Prior to the AKP era, the Turks had mostly chosen to stay away from Middle East conflicts. Following the republican ethos of the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country's citizens -- and especially foreign policy elites -- had come to think of themselves as a European nation that had been placed accidentally next to the Middle East. They then proceeded to stay away from the region and its complicated problems.
The AKP changed all that. If Ataturk saw Turkey as the Argentina of the Middle East, a country physically in the region but mentally in Europe, the AKP envisioned Turkey as the Brazil of the Middle East, a rising economic power with a burning desire to shape regional events. To this end, the new elites in Ankara pursued deep economic and political ties with the region's governments, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria.
Trade between Turkey and these countries boomed, and diplomatic ties took off. Between 2002 and 2009, for instance, the Turkish foreign minister made at least eight trips to Iran and Syria alone.
Turkey's ties with Syria especially benefited from this trend: Ankara and Damascus lifted visa restrictions for travel, and the two country's cabinets started holding joint sessions, bringing key interior, justice and foreign minister together in regular closed meetings. Flaunting its perceived influence in Syria and beyond, Ankara even floated the idea of a "Shamgen Zone," a play on the European Union's Schengen free travel area and Sham, the traditional name for Syria in Arabic, which envisioned bringing together Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon under a customs and political union.
Turkey's post-2002 Middle East focus brought it close to not only the region's governments, but also various MB-style parties across the region. The AKP, once shunned as a hardline Islamist party but recently rehabilitated, saw itself as a model forward for the MB.
The AKP elites believed that if they could moderate and come to power through democratic elections in Ankara, like-minded Egyptian and Syrian MBs should be able to do the same in Cairo and Damascus, respectively. Hence, Turkey's dream: a region ruled by MB parties, looking to Turkey.
With the start of the Arab Spring, Ankara's vision seemed to come to fruition. The MB rose to power in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. In Syria, Ankara and Doha started aggressively supporting the MB to make it the leader of the country's opposition.
But unfortunately for Ankara, the vision of Turkish power in the Middle East through the MB did not last. Morsi's ouster in Egypt has been the biggest blow to Ankara's designs. At the same time in Syria, the MB is losing to the radical Jabhat al-Nusra on the battlefield, and is being supplanted by the Saudi-backed forces in the political opposition.