Ideational and Material Power in the Mediterranean: The Role of Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council
As the Mediterranean changes, old and new regional and international players are reacting, vying to gain, retain, or remould their sources of influence over a region in flux. Of these, particularly critical are the roles of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Turkey, on which this report focuses. The roles of the GCC and Turkey in the post-Arab Spring Maghreb are both very different and deeply intertwined.
The GCC’s engagement with the Mediterranean is direct and tangible. As Elena Maestri discusses at length in her contribution to this report, the GCC’s role is both ideational and material. Ideationally, the GCC is gaining influence in the Maghreb through its deep and direct support for Islamist groups, and in particular for Salafi groups. The roles of Saudi Arabia and Qatar stand out in this respect. Saudi support for Salafi groups, alongside Islamic organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the non-governmental Islamic World League, and the Fiqh Muslim Congress, is not new. More recent is Qatar’s sponsorship of Salafi groups, through, inter alia, the International Union of Muslim Scholars, a recently established transnational Islamic network joined by several prominent North African clerics exiled in the Gulf.
In a post-Arab Spring context, as the GCC continues to vie for an economic role in the Maghreb while seeking to deepen its political influence on the Arab Spring, Maestri argues that we may begin to see a changing composition of Gulf investment in the region. Specifically, while continuing to engage in traditional sectors of Gulf investment, namely hydrocarbons, real estate, manufacturing, and financial services, the GCC may also turn to investments in micro and meso sectors such as agribusiness, renewable energy, and textiles.
Turning to Turkey, Serhat Guvenç and Soli Özel depict a more indirect and intangible role, marked by the Turkish ambition to act as a model and order setter in the Mediterranean. Indeed, while in the Mashreq, and particularly in Syria and Iraq, Turkey’s presence is direct and highly tangible, the Maghreb remains further removed from direct Turkish interests. Material power is, however, not absent. In this respect, Libya stands out, where Turkish-Libyan historic connections, business interests, and accompanying movements of persons were significant. This resulted in Turkey’s initial resistance against NATO’s intervention in Libya. In a post-Gaddafi context, those business and investment links are rapidly being restored. In the rest of the Maghreb, Turkish economic interests are not absent, but neither are they comparable to those of the Gulf.