A Twitter user recently joked that “we have a new sect in Lebanon, the Macronites.” He was referring to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron’s latest visit to Beirut and Macron’s treatment by the Lebanese as a true hero.
My educated guess is that one of the leaders who watched Macron’s visit with a speck of jealousy was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At the end of the day, Turkey still claims to carry the Ottoman legacy and lead the Muslim world. This was one of the reasons behind turning the historical Hagia Sophia into a mosque again: it was to consolidate Muslim support for Turkey. The move did not cause any excitement in the Muslim world, except for Pakistan.
Erdoğan, however, did not visit Lebanon himself. It would not look good after Macron, thus most possibly the same amount of people would not gather for Erdoğan, and that would be a huge PR risk. So instead, Erdoğan’s aide Fuat Oktay and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited the country. Turkish TV showed footage of Çavuşoğlu and Oktay being greeted by Lebanese people waving Turkish flags. So Turkish TV made us sure that, although they did not have the Macron effect, they had “some” effect; seeing the Turkish flag in the streets of Lebanon made some AKP voters proud, no doubt.
Çavuşğolu and Oktay met with Lebanese President Aoun and underlined that Turkey had sent medical help to Lebanon and that they had opened the Mersin harbor, which Lebanon could use instead of the Beirut harbor.
The most striking part of the visit, however, was when Mr Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey was ready to hand out citizenship to Lebanese people who claim to have Turkic roots or speak Turkish. There are around nine thousand Turkmens living in Lebanon.
The announcement backfired in a sense, though. Instead of creating a feeling of thankfulness, it created a bit of anger and resentment. A foundation for Uighur Turks in Turkey tweeted they expected a similar gesture for Uighurs who fled China and were taking refuge in Turkey. Syrian Turkmens released a statement and announced they expected the same.
Çavuşoğlu’s call is not problematic for the only above mentioned reason, though. Lebanon is a multiethnic society, just like Turkey.
For example, in Lebanon, there are around 30,000 Merdallis. Merdallis are the people who migrated to Lebanon from Turkey’s city of Mardin. Merdallis left Anatolia after the First World War and consist of Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians. They are the very people of Anatolia.
There are Armenians in Lebanon who obviously fled Lebanon after 1915 and the First World War. Some of them still feel connected to Anatolia and are trying to hold on to their local traditions.
This ethnicist call from Turkey in Lebanon actually manifests the changing stance and ideology of the AKP. The AKP is becoming more nationalistic and more ethnicist. The new presidential system pushed the AKP to join forces with the nationalist MHP. This alliance has been transforming the AKP more than it has been transforming the MHP. The AKP has cornered itself into a very nationalistic political narrative, and it seems they can not easily get out of this position.