France and Turkey are now contending for political and economic dominance in the Mediterranean in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.
Soner Cagaptay, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that the imperial legacies of the French Empire and the Ottoman Empire are shaping the current neoimperial policies of both France and Turkey in the Mediterranean region.
The Ottoman Empire conquered most of the Eastern Mediterranean and much of North Africa in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, becoming a major world power. France engaged in early forms of maritime imperialism in the Mediterranean from the sixteenth century before expanding its Atlantic colonies in the Caribbean and Canada. Despite French involvement in latter-day crusading against “the Turk” in the early modern period, France and the Ottoman Empire sometimes acted as allies against their common Habsburg enemies.
As Cagaptay emphasizes, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt disrupted the political situation in North Africa and the Levant. French “new” imperialism in North and West Africa in the nineteenth century then led to direct rivalry with the Ottoman Empire. Echoes of this competition are being felt today.
Cagaptay’s op-ed is available at the New York Times online.