not want to pay a political price and therefore sought to ensure refugees stayed in Turkey.
Meanwhile, Assad’s forces were beginning to close in on Idlib with Russian support. Faced with the prospect of a new influx of refugees, and the increased expansion of armed separatists, and in the midst of relative apathy from Europe and the U.S., Turkey lashed out in defense of its interests and launched military operations to curb the expansion of terrorist groups and rescue Idlib so as to establish a de facto safe zone that might contain the flow of refugees and act as leverage against an assertive Moscow.
In other words, Turkey was not keen to involve itself militarily in Syria. Yet, among Turkish policymakers, the debate is not as to "if" Turkey should have intervened, as is the case in many European capitals, but over why it took so long to intervene as the threat became ever more imminent. The debate is over why Ankara relied so heavily on the prospect of dialogue at the expense of its own interests.
As Turkey asserted itself militarily, Washington’s reaction was to withdraw U.S. troops, dispatch CIA Chief Gina Haspel, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and even U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara in October 2019, to engage in serious dialogue over U.S. support for the armed PKK-affiliated terrorists and Turkey’s wider concerns over Russia and the Syria conflict. Turkish policymakers naturally began to believe that they were now being taken seriously only because they had used force.
On the refugee issue, Turkey decided to open the border, allowing refugees to cross into Europe. Greece responded violently, but Germany immediately dispatched diplomats and began to engage with Turkey in a manner that made Ankara feel it was being heard. Once again, Turkish policymakers had found further evidence that without force, they would continue to be ignored.
As in the case regarding Syria and its refugees, Turkey’s involvement in Libya is the result of years of grievances that Ankara feels have been roundly ignored by Europe. As new gas finds have been made in the East Mediterranean, negotiations have taken place between Israel, Egypt, Greece, Italy and the Greek Cypriot administration. In other words, negotiations have taken place that exclude Turkey.
Moreover, as the tensions and sensitivities have inevitably arisen as a result of the misunderstandings over Turkey’s foreign policy, there has been a general sense that the exclusion of Turkey from these negotiations is intended and part of a wider policy by these nations to isolate what they perceive to be an "expansionist" and "aggressive" country.
Turkey’s assertion has been that it should be given access to resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and be part of a framework of cooperation with the other nations. However, it has steadily watched what it perceives to be a blockade whereby Libya is considered the "final piece." Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Turkey antagonist the United Arab Emirates (UAE), would naturally have aligned with the other Mediterranean nations who have demonstrated a tendency to ignore or be generally averse to Turkey.
This is why Ankara felt it was absolutely essential that Haftar should not be allowed to seize Tripoli militarily and that there should be a Libyan government agreed upon by the Libyans. Its intervention and use of force propelled Turkey to a position whereby it is now being engaged by Berlin and Washington over prospective political processes, and now being engaged by Greece and NATO in a dialogue that Ankara has welcomed and demonstrated its commitment to by withdrawing the exploration ships that Athens felt were the cause of antagonism.
While there are assertions that Turkey’s involvement in Syria and Libya is primarily for self-interest, this does not by default suggest that this adversely affects the promotion of stability in the region. Turkey may well have preferred to support and side with the Islam-rooted nations in the region, and may well have believed with good reason that they would become the prime beneficiaries politically and economically from the success of conservative groups.
However, Turkey supported these parties within the democratic framework in which they came to power. At no point has Turkey sought to superimpose its will outside the democratic framework.
By contrast, other regional powers have directly superimposed their will by facilitating military coups and arming ultra vires entities in a bid to restore authoritarianism. In other words, whereas some regional powers benefit from authoritarianism, Turkey is quite possibly the prime regional beneficiary politically and economically from the promotion of democratic trends in Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, and therefore has a vested interest in seeing a democratically elected government in Libya.
While these examples are not exhaustive, they serve to demonstrate that while Turkey’s foreign policy is currently touted as "expansionist" and "aggressive," it is in reality "reactionary" and a response to an ever-growing sense of alienation brought about by a perceived lack of serious engagement by the EU over Turkish sensitivities and concerns.
While Turkey’s foreign policy is touted as "neo-Ottoman," it is – in reality – a natural phenomenon brought about by the urgent needs of a nation to insulate itself from the extraordinary events of a region that is quite simply ablaze. While Turkey’s foreign policy is touted as "irresponsible," the reality is that it has rescued the political process in Libya and Syria from military solutions that would have completely eliminated any discussion over the diplomatic initiatives being presented today.
It is these very realities that suggest that conditions remain conducive for constructive and engaged dialogue between Turkey and the EU. Turkey’s rapid escalation that is followed by sudden de-escalation is a sign that Ankara still prefers dialogue over force. If offered the platform to engage, Turkey has demonstrated a tendency to accept.
The real question lies in what framework the EU envisages cooperation with Turkey. Is it still via an accession process or through increased bilateral ties? How does the EU navigate French sensitivities over Turkey’s economic push into Francophone West Africa? More importantly, to what extent can the EU operate as an effective partner in foreign policy given Rome, Paris, Berlin and Athens all have different priorities and goals when it comes to the volatile regional issues?
However the EU chooses to answer these pertinent questions, the regional dynamics as they stand suggest that it is in the EU and Turkey’s interests to find common ground as they wrestle with Russia and navigate a U.S. foreign policy that has undermined the traditional international institutions and global order.
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