It goes without saying that the Egyptian Army's ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-run Morsi government is bad news for Turkey's AKP, Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu. While some astute observers have raised the question whether Erdogan's purge of the Turkish military has proceeded far enough to insulate him against a rerun of the Egypt developments in Ankara, I believe there are other elements of the situation that are far more menacing for the continuing rule of the Erdogan-Davutoglu government. If I am correct, the real undoing of Turkey's experiment in "political Islam" will be from self-inflicted wounds rather than from fallout from Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood folly.
When the Erdogan-Davutoglu team first came into power, they had faced economic challenges as well as diplomatic challenges in a volatile region. Initially, the AKP government had pursued a foreign policy based on the idea that they had no regional enemies. From Iran to Syria to Iraq, the Turkish AKP government pursued a policy of bilateral trade and normal diplomatic ties that was a key element of Turkey's economic success. Turkey became a regional exporter of products to all of its neighbors, developed solid economic cooperation with Russia, and built up bilateral trade with Iran that was one of the anchors of Turkey's long run of relative economic growth.
When Erdogan took the lead in demanding the ouster of Syrian President Assad, everything changed. Rather than continuing with the successful foreign and economic policy of non-aggression and non-interference, Turkey jumped out ahead of everyone in pressing for rapid regime change next door in Damascus. It may be fairly said that Erdogan adopted this aggressive posture, throwing his entire foreign policy success out the window, at the behest of Washington and Riyad. Obama, who counts Erdogan among his few close friends among foreign leaders, pressed for the Turkish leader to lead the way to Assad's rapid ouster. There was a strong implication that Washington had his back covered. Big mistake!
Now, Turkey is facing the kind of economic troubles in the coming months that can make things very difficult for the Erdogan government. Trade with Iran, Syria and Iraq is greatly reduced--for obvious geopolitical reasons. The Syria conflict has lingered for more than two years, and there are now a large number of Syrian refugees inside southern Turkey, at a significant cost to the Turkish government. Add to this the fact that Turkey is unavoidably absorbing some of the costs of hosting factions of the Syrian rebels, and the costs keep mounting.
Is the situation yet at the point where Erdogan's survival is in jeopardy? I cannot answer that question. But instability in the region can potentially have an additional cost. With both Qatar and Saudi Arabia going through internal power shifts, with the possibility of conflict with Iran diminished but still possible, with Iraq's stability uncertain, and with the spillover from Egypt still playing out, it cannot be ruled out that oil prices spike, even temporarily. All of these factors could add the further dimension of instability to an already lethal mix.
The 300 or so officers of the Turkish military who have been purged since the AKP came into power are a relatively small number when you consider the overall size of the Turkish armed forces. The actions of the Egyptian Army, following the June 30 mass demonstrations, in which an estimated 8-10 million Egyptians took to the streets demanding early elections to oust Morsi and the Muslim Brothers from power could inspire the still-powerful "Ataturk impulse" in the Turkish Army.
I am no Turkey expert. So I will not venture any further. But Turkey is a key NATO ally. Turkey has the second largest military in NATO, only surpassed by the United States. What happens in Turkey matters. I would welcome a thoughtful dialogue on this critical situation at this critical moment. Harper