As he prepared to wrap up a visit to Cairo that included a landmark visit to the Coptic Christian St. Mark’s Cathedral, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) threw another jab at Islamists by describing them as one side of a “triangle of evil” that includes Iran and Turkey.
Reuters cites Egyptian media accounts that MBS said, “The contemporary triangle of evil comprises Iran, Turkey, and extremist religious groups.”
It sounds as if the heir to the Saudi throne was attempting to update former U.S. President George W. Bush’s formulation of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq as the “Axis of Evil.” Saddam Hussein is gone now, but North Korea is still pretty darn evil, and there have long been suspicions about Pyongyang working with Tehran, so perhaps MBS will consider updating his sinister geometry to a Square of Evil.
Reuters notes that Saudi Arabia is deeply suspicious of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist politics and alliance with Qatar, which Saudi Arabia has been blacklisting with the help of other Gulf states over Qatari support for terrorism and connections to Iran.
“Turkey has also worked with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival in the Middle East, to try to reduce fighting in northern Syria in recent months, and Iranian and Turkish military chiefs exchanged visits last year,” the article adds.
Crown Prince Mohammed accused President Erdogan of seeking to recreate the Islamic caliphate of the Ottoman Empire, an ambition Erdogan does not exactly keep secret, although he bristles at comparisons to the caliphate fantasies of the Islamic State.
The Saudi prince also mentioned the embargo of Qatar, somewhat ominously comparing it to the five-decade U.S. embargo of Communist Cuba, although he waved off the tiny emirate as “smaller than a Cairo street.” Qatar is also much richer than a Cairo street, which is why all of this is happening.
There is no love lost between MBS and Erdogan, who has sneered at Mohammed bin Salman’s talk of “moderate Islam” as a Western plot to “weaken Islam” and assert Saudi ownership of the religion. He also mocked the notorious Saudi restriction against women driving, but that proved to be an incorrect assessment of how serious MBS is about reforming and modernizing Saudi Arabia.
Erdogan strongly supported Qatar after Saudi Arabia and its allies announced their embargo, declaring the blockade “inhumane and un-Islamic.” He went as far as sending troop reinforcements to Qatar, which Turkey signed a defense agreement with in 2014. Visiting a Turkish base in Qatar last November, Erdogan told his forces to “conquer the hearts of the people of Qatar with love and respect.” Turkish officials recently began talking about sending ships and warplanes to Qatar to distribute love and respect by sea and air.
Perpetually infuriated columnist Ibrahim Karagul of the pro-Erdogan paper Yeni Safak gave two big thumbs down to MBS’ performance in Cairo on Wednesday, accusing the crown prince of throwing in with the U.S. and local American franchises such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and of course Israel to create an “anti-Turkey front” cleverly disguised as an anti-Iran front.
Of course, the anti-Iran-but-really-anti-Turkey front is in cahoots with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, i.e. the followers of exiled imam Fethullah Gulen, and the Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) movement to undermine Erdogan and set up the biggest war since World War I, which students of history will recall did not end well for the Ottoman Empire. (Or anybody else, frankly.)
Karagul berates MBS in a sarcastic “open letter” for helping the United States invade Iraq and redraw the “Arab-Iranian border” all the way back to Syria. Blaming the chaos in Yemen and Libya on the menacing axis of U.S.-UK-KSA as well, Karagul warns that “at this rate, Arab borders are going to withdraw all the way back to the Mediterranean,” and reminds Crown Prince Mohammed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be erased in the process.
Karagul actually invests a great deal of effort castigating Mohammed bin Zayed, who is Crown Prince Mohammed’s opposite number in the United Arab Emirates, so the conspiracy he envisions is really more like U.S.-UK-KSA-UAE. It really is time to retire the triangle as the symbol of malevolent conspiracy and embrace the square. Three sides just aren’t enough.
What is interesting about Karagul’s rant is that it leans heavily on pan-Arab solidarity – he does not seem very fond of non-Arab Iran but thinks Saudi Arabia is foolish to let Israel manipulate it into a confrontation with Iran to the detriment of all Muslim powers. This is consistent with President Erdogan’s pitch to make Turkey the new leader of an Arab Islamist alliance.
“Mr. Prince, not only your country, but the region is being invaded. The Muslim world is being pushed outside history, not only you. Those who are doing this are your current friends, partners. The Muslim world knows this, it is aware of this, you should know it too,” Karagul warns, envisioning an endgame in which Muslims lose control of Mecca and Medina or the holy cities are destroyed.
Western policymakers should not understand how strongly this message is being broadcast to Turkey, formerly a paragon of Middle Eastern secular government and a member of NATO. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew exactly what he was saying in Cairo, and how it would be received in Ankara.