Pros and cons of ambition

In the early 1950s an Egyptian military man, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was just embarking on an endeavor to unify the Arab world. His efforts failed but for decades his political legacy – a strange mix of nationalist, socialist and modernist conceptions – made an impact throughout the Middle East. Today, another politician, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, covets a role as the regional leader of a section of the Muslim world, which includes mainly countries bordering on Turkey that are also Muslim. Drawing parallels between the two leaders is futile, though there is some common ground in what could be described as excessive political ambition. The initiative brokered by Erdogan with the leaders of Iran and Brazil to soothe the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program failed. All the members of the UN Security Council – including Russia and China – reacted in an openly negative manner. But the dynamic created by Erdogan’s initiative has not lost steam, at least not in the Muslim world. It is obvious that Erdogan, and his Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, are of the opinion that the collapse of the Iron Curtain also signaled the end of American hegemony and that what we have now is an international arena with many different centers, in which Turkey wants to play a prominent role. Turkey’s drive is very risky, but one cannot hope to achieve any ambitions by playing it safe and Erdogan has put a lot on the line by challenging the traditionalist establishment of his country. With the situation at home still on shaky ground, Erdogan hopes to be seen as a leader on a regional level. His confidence may be inordinate, but this is the style in which the Turkish politician has acted for a decade. It is clear that the more conservative Muslim countries in the region – such as the Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia – look upon the Turkish prime minister’s initiatives with some skepticism, if not concern. Greece, for its part, has a good chance of benefiting significantly if Turkey were to play a more prominent role in the Middle East, especially given its current economic impasse.

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