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The facade of Turkish coup: “Arab Three” lets Erdogan cooling down

King Salman and President Erdogan with Erdogan’s former military adviser Col. Ali Yazici in the right on the background. Photo: AFP

The attempted military coup in Turkey has fueled the reports that the military conspirators were backed by external forces. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and other high-ranking officials of the country started actively playing that card. Yet, no suspected organizations or states are named so far. Ankara simply hints at U.S. and Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish scholar and preacher, who lives in the United States. Erdogan pointed at Gülen as the organizer and instigator of the military coup demanding his extradition from U.S.

Meantime, there appears to be another “hand” in the military coup attempt and Ankara might make new claims to it.

These are some Arab countries feeling hatred towards Muslim Brotherhood Islamic organization that enjoys Erdogan’s support. The main target of the military coup was Erdogan who has got many enemies inside Turkey and outside it within 14 years of his governance. It might seem that Erdogan could expect such a blow from the leading Arab countries least of all. Things are not that easy, however.

For Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and UAE – the tripartite union inside the Arab world and the center of the military power, foreign policy influence and finance – Erdogan has ventured too far in his “affairs” with the Muslim Brotherhood. Remaining generally friendly towards Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and moderately hostile towards Egypt, Erdogan still deserved to be warned against the discontent of the “Arab Three.” Saudis have repeatedly recommended Erdogan to terminate the relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and shift, for instance, to tougher confrontation with the Lebanese movement Hezbollah. This would severely damage Turkey’s relations with Iran, indeed, but it is one of the key goals of Riyadh, the close ally of Cairo and the Arab federation in the Persian Gulf.

When diplomatic efforts prove inefficient, there are always other tools to use. Since part of the Turkish military had personal accounts to settle with Erdogan, it was just necessary to guide the processes into the “right direction.” Turkey and Egypt had many reasons to feel hostility against each other. Erdogan keeps denying the legitimacy of the incumbent government in Egypt that came into in power in July, 2013 on the wave of the “Counter-Revolution.” The Turkish military failed to do what the Egyptian ones did three years ago. Erdogan recognizes Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as the legitimate president of Egypt, who became a prisoner after the military coup in Cairo. This creates a range of problems for Saudi Arabia, an outspoken supporter of the organizer of the July Counter Revolution, incumbent president of Egypt Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi.

Turkey’s two reconciliations with Israel and Russia failed in the case of Egypt. Erdogan said in public the relations with Cairo are more complex rather than the ones with Tel-Aviv and Moscow. Recognizing the legitimacy of the military coup in Egypt would put Erdogan in an uneasy situation. It would turn out that the military can seize power in the secular Muslim republics where experiments of “moderate Islamism” are made. Now, as Western media write, Erdogan has demonstrated a largely dramatized rebuff giving hope to the Muslim Brotherhood that “moderate Islamists may successfully overcome military coups.” (1)

It is less probable that U.S. was behind the coup attempt in Turkey. Although U.S. would like to see another person on the post of the Turkish president, a military coup, even in “a preventive manner” is too risky for it. The key restraining factor for Washington is Turkey’s NATO membership. If Erdogan resisted the coup – it has happened actually - and saw U.S. traces in the failed coup, he might resort to extreme measures and even withdraw from NATO.

U.S. could demand an immediate overthrow of Erdogan only if Turkey’s leadership voiced an intention and took steps towards termination of its NATO membership. Nothing of the kind has happened. Quite the contrary, the ruling Justice and Development Party cares for its NATO membership.

For the “Arab Three” the risk was high too, but they were convinced that the relations with Erdogan will be preserved in any case. Actually, we are witnessing Erdogan’s suppression by the Saudi Arabia and UAE. Erdogan was warned and, from now on, he will be more responsive to the demands of the leading Arab countries. Otherwise, they will go beyond warning.

So far, it is necessary to gain the favor of Erdogan who proved so lucky again. It has become known that Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has recently travelled to Qatar to ask for mediation in the UAE-Turkey normalization, according to some insider Middle East sources.

According to the Middle East media, UAE funded the military coup in Turkey, as the details of the coup attest. Reportedly, UAE did not just fund that risky undertaking. The rumors that Fethullah Gülen - the hated rival of Erdogan – paid a secret visit to UAE a few days before the coup attempt have not been disclaimed either.

The Turkish authorities are collecting documentary proofs that UAE was behind the coup attempt. The traces will lead to Saudi Arabia and Egypt too. Erdogan has charged the National Investigation Organization (MİT) to collect solid dossiers against the Arab partners. Perhaps, there are certain leads. Otherwise, Prince An-Nahyan will not hurry to Qatar for mediation and Saudi Arabia would not detain and transfer to Turkey its military attaches to the Arab countries suspected in supporting the coup attempt. 

The press was flooded with the name Mohammed Dahlan (aka Abu Fadi) supposedly having close relations with the royal family of UAE. Previously, Dahlan occupied high-ranking positions in the Palestinian administration and was later appointed as personal aide of Prince Al-Nahyan. Probably, it was through him that the intelligence of the “Arab Three” managed the Turkish coupists many of whom supported the ruling Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf. The name of Erdogan’s military aide, Colonel Ali Yazici has been circulated in media too. It is quite possible that the contacts were made through the chain Dahlan-Yazici-Akin Ozturk (former commander of Turkey’s Air Force), which the MIT is intensively trying to document now.

There is another supposition why the Arab monarchies could engage in such risky undertaking called “Turkish coup.” It is supposed that besides the Turkish leadership’s close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi Arabia and Emirates could remind Erdogan about his commitments over Syria. Specifically, after the previous high-level political contacts, the military departments and intelligence services of Turkey and Saudi Arabia arrived at a consensus concerning the needs for tougher steps in the north of Syria.

EADaily’s sources in Lebanon said Riyadh suggested Ankara a military intervention in the direction of Syrian Aleppo. Saudis assumed the diplomatic cover (within the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) for throwing three infantry brigades of Turkey’s Armed Forces on Aleppo. Riyadh promised to support Turkey with loyalists from Jaysh al Fateh, a jihadist-led coalition, and Jaysh al Islam, a pro-Saudi rebel group. Radical jihadists led by Jabhat al-Nusra were to support the attack on Aleppo from the south. Afterwards, they would “end with” them too. 

Following his visit to Saudi Arabia on December 29-30 2015 and meeting with King Salman, Erdogan requested time for careful analysis of the planned operation that seemed too adventurous to him.  What Saudis pursued was evident: to make Turkey and Iran clash. On top of that, for Turkey the attack on Aleppo under pretext of creating a security zone and humanitarian corridor for Syrian refugees was fraught with final breach of the relations with Moscow and the fury of Washington. Yet, Saudis promised to recompense for these geopolitical losses as they usual do by providing Ankara an unlimited access to Riyadh’s bank accounts.

Closer to the summer, Erdogan hinted that he is refusing from that military intervention. In such situation, the interests of the Arab monarchies in Syria and the years-long discontent of the Turkish military could converge.

The failure of the coup planned by Saudis and the allies in UAE and Egypt was predictable, though it was not expected to be such triumphal for Erdogan. Actually, he is given carte blanche inside Turkey to “clean-up” the government and the military. Turkish society that showed a sign of sympathy to Gülen and his Hizmet movement did not avoid Erdogan’s “bulldozer.” Dozens of thousands have been detained, dismissed, persecuted by the security services in Turkey.

If the “Arab Three” was somehow tied to the Turkish coup attempt, it has nothing to do but to take a pause until there is a new power landscape inside Turkey. Erdogan will be given time to cool down and satisfy his thirst for punitive actions. The three-month emergency rule declared in Turkey since July 20 fits into this logic. Anyway, within the coming months Turkey’s army will be feeling an urgent need to restore its forces and get adjusted to the new army commandment. Afterwards, at the end of the year, Erdogan may face new challenges.

He will have to war against Kurds with the armed forces and security service. It is evident that the “Arab Three” may easily play the Kurdish card when necessary, unless Erdogan stops searching for the Arab “traces” in the coup attempt and understands the danger of spoiling the relationships with the Arab monarchies for years to come.

(1) Eric Trager, Turkey’s Coup Is a Sign of Hope for Exiled Egyptian Islamists // The New York Times, July 19, 2016.

EADaily’s Middle East Bureau

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