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Monday, 03 October 2022
Turkey’s “Offensive Realism” in the Middle East and North Africa
Jwan Dibo

Amid Turkey's successive forays in the MENA, the pressing question here is: Within which theory of international relations the current Turkish foreign policy can be categorised? In order to answer this question, Turkey’s present external politics should be described and analysed.

Likewise, a rapid contrast between pre-Erdogan’s era and Erdogan’s epoch should be highlighted to differentiate between the two stages.

Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring events in 2011, Erdogan found his way to make

consecutive interventions into those countries which witnessed immense happenings. This

means that Erdogan has exploited the anarchy and weaknesses that swept those countries in

order to establish a foothold inside them. Erdogan’s expansionist propensity has become

stronger when the transnational organisation, viz., the Muslim Brotherhood took the power in

Egypt and Tunisia following the collapse of the previous regimes. Similarly, when Erdogan’s

Turkey embraced the main part of the Syrian political and armed opposition led by the Muslim

Brotherhood and other extremist factions.

At this stage, Erdogan’s ambition became much greater when he depicted himself as a new

sultan of Sunnis Muslims in the world. He, also, transformed his country into a habitat of

political Islam and extremists from the region and the entire world alike. In other words, the

events of the Arab Spring have opened Erdogan's appetite for military involvement into the

unstable countries. In this context, Turkey has occupied many lands in Syria and Iraq under the

pretext of protecting Turkish national security against Kurdish attempts for obtaining rights.

Erdogan has gradually portrayed these military interferences as legitimate steps towards

regaining of the remnants of the Ottoman empire estates. Put differently, Erdogan has

presented himself to the Turkish public opinion as a first defender of Turkish national interests.

Similarly, he has represented himself as a very good protector of all Sunnis Muslim throughout

the world.

In the unstable countries like Syria and Libya, Erdogan’s Turkey has benefited from the

disagreements and rivalry between the United States and Russia regarding the final settlement

in these countries. In contrast, both great powers have used Turkey indirectly against each

other in Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

History shows that wars are endless, and victors of a war want to fight another war to gain

more influence. On this basis, after his triumphs in Syria against the Kurds, Erdogan went to

Libya and played the same role and the same game with Russia and US. Turkish intervention in

Libya renewed Erdogan's greed and eagerness for oil exploration in the eastern

Mediterranean. Consequently, the relationship between Turkey and the EU has become worse.

As a result, Turkey’s zero-problems foreign policy with neighbouring has moved to zero-friends

with bordering states including the main countries in the region as well as the EU.

Here emerged a sharp turn and a dividing line between the secular Turkey founded by Mustafa

Kemal in 1923 and the “Islamic-secular” Turkey or the hybrid Turkey that Erdogan has led since

2003 so far. The main difference between the two models is that the secularist model sought

to disconnect with the defunct Ottoman legacy, while the Islamic or the hybrid model strives

to restore the Ottoman glories in one form or another. “Kemalism” which refers to Mustafa

Kemal, the father of the republic of Turkey, is a local Turkish phenomenon that emerged on

the ruins of the Ottoman Empire based on estrangement and hostility with the defunct

Ottoman legacy. Major components of Kemalism are secularism and Turkish nationalism in its

super racist version.

In contrast, “Erdoganism” is a local religious Sunnis phenomenon, but it seeks to become a

regional phenomenon with the help of Sunni Muslim Brotherhood organizations in the Arab

world. It believes in the restoration of the Ottoman heritage; therefore, Turkey occupied many

lands in Iraq, Syria and sent thousands of mercenaries to Libya and seeks to take and annex

more lands. Additionally, to build more and more military bases in various states and regions,

like Qatar, Libya, Somalia, Kurdistan and elsewhere. Turkey imitates Iran’s behaviour in the

region and applies its policies of intervention and expansion by igniting political and sectarian

strife in non-immune countries. The only variance here between Turkey and Iran is that the

latter represents the Shiite Islam project that is based on the Safavid inheritance, while Turkey

represents the idea of Sunni Islam that leans on the Ottoman legacy.

Arguably, Turkey’s foreign policy towards the neighbourhood and other vulnerable countries

can be classified within "offensive realism" theory, which was innovated by IR scholar, John

Mearsheimer. It is correct that Mearsheimer invented this theory regarding the great powers

only. However, the essence of his theory, which depends on immorality in politics and

international relations, can be applied to Turkish behaviour as well in the MENA. Especially if

we take into our account that Turkey is considered as a superpower at the regional level and

behaves towards the rest of the region's weak countries based on might, threat and


To sum up, Turkey’s “offensive realism” in its external policy is based on numerous factors.

Exploiting the instability and vulnerability in the targeted countries in the MENA, thus, waging

wars and invasions against them with the aim of annexing them to Turkey. Benefiting from the

discrepancy between the great powers in Syria and Libya, namely, Russia and US to make more

interventions and expansion. Taking advantages from the cleavage and discord in the EU

position towards the aggressive Turkish policies in the Mediterranean and the MENA. Playing

on the national and religious strings inside Turkey and Erdogan's attempt to show himself as

the protector and the first defender of Turkish nationalism and Islam together.

Perhaps most dangerous point in Turkey's offensive foreign policy is its direct and indirect

turning into an agent of America and Russia to a certain extent. The goal is to implement the

policies of the two countries in the region and to create more hotbeds of tension in the MENA.

Also, for US and Russia to blackmail and intimidate Arab countries from Turkey and Iran in

order to ensure the flow of more weapons to the MENA.

by : Jwan Dibo