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A Syrian barb at Turkey’s Islamists

The Syrian-Turkish equations took yet another body blow with President Bashar al-Assad hitting at where it hurts Prime Minister Recep Erdogan most — by calling him a schemer who aspires to be a Caliph as if the Ottoman era of the Middle East’s history never ended. 

As often happens with polemics, there has to be an intellectual construct somewhere behind Al-Assad’s accusation. Indeed, Turks themselves accuse Erdogan and the present government of harboring neo-Ottoman ambitions, as Islamism begins to embody the democratic will of the people of the Middle East. 
Al-Assad interprets that Erdogan is pinning hopes on the march of the Brothers to perpetuate his own political future in Turkey. Indeed, Erdogan is patronizing the Brothers in Egypt. Turkey recently offered $2 billion as aid for the Egyptian government led by Mohamed Morsi. 
The leaders of Syria’s proscribed Brotherhood have been spotted in Turkey. Yet, what Assad didn’t mention is how far he thinks Erdogan is acting as an instrument of the US regional strategy. 
There are undercurrents which beg explanation here, and one indeed is that the US studiously bypassed the secular-liberal camp in Egypt (despite it being a big political constituency) and instead chose to engage the Brothers as its preferred interlocutor. 
So, what is going on? I read a rare account recently on the shadowy Turkish figure, Fetullah Gulen, who is often mentioned as the ‘spiritual guru’ of Turkey’s Islamists. What struck me is the similarity between the secret style of functioning of Gulen’s cult and the Brotherhood. 
Like the Brothers, Gulen’s cult also has a huge following. Now, Gulen lives in exile in the US and enjoys the support of the USG, including the CIA. Gulen’s pan-Islamic network is formidable and the tentacles run extensively in the Central Asian region. 
No doubt, from the US viewpoint, Gulen represents Plan B, depending on the journey of the Arab Spring in the Greater Middle East. Gulen harbors antipathy toward Russia and Iran — unlike Erdogan. 
Erdogan made some caustic remarks about Gulen lately. Has he become too powerful as an Islamist leader for Gulen’s liking? Assad may have aimed his barb with great skill. 
Who Is Fetullah Gulen? Read here.  

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