Monday, August 29, 2011

Turkey Gains Trust Of Arab Masses

It is a Muslim state which does not see Islam as being contradictory to a democratic political system
By Mohammad Akef Jamal
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the ‘Kemalist' Turkish state shed its Middle Eastern skin and looked towards the West. Turkey also became a prominent Nato member when it was founded after the Second World War. Moreover, Turkish armed forces took upon themselves the responsibility of safeguarding secularism in modern Turkey, with the army carrying out three coups during the first half of the last century.
However, the situation today is no longer what it was during the past 80 years. Signs of weakness started appearing in the secular movement since the 1990s with the change of the Turkish street's temperament, which enabled the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party to come to power by the end of 2002.
This important event, which was a result of frustration over the long wait for European Union membership for Turkey, led to Turkey refocussing on its old sphere of influence: the Middle East.
Ever since, Turkey's economic relations have expanded to include most of the region's countries. The situation in these countries has changed following the return of an important player to the Middle East.
The change in the beliefs of Turkey's rulers has not made the country less important in the political arena.
Washington found itself at odds with Ankara on many issues since the AKP came to power in the country. This includes issues like Turkey's refusal to allow the US military to use its soil during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Turkey's ties with Israel also deteriorated after Israel's war on Gaza in 2008-2009 and following Tel Aviv's piracy operation against the Turkish humanitarian vessel Mavi Marmara. However, Washington still regards Turkey as one of the most important countries in its strategic calculations in the Middle East.
The Obama administration is inclined to make its moves and initiatives through an ally. It also prefers using other Middle Eastern parties to approach issues in the region that it cannot draw near, due to sensitivities.
Turkey was quick to realise this, and prepared itself to be the only country to be tasked by the US with such missions. It made Ahmet Davutoglu the foreign minister. He is the architect of the ‘zero problems with neighbours' policy. Today, we are witnessing an active Turkish role in the region since the beginning of the Arab Spring which has seen popular revolts against totalitarian regimes.
The Arab Spring has contributed in drawing Turkey closer to the US. Moreover, Washington has blessed Ankara's diplomatic efforts, which were swift, as Turkey extended wise advice to the heads of regimes and exerted pressure on leaders to listen to the people's demands and carry out real and quick reforms. Turkey also opened channels of communication with opposition forces in these countries.
Turkey has found that it is in its interest to play a constructive role which will help the Middle East avoid slipping into chaos and instability.
Its special relationship with the countries in the region and its unbiased foreign policy help it play the role of mediator in countries drowning in problems — for there are deep Israeli-Arab, Arab-Arab, and Arab-Iranian disputes. There are also disputes between Arabs and the West.
Turkey's weight in the region, its strong economy, flourishing democracy and history also make it qualify to play a leading role. Turkey's stable political system and the ever-increasing role of the AKP after the retreat and decline of the military establishment in the country and the failure of some elements of the military to carry out a coup recently. The US-Turkish relations also address the scenarios set to transform some countries approved by the West into democracies.
True, Turkey failed in its diplomatic efforts to convince rulers to listen to their people's demands — but it is not alone in this failure because despots only listen to their echoes. However, Turkey succeeded through standing by reform movements, as it gained the trust of the Arab people.
Turkey's keenness in sympathising with the people's demands and the pressure it exerted on the fallen regimes will bear fruit later on with the governments that will replace the fallen regime. It will also gain additional influence in the region.
Three regimes have already fallen — in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya — and the political void will soon be filled in by governments acceptable to the masses in these countries.
The new Turkey is presenting itself as a model to these masses, who revolted in these countries and the political forces which contributed in the downfall of the regimes. It also presents a success story of a Muslim state which does not see Islam as being contradictory to the establishment of a capitalist democratic political system.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 29/08/2011
-Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai

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