By Tariq Alhomayed
The entry of Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] Peninsula Shield Forces into Bahrain is not another [battle of] Karbala [a battle which took place in 680 AD between Prophet Muhammad's grandson Husain Ibn Ali and his army and the military forces of Umayyad Caliph Yazid I], as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited last week. Rather this deployment is in order to prevent another battle of Karbala, which would see the children of the same country fighting against one another. The people of Bahrain are not all Shiites, for there are Sunnis there as well as Shiites, and the foundation of any country is based upon citizenship, rather than sectarian affiliation.
Erdogan's statement about the deployment of the Peninsula Shield Force threatening "a new [battle of] Karbala inciting division between Muslims" is an over-simplification and can be easily disproved. This is because it was the King of Bahrain who initiated reforms and empowered the Shiites in his country. However it is also the King of Bahrain's duty not just to strengthen Bahrain's Shiite community, but also to protect the country's Sunni community, and not allow Bahrain to be subject to sectarian extortion. Instead of issuing this statement, the Turkish Prime Minister should warn the President of Iran of the consequences of interfering in the internal affairs of a peaceful Gulf State like Bahrain, as well as the consequences of Tehran ignoring the rights of Iran's Sunni community. This is what will ensure that there is not another battle of Karbala, with this battle not potentially occurring in the Gulf, but rather on Iranian soil. The people of the Gulf are not known for transgressing the limits with regards to one social component intimidating another, and the Arab Gulf enjoys a strong history that attests and supports this.
Those who believe that Erdogan is acting in this regard according to Turkey's commercial interests are wrong. Erdogan is defending Gaddafi despite all the crimes that the Libyan leader has committed against his own people, whilst he was previously one of the first world leaders to criticize the Hosni Mubarak regime during the 25 January revolution in Egypt, however he did not take either of these positions for commercial reasons.
Erdogan has responded in a different manner to the events in Libya and Egypt because he is searching for leadership [for his country], namely neo-Ottoman leadership. In Egypt, Erdogan is aware that it would be easy for him to ally with the Muslim Brotherhood, therefore he viewed the Egyptian revolution as an opportunity to support change and thereby strengthen Turkey's role in Egypt. However in Libya, Erdogan seems to be certain that Gaddafi will crush his people and emerge victorious, and therefore he is seeking to help to resolve the Libyan impasse in order to strengthen the Turkish role, especially in light of the almost complete break in Arab – Libyan relations, with the exception of only two or three Arab states. These are the goals of Erdogan's Turkey, namely [to strengthen] neo-Ottoman leadership, rather than to protect Istanbul's commercial interests. If the Turkish Prime Minister was so concerned with his country's commercial interests he would have supported the US against Saddam Hussein, and indeed against Iran with regards to Tehran's nuclear file. If Erdogan is truly concerned with his country's commercial interests he would not increase the tensions in Istanbul's relations with Tel Aviv, as good relations with Israel would have guaranteed Turkey decades of strong trade, in addition to support for Istanbul's attempts to join the European Union [EU]. If this was just about commercial interests, it would have been in Turkey's interests to support the Arab Gulf states, rather than criticizing the entry of the GCC Peninsula Shield Force into Bahrain.
Therefore, all that Erdogan wants to do is strengthen Turkey's role, searching for a neo-Ottoman role [in the region], and this is something that can be described as political opportunism. Indeed, it seems that what is happening in the Gulf has confused both friends and foes alike, whether Arab or Islamic, like Turkey and Iran, or western, like the US. The consensus and joint-action taken by the Gulf States is the last thing that Iran or Turkey wants to see, and this is the truth. Therefore the entire issue is one of leadership, and searching for a role, for if Turkey was so concerned about democracy, why has it allied with Syria, and if it is so concerned about minorities, why has it allied with Iran?
First published in Asharqalawsat