Turkey and Iran, fundamentalism and sectarianism

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

What’s strange in the Middle East is that it’s a region where ringing slogans still work more than realistic policies and where backward identities work more than modern values. The clearest examples are the two states which adopt flagrant projects of fundamentalism and sectarianism, Turkey and Iran.

Ever since Turkish President Erdogan managed to control the pillars of the state in Turkey and strengthen his influence and his party’s influence within a clear strategy that used announced and unannounced policies, eliminated all rivals, whether parties and movements, and dealt a major strike that’s directed at his leaders and mentors from Necmettin Erbakan to Fethullah Gulen, Turkey has been facing escalating crises and problems.

The most recent crisis and the worst is the current crisis with the US due to the detention of an American citizen for reasons that seem unclear. The crisis of the Turkish lira began before the American sanctions were imposed, so it worsened after the Trump administration imposed the sanctions and confirmed that it will impose more sanctions based on how the Turkish stance develops.

The announced Turkish policy has an orientation to create a new model that seeks to evoke a deep past and that evades the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the modern Turkish state. It’s doing so via a strong alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries and the world, i.e. give up the Ataturk secularism and head towards fundamentalism and political Islam.

What the Turkish and Iranian models confirm is that ideology does not produce a successful economy, slogans do not build strong and coherent states and developmental examples cannot be driven from the past but they’re built in the present and the future.

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

This is accompanied with the secret dream of restoring the Ottoman Caliphate and the conviction that the model of pragmatic fundamentalism can go centuries back in time towards a fake illusion that’s being marketed as something that happened once and can be restored. This fundamental approach is well-known in the discourse of all political Islam groups. Despite the failure of this approach over eight decades, these groups insist it is the most successful and market the idea that it’s actually Islam itself.

The Turkish policy is also well-known for adopting contradictions as it fully supports the Brotherhood Hamas Movement in Gaza and sends symbolic ships that bear ringing slogans while it has agreements with Israel and wide military cooperation with it. Although it’s keen on appearing as a strong state that does not back down, it backs down and apologizes in a strange way. The clearest example is the warm apology conveyed to Russian President Vladimir Putin after downing the Russian warplane in Syria. This is in addition to threats made against Israel and then backing down and establishing more relations.

It’s unlikely that Turkey will adopt “strategic stubbornness” like its ally Qatar did as those who got used to making concessions will make concessions again. The Qatari support to Turkey via $15 billion is just a drop in the ocean in terms of Turkey’s actual needs amid its suffocating crisis. Qatar is risking its more important relation with Washington especially that Qatar has been boycotted by four Arab states, and ever since the boycott, there has been strict supervision over the activity of its funds to limits its continuous support of terrorism in the region and the world.

Decline of the Turkish lira

The historical and unprecedented decline of the Turkish lira versus the American dollar and the investors’ decision to go against the government’s wishes and transferring more of their money into foreign currencies, particularly to the USD, are an important indicator of the distrust and worry. The lira’s decline more than 40% in a short period of time is not reassuring and the capital is a coward.

The image is clearer when looking at the Iranian example, and this is for several reasons. The Iranian model is four decades old. This is in addition to its blatant sectarian nature that’s announced in the constitution and its policy in spreading the stability of chaos, supporting destruction and sponsoring all forms of terrorism via Shiite militias and Sunni organizations.

American President Donald Trump’s strategy towards Iran is clear, and it is getting clearer with time. The statements of the administration officials push towards more sanctions and further international mobilization against the mullahs’ regime amid keenness to support the Iranian people who are revolting against the sectarian fundamental regime. Trump has more than once welcomed negotiating with the regime according to new conditions that differ from those of the old miserable agreement which he withdrew from because it’s the “the worst deal ever.”

As we anticipate a new round of American sanctions against the Iranian regime, major international companies have begun withdrawing from Iran. Since some European countries have announced their opposition of the new American strategy against the Iranian regime, the major companies are concerned over their interests with the US and they are not concerned about the European political arguments. The new round of sanctions which include Iranian oil will be implemented on November 4.

The effect of American sanctions against the Iranian regime will not unfold immediately but gradually and continuously. It’s similar to the snowball effect. This is how international and regional sanctions work. Time is Iran’s worst enemy as the more time passes, the more the regime suffocates and will be forced to surrender.

Despite all the slogans made by the Iranian regime and the tone of defiance, it actually gives in and fears escalation so it settles with making statements that save face without angering or provoking the US. Despite the toughness they display, Iran’s mullahs do not only yield in major crises but they also sip poison, like the famous Khomeini statement in the end of the 1980s.

The resemblance between the Turkish and Iranian models in the current circumstances does not mean a match. There are some differences which can be taken into consideration. However, the big picture paves way to compare between the two models, their ruling vision, the announced purposes and the adopted paths. This comparison means that the “best model” and “example” is in the past and not the present.

What the Turkish and Iranian models confirm is that ideology does not produce a successful economy, slogans do not build strong and coherent states and developmental examples cannot be driven from the past but they’re built in the present and the future. A comparison can be made with the Saudi model that’s being built in the region, as beauty is enhanced by contrast.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad

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