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How Erdogan's Islamist pivot ended his neo-Ottoman dream

How Erdogan's Islamist pivot ended his neo-Ottoman dream

During the Arab spring, Erdogan aligned Turkey with Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus gained great influence in Egypt with the rise of President Mohammed Morsi. But all this was lost with Morsi's July 2013 overthrow by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. "Erdogan's grand 'neo-Ottoman' aspirations to shape the Middle East from Istanbul, where he often works in offices carved out of Ottoman-era palaces, have come to a halt," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkey Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote for the latest issue of Cairo Review. "Today, Ankara is nearly isolated in the Middle East. With the exception of Qatar, Turkey has no friends or allies in the region." Turkish ties with the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have suffered because of Erdogan's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they view as a domestic security threat, according to Cagaptay. The Turkish-Qatari alliance, meanwhile, has solidified, as both support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza and Brotherhood-linked groups in Syria and Libya. Ankara has provided a lifeline to Doha since its Gulf neighbours placed a blockade in June 2017, said Cagaptay. A bloc led by Saudi Arabia is now engaged in a regional battle for influence with the Turkey-Qatar axis. "This competition now extends to East Africa, where the axis is vying for influence against the bloc along the Nile Valley and around the Horn of Africa in a new Great Game," said Cagaptay, referring to their efforts to build influence in Somalia and Sudan. Turkey is in this position because Erdogan sought to use support for Islamists as a way to build influence in the region, according to Cagaptay. "As crafty statesmen, Erdogan and (former prime minister Ahmet) Davutoglu should have had the insight to not bet on just one horse, but rather on multiple regional competitors in foreign policy. Accordingly, today Ankara is more isolated than ever in the Middle East," said Cagaptay. Turkey's pro-government media are encouraging consumers to take out loans from state-run banks by highlighting the lower interest rates they offer. Halkbank, Ziraat Bank and Vak?fbank are all offering cheaper borrowing than non-government banks for "citizens who want to fulfill their dreams or meet their needs," Sabah newspaper reported on Wednesday. The Turkish government has sought to encourage borrowing by consumers and businesses to help overcome an economic recession, which began in the second half of last year. Economists have warned that a surge in borrowing is doing little to stabilise the economy and the lira, which has lost about 40 percent of its value since the start of last year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan oversees the operation of Ziraat Bank and Halkbank via his chairmanship of the Turkey Wealth Fund, which owns the companies. A former interior minister of Erdogan's was appointed chairman of Vak?fbank earlier this week.

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