The Arab world and reverberations of Turkey's failed coup

The Arab world and reverberations of Turkey's failed coup
With Turkey marking the one year anniversary of the failed July 2016 coup, reverberations from the violent takeover attempt continue to shape Turkey's relations with regional states.
6 min read
15 July, 2017
With Turkey marking the one year anniversary of the failed July 2016 coup, reverberations from the violent takeover attempt continue to shape both the internal politics of the country as well Turkey's relations with both the Western and Arab worlds.

Turkey resolutely blames supporters of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the coup, with the exiled US-based leader of the "movement" [known as Hizmet, or "Service"] held directly responsible.

The arrests of over 50,000 people and the dismissal of over 150,000 state-employees followed the 15 July coup as Turkey's government attempted to root out supporters of Gulen's once deeply-entrenched and influential movement.

Violent plot

In response to accusations that Erdogan's government was using the coup as a cover to stifle all opposition, the Turkish government repeatedly points to the violence of the coup.

Over 260 were killed and at least 2,000 injured in events, which saw soldiers and tanks from segments of the Turkish military attempt to seize major cities as well as bombing and strafing raids by jet fighters and helicopter against government institutions. 

Yet questions as to the role of regional powers have become major features in shaping Turkey's foreign policy over the past twelve months.

In the weeks that immediately followed the attempted coup, Turkey's long cemented ties with NATO allies both within Europe and the US came under strain.

Ankara railed against what it called a conspicuous lack of international support for Erdogan's government in the aftermath of the failed coup, particularly from western allies.

Segments of the pro-government Turkish media vocally accused conspiracy and collusion from certain western powers in fostering the putsch. 

The coup also critically impacted the contours of Turkey's relations with the Arab world.

The potency of these changes have become more consequential over recent months with accusations that a number of Arab countries directly or indirectly supported the coup-efforts.

Qatar's support for the Turkish government was quickly apparent. The Gulf nation's vocal alliance was both warmly received and has been repeatedly incurred over the past weeks as Turkey firmly came on Qatar's side following the imposition of the Saudi-led blockade.

When the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Qatar counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani on Friday, the memory of the Gulf nations post-coup support was apparent.

"When the coup took place, the Emir of the Qatar called and offered his support," Cavusoglu said, "We will never forget that."

Gulf support

At the same time, reports and accusations have increasingly suggested the UAE and Egypt directly supported the coup efforts, along with Saudi co-operation. Ankara has however until present opted for a policy of non-escalation especially with the Gulf nations.

Egypt emerged as a particularly vocal supporter of the failed coup. The regime of Abd el-Fattah al-Sisi was already hostile of Turkey's government due to the latter's public support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi and its condemnation of the Egyptian uprising in 2013.

In the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup in 2016, Egyptian lawmakers proposed offering asylum to Gulen in case he chose to leave the US following Turkish efforts to extradite the cleric.

Accusations of directly support by the UAE have increasingly come into public light over the past few weeks following the hacking of the email account of the UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba.

The leaked emails highlighted the close links between Otaiba and the Washington-based think tank the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies [FDD] - heavily financed by the pro-Israel US businessman Sheldon Adelson.

The emails revealed Otaiba to be particularly in close communication with John Hannah, a senior consultant at the FDD, who just a month before the 2016 coup published a commentary in the Foreign Policy journal entitled "How do you Solve a Problem like Erdogan", in which he called the Turkish president "a serious problem" and suggested a military coup to topple the Ankara government.

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Disparaging Erdogan as the "New Sultan", Hannah accused Erdogan of totalitarianism, active support for Sunni jihadist groups, a threat to US interests, and argued that it was not  "unthinkable that the military would turn on Erdogan in order to 'save' Turkey from his road to Islamist dictatorship and state failure".

International efforts

Elsewhere, Turkish journalists have accused the UAE of directly supporting the coup efforts.

Mehmet Acet, a Turkish journalist and head of the pro-government Kanal 7 TV station, stated in a newspaper column that the UAE had directly funnelled funds in support of the Gulen movement.

Acet alleged funds to support the coup movement were transferred as part of the shadowy dealings of Mohammed Dahlan, once a prominent member of the Palestinian movement Fatah and now alleged to be close friend and advisor of the UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The claims so far have not been denied by Abu Dhabi.

Acet also referred to statements attributed to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who hinted at a country that "spent $3 billion in financial support for the coup attempt in Turkey and exerted efforts to topple the government in illegal ways. On top of that, it is a Muslim country".

Later in an interview to Turkish media, Acet said "the minister did not name the country. However, sources from the foreign ministry have confirmed that it was the UAE", he told the Daily Sabah newspaper.

Turkey's relations with Russia, Iranian

Meanwhile over the same period Ankara found itself moving increasingly closer toward both Moscow and Tehran, who had showed clear support for the Turkish administration in the immediate aftermath of the failed putsch.

Just a month before the attempted coup, Erdogan apologised to Moscow for the major incident in November 2015 which saw the downing of a Russian plane by Turkish forces.

Russian political scientist Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin - who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin - confirmed early concerns about an attempted coup in Turkey. 

"As soon as the Turkish president announced his apology to Moscow, for us it was an event that told us there will be a coup or an attempted coup in Ankara," Dugin said.

Turkish-Russian relations were quickly strengthened after 15 July 2016 with both states showing increasing cooperation over the conflict in Syria.

Ankara has since then agreed to purchase as many as four S-400 missile defence systems from Russia - a major shift in policy which traditionally saw Turkey overwhelmingly rely on NATO for military aid and purchases. 

Tehran also strongly backed the Turkish government over fears that a new government in Ankara may be heavily influenced by the Western powers and therefore affecting Iranian-Turkish relations.

In the immediate hours after the attempted coup, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif contacted his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusolgu, while Iran's national security adviser Ali Shamkhani remained in contact with security officials in Ankara.

This increased hostility saw Ankara and Tehran, who have backed opposing sides in the conflict in Syria, attempt to refrain from clashing over areas of influence in the region with suggestions of agreements concerning Syria and Iraq.

Iranian militias have been removed from the Turkish-Syrian border as well as Mosul and Tal Afar, while Tehran and Russia themselves have seemingly agreed to Turkey's "Euphrates Shield" operation in Iraq.