EUISS: Unveiling Türkiye’s strategy in MENA & Africa

by | Jun 15, 2024

(13 June 2024 – European Union Institute for Security Studies) 

Speakers 

  • Dalia Ghanem, Senior MENA Analyst 
  • Rossela Marangio, EU-Africa Senior Analyst 
  • Pinar Akpinar, Assistant professor Qatar University 

The aim of this policy dialogue organized by EUISS was to explore Turkey’s evolving role in the Middle East, MENA, and Africa, focusing on its strategic deployment of soft power and economic engagement. Under President Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has employed a multifaceted approach encompassing cultural diplomacy, economic initiatives, and security partnerships to expand its influence in these regions. This event’s goal was to analyze the implications of Turkey’s regional strategies for its relations with traditional Western allies and the European Union, emphasizing opportunities for cooperation amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics.

Soft Power and economic engagement in MENA and Africa

Under President Erdoğan, Turkey has effectively leveraged soft power to expand its influence. During the event, Dalia Ghanem highlighted how the Yunus Emre Institute promotes Turkish culture and language through its centers in African countries, which helps strengthen cultural ties. Moreover, Turkish soap operas have become immensely popular in the Arab world, subtly promoting Turkish culture and values. Educational programs, such as scholarships for African students, play a significant role in building diplomatic ties and fostering future leaders who are familiar with Turkish culture and language.

Rossella Marangio also emphasized Turkey’s strategic focus on economic engagement in Africa, particularly through significant infrastructure projects. For instance, Turkey has invested in airport construction and operation in countries like Sudan and Ghana, which not only boosts Turkey’s economic interests but also enhances regional connectivity. This infrastructure development serves as a cornerstone of Turkey’s efforts to deepen its economic ties and create lasting commercial opportunities.

Finally, Turkey’s growing defense exports to MENA and African regions were another key topic. Pinar Akpinar pointed out that Turkey exports advanced military hardware, such as drones and armored vehicles, enhancing its strategic influence and fostering strong security cooperation with partner countries. This not only boosts Turkey’s defense industry but also solidifies its role as a key security partner in these regions.

Diversifying alliances and strategic autonomy

Turkey’s diversification of alliances aims to reduce its dependence on Western powers and assert its strategic autonomy. Dalia Ghanem noted that Turkey’s partnerships with Gulf states, such as Qatar, serve to counter diplomatic isolation and bolster economic and security cooperation. Rossella Marangio also discussed Turkey’s proactive engagement in Africa, characterized by a “win-win” narrative. This approach includes securing economic opportunities for Turkish companies, accessing vital resources, and expanding markets. Security cooperation agreements, such as those with Somalia, demonstrate Turkey’s commitment to enhancing regional security and stability, thereby fostering deeper political and economic ties.

Turkey’s cultural and humanitarian initiatives were also highlighted. Pinar Akpinar emphasized efforts such as the construction of water wells and mosque renovations, which help build strong bilateral relations. These humanitarian projects, coupled with scholarship programs, enhance Turkey’s image as a reliable and benevolent partner, furthering its soft power influence in the regions.

Future of regional dynamics

Turkey’s growing influence is poised to reshape geopolitical landscapes in the MENA and African regions. Dalia Ghanem pointed out that Turkey’s strategic pivot includes expanding economic ties and mending strained relations with key Gulf states. This shift is part of a broader regional reorientation, as MENA countries look for new partners amid perceived disengagement by traditional Western allies like the US and Europe. Rossella Marangio noted Turkey’s comprehensive approach in Africa, involving economic ventures, security cooperation, and cultural exchanges. This multifaceted engagement strategy resonates strongly with African leaders and populations, securing Turkey’s long-term interests and influence. For instance, Turkey’s active role in Somalia, including military training and humanitarian aid, underscores its commitment to stability and development in the region. 

But what about the EU? Pinar Akpinar discussed the implications of Turkey’s strategies for its relationship with the Union. The Speaker would encourage the EU to understand Turkey’s motivations and strategies to foster stability, economic development, and address shared security concerns. By engaging in constructive dialogue and cooperation, the EU can leverage its relationship with Turkey to promote regional prosperity and stability. This cooperative approach can help mitigate tensions and foster a more stable geopolitical environment.

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