The Arab world has had a chequered relationship with Turkey since World War I but in recent days there has been a wave of political collaboration and conflict resolution.
The last time Turks and Arabs fought side by side also marked the end of unity under the Ottoman Empire. After the last stand in World War I in the deserts of Libya to the Tigris River of Iraq and the Dardanelles Straits, Turks and Arabs were driven apart. This was followed by a history written by pro-Western elitists to sew discord between both by pointing out the policy decisions of minority groups within both communities.
Turks were told that the Arabs betrayed them; Arabs were told that the Turks colonised them. Despite the efforts of secular elitists, both sides entered a historic phase in which ties were restored and new relationships built.
As the people of Idlib put it: “Our graves in the Dardenelles were next to each other, now our drops of blood are mixed in Idlib….We are blood brothers”. These statements followed the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib who were deployed to the region to protect 3.3 million Arabs from getting slaughtered at the hands of the Assad regime, Russia and Iran.
The alignment had begun in 2016 when Turks and Arabs launched a joint military operation to eradicate the Daesh terror group from Syria’s north and were followed by two other joint military operations against the YPG terror group in northwest and northeast of Syria. Both terror groups inflicted harm and threatened both nations alike.
Arabs were attacked, displaced, killed, and tortured by Daesh and the YPG, and Turks were targets of bombing and suicide attacks. In all four military operations, the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army made immense sacrifices to ensure civilian safety.
While the joining of forces started in Syria, it took place at a much higher level in Libya. Similar to the battle against the Italian colonial power, Turks and Arabs again joined forces and achieved military victory. At that time, the founding father of the Turkish Republic was organising the resistance against the Italians.
More than a hundred years later, the Turks were again ‘organising’ the resistance in Libya against the warlord Khalifa Haftar backed by an international coalition. However, the Turkish-Arab alliance proved to be capable of winning the war, and opening the way for the political peace process in Libya.
Moreover, the Turks played an essential role in ensuring Qatar's independence by deploying military forces to Doha. At that time, many speculated that Turkey's troop deployment prevented a military takeover or a toppling of the Qatari government at the hands of foreign powers.
The experiences in Syria, Libya, and Qatar mark a historic change in Turkish-Arab relations. Both sides have learned to trust each other and join forces in decisive moments. This new dynamic of hard power politics arguably more valuable than Turkey's popularity in Arab countries or vice-a-versa. But on this front as well, the historic alignment continues to grow.
According to an Arab Barometer poll, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains MENA's most popular leader. When asked what they thought of Turkey's foreign policy amongst the six surveyed countries – Morocco, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Lebanon – 42 percent of respondents said it was good or very good.
In contrast to Turkey, much of the Arab countries surveyed don’t view Iranian or Saudi influence in the region positively. A poll conducted by local Arabic daily Al Qabas showed that 64 percent of Kuwaitis chose Erdogan as their favorite foreign leader. And according to a poll by BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network, Erdogan is positively viewed by 51 percent of the people of the Middle East.
Turkey is home to 4 million refugees, and these refugees are mostly Arabs from Syria and Iraq. Istanbul has become a refuge for many Arab communitiesand has become a hub for Arab intellectuals. Many Arab NGOs, media platforms, think tanks, and education centres have been established in Istanbul. The old Turkish capital has become the new ‘exile capital’ for Arabs.
When it comes to anti-Turkish rhetoric from some Arab governments, one should take it with a grain of salt. For instance, the opinion of the UAE which counts only 1.54 million Emiratis (11.48 percent of its total population) should not be regarded as representative of all Arabs.
Ankara’s stance on Palestine and its support for democracy resonate with the Arab public, and a survey by the Arab Opinion Index shows that nearly 60 percent of Arab respondents to the survey have indicated that they approve of the way Turkey conducts its foreign policy in the Middle East from Libya to Syria and Palestine.
Despite sustained criticism of Turkish foreign policy from some Arab countries, which have long been led by autocrats as in the case of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, respondents show they disagree with their countries' leadership.
This lack of representation became apparent when the $40 million budget TV series “Kingdoms of Fire” – produced to sew hatred against Turks – spectacularly failed to gain viewership. On the contrary, among many other Turkish TV series, the Turkish historic drama ‘Resurrection: Ertugrul’ is a massive hit in the Arab world
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