The events in Turkey demonstrate once again the dangerous fragility of the state system in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The hundred years following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire did not produce a stable and lasting modus vivendi among the former constituent parts of that empire, or indeed within those parts.
Turkey used to be the cornerstone of political stability and economic progress in the region, serving as a model of modernization for many neighbouring countries. But the country has turned out to be vulnerable to domestic upheavals, on top of being a major target of international terrorism. The apparent ease with which President Erdogan was able to handle the attempted coup should not mislead anyone: the political future of today’s Turkey remains highly uncertain, the country is deeply divided on many critical matters, and the aftershocks of recent events will be felt in the entire region for many years to come.
What can external powers do to mitigate the turmoil in the region? To be sure, any external involvement is likely to have only a marginal impact on key regional countries like Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, a new concept of regional collective security proposed by the international community might help to limit the international repercussions of domestic crises like the one that took place in Turkey, and provide for a regional ‘straitjacket’ capable of preventing the proliferation of instabilities (see the Feature article by Sam Sasan Shoamanesh in GB’s Fall 2012 issue). The ‘P5+1’ formula that turned out to be surprisingly efficient in dealing with the Iranian nuclear question could be considered as a model here (with appropriate modifications). In any case, it is critically important to ensure that all of the external players are not part of the problem, but indeed part of the solution in the region. This has not always been the case to date.
The failed coup may well accelerate the recent Russo-Turkish détente – especially in light of new complications in the relationship between Ankara and Brussels. The consolidation of Erdogan’s personal power, ongoing purges in Turkish universities, the media and the judiciary, and suggestions that Turkey might reinstate the death penalty – all of these developments only serve to deepen the differences between Turkey and the EU. Moscow therefore appears to be an important partner of convenience for Erdogan. However, the key question remains: can Moscow and Ankara reconcile their positions on such complex matters as Syria, the Kurds, Armenia and, among other files, Crimea? To be sure, both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin need more Russo-Turkish cooperation, but in order to embark on this path they will have to demonstrate flexibility and a degree of humility, which neither can claim as a principal asset.”