Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power – Analysis – Eurasia Review



Times change’. Iranian leaders may not be fans of Bob Dylan, but his words are likely to resonate as they ponder their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Azerbaijan.

The same applies to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s luster as a bitter defender of Muslim concerns has been tarnished by allegations of lax defense against money laundering and economic mismanagement unless there is an economic price to pay, as in the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkish Muslims.

The setbacks come at a time when Mr Erdogan’s popularity in opinion polls is falling.

This weekend, Turkey expelled the ambassadors of the USA, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden for demanding the release of the philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in accordance with a European Court of Human Rights had a right decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford setbacks, which often result from hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry, and compete with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia, for religious soft power, if not the leadership of the Muslim world.

This competition takes on added importance in a world where Middle Eastern rivals seek to resolve, rather than resolve, their differences by focusing on economics and trade, and soft rather than tough power and proxy struggles.

In a recent incident, Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy spokesman for the Indonesian parliament, opposed the naming of a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the turned statesman who carved modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Mr Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to refer to the Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14. to commemorateNSCentury Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi Arabia-led Muslim World League, a major promoter of religious soft power in the kingdom.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country vigorously fighting the funding of political violence and money laundering has been challenged by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international oversight agency, and a potential trial in the United States that could cause further damage The picture of Mr. Erdogan.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that Turkish state lender Halkbank could be prosecuted on charges of helping Iran circumvent US sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenues into gold and then cash to further Iranian interests and documenting counterfeit food deliveries to justify transfers of oil revenues. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer $ 20 billion in frozen funds, with at least $ 1 billion laundered through the U.S. financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty, arguing that it is immune under the Federal Law on Immunity to Foreign States because it is “synonymous” with Turkey, which enjoys immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr Erdogan supporting Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then-US President Donald Trump.

The FATF graylisted Turkey last week. She joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan and Yemen that have failed to meet the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow in international markets, costing it up to 3 percent of gross domestic product and a decline in foreign direct investment.

Mr Erdogan’s economic leadership has been boosted by the recent firing of three central bank policy makers, an unexpectedly large rate cut that drove the Turkish lira down, and prices soaring, and an annual inflation rate that has only been shy last month of 20 percent. Mr. Erdogan regularly blames high interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion poll in May found that 56.9% of those polled would not vote for Erdogan and that the president would lose in a runoff against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

As more bad news for the president, polling firm Metropoll said its September poll showed that 69 percent of those surveyed saw secularism as a necessity, while 85.1 percent rejected the use of religion in the election campaign.

In the case of Iran, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, challenging the internal positioning of some of those militias, fueling concerns in Tehran that its critics are encircling it, and the way how Iran wants to project itself.

A recently released report by the Center to Combat Terrorism at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was facing “growing difficulties controlling local militant cells.” Hardline anti-US militias are grappling with the contested needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet their base’s demands for anti-US operations, and at the same time develop non-kinetic political and social wings. “

Iran’s de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the expired 2015 international agreement to contain Iran’s nuclear program and talks to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, even if they have not yet yielded tangible results.

Furthermore, the Iranian soft power in Iraq, as in Lebanon, has been challenged by the growing public opposition of the Iraqi people to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Worse still, militias, including Hezbollah, the main Iranian-backed armed group in the Arab world, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the collapse of the Lebanese state in order to protect its own interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter this perception when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting earlier that month between the militia and Lebanese forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that tied the Christian East and Separated the Muslim west of Beirut during the 1975 -1990 civil war.

The two groups fought for hours when Hezbollah held a demonstration to pressure the government to prevent an investigation into the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut last year. Hezbollah fears the investigation could expose the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The greatest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces Party and its boss,” warned Nasrallah, fueling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It is a warning that undermines Iran’s claims that its Islam respects minority rights, as evidenced by the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians, and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in Iraqi elections that month. The Fateh (conquest) alliance, so far the second largest bloc in parliament, has reduced its seats from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has brought forward the 2022 vote to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism and Iranian political influence.

One bright spot from an Iranian perspective is that an attempt by activists in the United States in September to develop support for Iraq’s recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month attacked facilities in northern Iraq operated by Kurdish opposition groups in Iran. Tehran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic Republic that includes proxy and covert operations on the Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tensions with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a battle of words that turned out to be short-lived in military dueling maneuvers on both sides of the border. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, encouraged by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to suppress the rhetoric.

Faced with a dubious nuclear revival, Iran fears Azerbaijan could become a stage for covert US and Israeli operations. These doubts were heightened by calls for US support for Azerbaijan by scientists from conservative Washington think-tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the home foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a Social Democrat political advisor on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to become embroiled in a conflict where there are no vital interests, and much more fewer”. in the name of a regime that is so contrary to the values ​​and interests of the United States. “

He noted that Mr. Aliyev had forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, trampled human and political rights and was anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.


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