Arabs caught between Turkey’s Sultan and Russia’s Tsar

Diana Moukalled

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Should we be angered or grieved by all the comments and reactions of the Arab public opinion after Turkey last week downed a Russian bomber near the Syrian border? Or should we just laugh out loud? Those reacting to the incident were either very happy or very angry, as if they own the skies that the world leaders are fighting over.

The confrontation between Russia’s new Tsar Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems like a debate that will not end anytime soon: all regional and local circumstances do not suggest the political situation will be imminently contained.

The two rivals share a similar nature – especially on the level of their egos. This takes the confrontation to a whole new level, going beyond the dispute in Syria and the fate of Bashar al-Assad, thus turning this into a personal dispute.

Dreams of greatness

It’s no coincidence that both Putin and Erdogan have dreams of greatness and miss the past glories of wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires. This history has seduced those who are politically divided in the Arab world, dragging them behind the illusion of the greatness of the Tsar and the charm of the Sultan’s power. They thus took to Facebook and Twitter, arguing and fighting on behalf of the Turks and Russians as if the Arabs are descendants of the Russian emperors or inheritors of the Ottoman empire.

The confrontation between Putin and Erdogan may look interesting, but is however dangerous to us all.

Diana Moukalled

Those biased towards the Russian Tsar – whether they are Syrians in support of Bashar al-Assad, Egyptians fascinated by Erdogan’s archrival President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, or the few whom think ISIS is a single existential threat – rejoice when Putin gets angry, as they see their renewed source of power in him.

Meanwhile, those who admire Erdogan – whether they are Syrians who oppose Assad, or Arabs who oppose Iran – were thrilled by their Ottoman Sultan when Turkey downed the Tsar’s jet, as they seek to rekindle illusions of the past, of a nation’s history they’re so fond of.

Of course, the internet and social media platforms allowed people to express themselves via the most amusing and ironic ways. This is mostly what social media users do. However the exaggeration and illusions that most of those reacting to the incident resorted to implied that they are replacing their helplessness with another power, which is this time embodied by Putin and Erdogan.

At this point, we must not spend more time being negative regarding this incident. The confrontation between Putin and Erdogan may look interesting, but is however dangerous to us all. It’s true that world leaders are concerned with the ongoing tensions but they are far from them as the war is outside their geographical scope. Arabs, however, whether they celebrate, disagree or make fun of the situation, will be the ones to suffer as other countries fight in their skies and shell their land.

Considering the situation, it’s not wise to ignore the fact that Putin and Erdogan are very similar leaders. They both admire themselves and govern unilaterally, adopting an eliminatory policy towards rivals. It is this approach that allowed Putin to invade Georgia and Ukraine and which allowed Erdogan to shell Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria. Both leaders act upon personal motives, and tend to act based on hatred towards other leaders – and neither of them hesitate to show this.

Amid this complicated scene – given the situation in Syria, and the global chaos around us – being dragged behind the illusions of someone's grandeur, even if it matches our stance during this phase, is a naive act. And it is one that either leads to a temporary delusional euphoria of victory which quickly fades – or to a devastating defeat that will be difficult to recover from.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 30, 2015.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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