Dimitris Rapidis

Shaykh Nazim is one of the most recognized spirutial figures of Sufism being referred as one of the “Prophets” of the Islamic world. He is Turkish-Cyrpiot and he lives in Lefke in the North part of Cyprus. Lately his homeplace has been the center of a growing flow of pilgrims that visit him in order to acquire elements of his wisdom.

Pilgrims from all over the Islamic world worship him like saint, and for their hosting Shaykh Nazim has built an extended area around his place turning it into a big priory separating men from women. Despite this side of his spiritual image, there are three incidents demanding our attention with reference to his widespread influence:

1. In June 2010, when Pope visited Cyprus, Nazim was invited to meet him after request.

2. In December 2010, after the salvation of Chileans miners, two representatives of them urged to express their deep emotions for Nazim’s compassion and constant prayers to save their lives. A couple of them visited North Cyprus afterwards to meet him and receive his blessing.

3. One month ago, in November 2010, Nazim has publicly predicted the Arab Spring and the fall of the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, while one year later he pointed out that Saudi Arabia sooner or later will end up in the very same way.

These incidents do not prove anything per se. Nonetheless, if we insert them into a wider geopolitical context and take into account what is really happening in the Middle East these two years and what predictions are made regarding the future of democracy in the region, the words and the stance of Nazim may signify something deeper: a religious effort to influence, if not determine, future developments in Syria and the oil-rich countries of the Gulf.

Considering the lack of secularist tradition in Middle East along with the infiltrated spirit of revolution in the minds of the Arabs, Nazim and other well-respected religious leaders may want to benefit from regional instability and establish fundamentalist regimes in the place of authoritarian ones, without any significant change provided from a merely democratic-led prism. For locals it is like choosing between the worse and the worst, whereas in geopolitical terms it is like igniting conflicting conditions between all powers involved, including the United States, Russia and China.

Cyrpus is by itself a center of instability as there is still no final resolution dealing with the unification of the island and its status quo in the international scene. The Turkish-Cyprit part is almost completely dependent by Greek-Cypriot investments and now that this imposing leverage is under question as Cyprus is tighening its economic policy, religious fundamentalism can find shelter there. In addition to that, we have to acknwoledge the inextricable bind between politics and religion, meaning that Turkey as a major player in the region and instant provider of any kind of support in Northern Cyprus is always vieing for more influence in the island now that Cyprus is getting financially weakened and Greece is not lately in a position to bring about major shifts in its diplomatic stance. It clearly seems that Turkey is eagerly trying to increase its influence by revitalizing its historic and religious ties in the island.

Unfortunately it is quite often in our times to perceive piety in Islam with extremism in Middle East politics. The major reason for that is the rampant shift of balance in terms of political and military power that does not let many chances for peaceful resolutions. Cyprus can be easily turned from an ex-robust small-size economy to a shelter of religious tensions mid-term. And this development is sure to take wider dimensions as regional upheavals are underway:

a. Whenever the conflict in Syria will end up, the Kurdish question will be entrenched as one of the most crucial issues for Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy. Ankara might want to turn international attention elsewhere by triggering fundamentalism in Cyprus and bringing instability in the island, and further in the European Union.

b. Israel is developed with an extremely growing pace comparing to what Middle East is actually experiencing. And as pressure over Iran’s nuclear program is getting tigher, a wider Arabic escalation might be stirred up in case a pre-emptive strike see the light against Iran. In that scenario, Turkey will definitely resort to its major Sunni strongholds and try to play a dominant role in the post-nuclear Iran era by controlling both its Southeast and West sphere of influence: the Southeast sphere refers to Cyrpus and the control of the island by provoking instability and breaking down bilateral cooperation over energy and the new pipelines of the Mediterrannean basin. The West part refers to a possible strike against Kurds in Turkish territory that might seek for independence as their compatriots in Syria and Iran might feel like doing the same.

Therefore, by controlling Cyprus and building a shelter of Islamic fundamentalism there, Turkey is achieving to upgrade its geopolitical position and play a direct role in the upcoming political evolutions in Middle East. And as experience has shown in the previous cases of Tunisia and Egypt, the constitutional reforms and elections have not necessarily brought into power leaders with democratic past, but former or current supporters of Islamism (e.g Jemali in Tunisia, Morsi in Egypt). This might turn out to be a great advantage for Turkey as under AKP’s leadership it has exerted combining elements of both secularism and Islamism. If the experiment of Erdogan -to lure both Islamist and secular leaders- comes to an end, Turkey can widen its strategic role in Maghreb as well.

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