PM-designate Davutoglu: controversial architect of Turkey’s foreign policy

The former foreign minister’s mild-mannered and smiling demeanour belies his abilities as a tough negotiator and strategic thinker

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Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who will be Turkey’s next prime minister, is a loyal ally of incoming president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the chief architect of an assertive but increasingly controversial foreign policy.

Davutoglu was named by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as its sole candidate to be new leader and prime minister to replace Erdogan. He will take office on August 28.

He will be just the third prime minister since the AKP came to power in 2002 after outgoing President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan, who has been premier sice 2003.

Davutoglu’s mild-mannered and smiling demeanour belies his abilities as a tough negotiator and strategic thinker, who has been at the heart of government since Erdogan first came to power.

His foreign policy defined Ankara as a regional power broker but Davutoglu, 55, has come under fire in recent months over Turkey’s increasing diplomatic isolation.

After an academic career as a professor of international relations, Davutoglu became one of Erdogan’s top advisors in 2003, the year Erdogan took the post of prime minister.

He was promoted to foreign minister in 2009 and since then has overseen Turkish policy on the string of crises which exploded since the Arab Spring, including the Syria conflict.

Encouraged by Erdogan, who has always pushed for Turkey to become a world power, Davutoglu has sought a pivotal role for the country as a mediator in conflicts in the Middle East.

This new policy was not always welcomed and sparked accusations that the Islamic-rooted government is promoting “neo-Ottomanism” and even “pan-Islamism” in seeking to restore Turkish influence throughout the former Ottoman Empire.He was listed in Foreign Policy magazine as one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010” for repositioning Turkey as a “central” country and dismissing post-Cold War cliches of a bridge country between East and West.

He has rejected accusations that the country -- a NATO member and a candidate for European Union membership -- is shifting away from the West, arguing instead for an integrated foreign policy.

“Turkey cannot prioritise its relations with the East or the West,” he once said.

Davutoglu has advocated a policy of “zero problems” with neighbouring countries and embarked on fence-mending efforts with Armenia, with whom Turkey has no diplomatic ties.

But the Arab Spring shattered this policy, leaving Turkey with a myriad of problems with neighbours.

Relations with Egypt strained following Ankara’s support for ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and disputes with Israel reached new heights in the wake of the Gaza assaults, making any rapprochement unthinkable in the medium term.

Turkey now has no ambassadors in three key regional states -- Egypt, Israel and Syria.

With the West worried about authoritarian tendencies in Turkey, relations with the United States have cooled and momentum towards eventual EU membership has been lost.

Even Davutoglu, a pious Muslim, has now on occasion dropped his smiling demeanor to make comments reminiscent of Erdogan’s own outbursts.

“Apparently, some are asking us to be impartial! Some also ask to stay away from the Middle East ‘swamp.’ For us, what they call a swamp is the center of sacred revelation!” he said to cheers in an impassioned speech during Ramadan in July.

“With the will of God, we’ll hold up a huge torch of civilization in the Middle East.”

A fluent speaker of English, German and Arabic, Davutoglu was born in Konya, one of Turkey’s religiously most conservative provinces and a bedrock of support for the ruling AKP.

Davutoglu, married with four children, dedicates time to his family outside of work although he is also known to share Erdogan’s passion for football.

“We like very much driving by car. Ahmet Bey drives himself. We sing songs with the children,” his wife Sare, a doctor, said in an 2011 interview.

“I can say the only thing he likes doing at home is to open boxes of books and arrange them,” she added.

He has also published influential books on international politics. His own vision for Turkey is summarized in his book “Strategic Depth”, seen as the key theoretical work on current Turkish foreign policy.

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