- Turkey's vibrant democracy is an inspiration to Arab
countries throwing off their autocratic yoke and their Western patrons,
says Eric Walberg
- Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP)
renewed mandate puts the electoral seal of approval on its shift towards
the Middle East, even as its importance to Europe increases. Now Turkey
itself is being courted by both NATO countries and, increasingly, the Arab
- Turkey was for centuries the crossroads of East and West,
but reduced to a shadow of itself in the twentieth century. A century of
European and US inspired intrigue dismembered the Ottoman Caliphate, inserted
a Western-inspired Jewish state into the heart of the Arab world, and cut
Turkish political and social life off from its Arab roots. The end of the
Cold War should have brought the Turkish and Arab peoples back to their
"natural" relations, and Turkey to its geopolitical importance,
but the West prevented this, supporting the Cold War dictatorial status
quo in the region dominated by a combative Israel.
- The revolutions in the Arab world have now vaulted Turkey
into a key role in the region. But this is merely Turkey returning it to
its natural roots. "The wave of revolutions in the Arab world was
spontaneous. But it also had to happen to restore the natural flow of history,"
said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the Leaders of Change
Summit in Istanbul in March.
- Throughout the Arab spring, Turkey has shown that it
is more in tune with regional needs than Europe and the US. The overthrow
of Tunisia's Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali and Egypt's Mubarak, close US allies,
was greeted with alarm in Washington but with joy in Ankara. Elsewhere,
the "Arab spring" has been more complex, and Turkey's response
confirms its new assertiveness, independent of its NATO allies.
- In all the Arab countries now experiencing unrest and
change, the West is concerned first of all with maintaining its interests
in the region -- financial, economic and political. Having "lost"
Mubarak, US President Barack Obama and the G8 "generously" offered
to exchange the new Egypt's debilitating debt -- incurred under Mubarak
-- for greater Western control of Egyptian industry, surely a devil's
pact. The US has put great pressure on the Egyptian army to maintain the
peace accord with Israel, despite a majority of Egyptians wanting it cancelled
- The West's goal in both Libya and Syria has been to get
rid of the anti-empire pests and open the countries to Western influence,
even at the risk of destabilising those countries. While the West did not
call for the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators to flee the palace, it has
loudly demanded that Gaddafi and Al-Assad resign, aggressively bombing
the former and demanding sanctions against the latter. However, just as
Western enthusiasm for Mubarak and Ben Ali helped seal their fates, active
Western backing for the opposition in Syria and Libya has actually given
rise to dissent within the opposition and helped to buttress support for
the existing regimes. While repressive, they at least left their subjects
with a sense of resisting imperial encroachment.
- Without any imperial baggage, Turkey's response to the
new Egypt and Tunisia has been advice and assistance with no strings attached.
Given the complexity of the uprisings in Libya and Syria, its response
to the conflicts there has been more measured, calling for negotiations,
reforms and de-escalation of violence, to allow the countries to maintain
their territorial integrity and rebuild without outside interference.
- Turkey's membership in NATO places it in a key position
to influence the West's continued plans for the region. As it increasingly
asserts its independence under the AKP, beginning with the refusal to condone
the US invasion of Iraq and continuing with the refusal to condone Israel's
colonisation of Palestine, as a NATO member in good standing its voice
of reason is not being heard from the sidelines, but from the very corridors
of imperial power. This gives the more assertive Turkey a new prominence
in Western strategic thinking, and puts great responsibility on the shoulders
of the Turkish leadership. With the AKP's popular mandate renewed, the
world can expect a continuation of a reasoned and independent foreign policy
from the AKP -- one with clout.
- There are complex and dangerous trials awaiting Turkey.
The illegal war waged against Libya is bogged down; Turkish-Russian-African
Union demands for negotiations will continue and hopefully bear fruit.
The ongoing unrest in Syria is a worry which requires firmness, intelligence
- Israeli intransigence and recklessness are great challenges
to Turkey, with the second Freedom Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza
departing from Turkey soon. Israel is desperately lobbying Western powers
and Turkey to stop the flotilla, clearly worried that if the Israeli Defense
Force repeats last year's massacre on the high seas, it will merely hasten
the demise of the country it purports to defend, as the world turns resolutely
- Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has expressed
fears about Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood "undermining the peace treaty"
which 85 per cent of Israelis approve of. But he need not fear war. While
Egyptians have no love for Israel, none contemplate yet another war against
what is clearly a more powerful and ruthless neighbor.
- What Lieberman needs to fear is Turkey 's calm, principled
stance, buttressing the new Egypt as it learns how to walk again. Davutoglu
says the US's "one-sided" approach to the Middle East is not
the path to solving the problems and easing the tensions, and that "Israel
needs to be treated like any other ordinary country in the region."
These are welcomed words to Egyptians and allow the new Egypt to join Turkey
in pressuring the Western interloper in their midst into joining the Middle
East as an equal partner not as the region's hegemon.
- Turkey's own democracy is a heated affair, as protests
by and imprisonment of journalists in connection with the so-called Ergenekon
military plot to overthrow the government continue. Whatever the outcome
of this stand-off between the government and its civil society critics,
the demonstrations and the openness of the Turkish press cannot be denied.
- When the history of this period is written, imperial
schemes in the region will require a chapter to be devoted to Turkey, just
as chapters will be devoted to the Arab countries. To achieve a meaningful
peace in the Middle East, there must be an end to foreign manipulation.
Relations between countries must be based not on pressure, intrigues and
invasion, but on dignity and respect. That was Erdogan's subtext during
his victory speech when he said, "The Middle East, the Caucasus and
the Balkans have won, just as Turkey has won."
- Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/>http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/
You can reach him at <http://ericwalberg.com/>http://ericwalberg.com/
Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games can
be ordered at <http://www.claritypress.com/Walberg.html>http://www.claritypress.com/Walberg.html