Journalist’s disappearance challenges fragile Middle Eastern pragmatism
By James M. Dorsey
A podcast version of this story is available on, , and .
Saudi Arabia and Turkey, despite being on opposite sides of Middle Eastern divides, arethat would either allow them to compete in the job market or turn them into entrepreneurs.
The Saudi-funded, Turkish-executed projects potentially highlight a newly found degree of pragmatism and fluidity among seemingly entrenched alliances in the Middle East that largely pitch Turkey, Iran and Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey differ on some of the Middle East’s most important divides. Turkey backs Qatar in itsthat is boycotting the Gulf state economically and diplomatically and is competing with Saudi Arabia, and even more so with its closest ally, the UAE, for .
While Turkey and Saudi Arabia are closer in their approach towards Syria, Turkey hosts members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has been banned in the kingdom and is at the centre of its conflict with Qatar. It also opposes US sanctioning of Iran that has been embraced by Saudi Arabia.
Turkey further has exploited Saudi reluctance to aggressively oppose US President Donald J. Trump’s pro-Israel policy to position itself as the leader of the Islamic world in supporting the Palestinians. Turkish officials have suggested that.
The projects are but one indication of the seeming emergence of a degree of pragmatism on the part of parties on all sides of the Middle Eastern divide. Other indications include, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria; ; and with one another.
The signs of flexibility are. They are being put to a test with the , a critic of the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who disappeared this week during a visit to the Saudi consulate.
Mr. Khashoggi, known for his close ties to the ruling family, went a year ago into self-exile in Washington, after being banned from publishing, which he feared was a prelude to arrest.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey have so far commented on Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. A Saudi Press Agency reporton the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Interpol. The agency gave no further details.
While it is unknown whether the agency was referring to Mr. Khashoggi, many fear that he may have been kidnapped. It would not be the first time that Saudi Arabia has.
A Saudi detention or nabbing of Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul without at least tacit Turkish cooperation would embarrass Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and likely spark a further deterioration of Turkish-Saudi relations. If Turkey was complicit, it would bear testimony to increasing pragmatism.
Meanwhile, Saudi-Turkish cooperation in Syria goes beyond relief and development aid. It helps Turkey create a sphere of influence in areas of Syria near Turkey’s border that are controlled by Turkish troops and administered by Turkey.
In a bid to compliment Turkish hard power in Syria with soft power and counter Kurdish influence, Mr. Erdogan’s Religious Affairs Directorate or Diyanet has trained Syrian religious personnel, according to a.
The report said that the directorate had spent a total of US$34.1 million dollars in Syria on thing like repairing mosques, distributing Kurdish-language Qur’ans, and educating 11,250 students.
Journalist Amed Dicle said that Diyanet had recruited 5,686 teachers from the ranks of rebels opposed to the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad whose. “Kurds are portrayed as atheists, and the PKK, YPG and other Kurdish fighters are infidels,” Mr. Dicle said, referring to the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units.
Athat “we're getting paid by the Turkish government. We're grateful to them and we see that the local population here are happy to be under Turkish rule. For Turkey, religious and national allegiance are one and the same. But our interpretation of Islam may not always be the same. Turkey keeps Kurds under control and that's good for us. Plus, one day Syrians in Turkey may come and settle in these areas.”
Saudi cooperation with Turkey and its anti-Kurdish agenda in Syria has not prevented the kingdom from establishing ties to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region that borders on Iran with the, initiation of , and a .
Bahrain reportedly hinted last month that the Gulf states boycotting Qatar. The continued closure has forced Qatar Airways to fly longer routes to circumvent Saudi, UAE and Bahraini airspace at considerable cost to the airline. The report was widely seen as a trial balloon.
Similarly, Mr. Erdogan travelled last week to Germany with which it has had strained relations in a bid to increase his options following a summit with Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, the presidents of Russia and Iran, in which he for now delayed a Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib that would have sent hundreds of thousands, if not millions fleeing towards the Turkish border.
The limitations of the notion, apparently shared by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr. Erdogan, that deep differences can easily be put aside to pragmatically focus on issues of common interest, a key pillar of Middle Eastern alliances, were on display with the European Parliament this week voting tobecause Turkey had failed to reverse its moves towards authoritarianism.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the and just published podcast. James is the author of blog, a with the same title and a co-authored volume, as well as