Erdoğan, Macron battling over territory, not Islam - op-ed

France and Turkey are not embroiled in a ‘clash of civilisations’ between a liberal secular West and reactionary Islamist extremism, but rather in a geo-political struggle, Greek City Times columnist Paul Antonopoulos wrote in an opinion piece on Wednesday.

The confrontation between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is “nothing more than a reflection of the ongoing clash for dominance in the East Mediterranean and Africa”, he said.

“Paris and Ankara have their own reasons for camouflaging this confrontation in terms of a cultural and religious conflict rather than a struggle for geopolitical supremacy,” Antonopoulos said.

French-Turkish relations have reached their lowest in recent history after a series of spats including a naval incident between the countries’ warships in the Mediterranean in June and various exchanges of incendiary rhetoric between Macron and Erdoğan.

NATO allies France and Turkey have also taken opposite sides in the Libyan civil war and in a military standoff over territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean. France is pressing for European Union sanctions on Turkey for refusing to de-escalate its dispute with EU members Greece and Cyprus over territory. Both accuse Turkey of infringing on their sovereign rights by exploring for hydrocarbons within their maritime boundaries.

“Macron is taking advantage of the justified anger against terrorist attacks perpetrated in France by radical Muslims so that he can galvanise the collective subconscious of Europe,” Antonopoulos said.

“He hopes that this will create the right environment for the imposition of sanctions against Turkey that the EU, particularly Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Malta, have been reluctant to pass despite Ankara’s daily violations of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty.”

Antonopoulos said that Erdoğan, for his part, is attempting to boost his reputation in the Muslim world “as the only leader that dares to challenge France’s neo-colonial policies”, despite enacting his own such policies in the eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

The Turkish president is also challenging any potential sanctions by “presenting them as “Christian Europe’s” vengeful response to Muslim Turkey”, he said.

Antonopoulos said both Macron and Erdoğan “bear a corresponding responsibility for the rise of Islamic extremism in Europe, the Middle East and Africa”. He cited France’s recent history of propping up jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, including funding Al-Qaeda-linked militant groups after the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and attacking Syrian government forces fighting rebels and Islamist groups.

Turkey has been rapidly expanding its influence in France’s former colonies in Africa, Antonopoulos said.

“Erdoğan is so emboldened that part of this expansion includes direct support for terrorist organisations outside of France’s former colonies, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia,” he said.

France, “motivated by pan-Europeanism and protecting its corporate oil interests in the East Mediterranean”, will continue to challenge Turkey’s activities there, Antonopoulos said.

“Macron however will find it difficult to challenge Turkish advances in Africa as Erdoğan is utilising Islamic solidarity and a persona of challenging French colonialism despite behaving as a traditional empire in the East Mediterranean and Syria,” he said.