Emerging from this chaotic Middle East equation is a Sunni alliance composed of Turkey, with the region’s largest army and most formidable air force; Saudi Arabia, the richest of the Gulf states; and Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and located in a critical geographic location.
Whether this Sunni alliance can hold is another matter. Erdogan supported the now-deposed Muslim Brotherhood’s ascension in Egypt and criticized the new Egyptian government’s vow to reinforce its peace treaty with Israel -- a pact that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi had pledged to abrogate.
Turkey has a history of deposing popularly elected governments with military coups, and while Erdogan has done his best to purge the Turkish military of prospective adversaries, a repeat of that scenario cannot be ruled out, especially in light of the ticking Turkish debt bomb. In any event, recent polls indicate he has lost support across the country.
As for Saudi Arabia, its ascension to a leadership position in what we refer to in our new book as the “Sunni vanguard” owes itself to the Saudis’ ability to pay the bills for both Egypt and Turkey, but that largesse might be jeopardized if fracking and other U.S.-based energy technologies replace the global reliance on Middle East oil.
Notwithstanding the fragility of this alliance, the impending Iranian threat unites Sunni brethren. Erdogan is not a beloved figure in this shaky coalition. He has one foot in the camp of moderates, the other in the miasma of terrorists; and he is known to be unreliable. He is also in a precarious electoral position at home.
For Turkey, a corruption scandal, a dramatic increase in interest rates that has forestalled a precipitous decline in the lira, demonstrations on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara and the end of the Turkish economic miracle that gave Erdogan a free ride from 2002 to 2008, have all contributed to an unpredictable and dangerous period ahead.