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Which Turkey does the Middle East want?

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- In line with the old Turkish saying, "Neither the sugar of Damascus nor the face Arab," Turkey's official ideology opted to remain aloof to the Middle East throughout the history of the republic. Modernization meant Westernization.

However, the Middle East reminded us of our Ottoman past and Islam, which were seen as the main reasons for backwardness.

Special attention was given to relations with the East in the early years of the republican era, when the Western states were on Turkish soil as occupying powers. However, Turkey detached from the East at the end of this era, in the late 1940s. Diminishing faith in the West triggered by the Cyprus issue served as a warning to the elites who were relying on this style of politics.

The pursuit of diversification in foreign relations has become most visible in recent history. Inspired by export-based development policy, leader Turgut Ozal expended efforts towards the diversification of foreign relations in the 1980s; in consideration of the need to have good relations with neighbors, former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem worked hard in foreign policy; former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan developed ties with the East because of the significance he placed on Islamic solidarity; and, most recently, the AK Party administration, under the leadership of President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, has made efforts to increase the popularity of Turkey in the eyes of the Middle East.

It is not possible to write and understand the history of the Middle East without Turkey. Turkey's relations with the region are not limited to the 400-year long Ottoman administration. This is a strong and longstanding relationship that goes back to the Abbasids, Seljuks and Mamluks. It is now more apparent why different approaches in political engineering projects by political parties vis-a-vis the Middle East failed. It was visible and apparent that these artificial structures, inconsistent with the course of history and the values of the nation, would not remain in place and that there would come a time when the past and relations would be reviewed from a different perspective. The signs of this resurrection were all out there. But this would not take place over night. The destroyed bridges should have been reconstructed; hearts should have been won. To rush would have made the efforts fruitless.

There is now a great risk that the past mindset, "Neither the sugar of Damascus, nor the face of Arab," will become stronger and more legitimate in the minds of the people as Turkey gets deeply involved in regional disputes. The worsening situation in Syria and the policy pursued by global actors, including Turkey's allies, in suggesting that Turkey should either enter Syrian soil or remain a bystander could be a golden opportunity to think over relations with the Arab word again.

We have to answer these two questions to get to the right point because the answers to these questions will determine the relevant polices:

1.Why did the regimes and administrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya crumble and what do the people who toppled these regimes want?

2. Why do the peoples in these countries now have an interest in Turkey, or what makes Turkey an asset for the Middle East?

The greatest success of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was to ensure that the nationalist, Islamist or leftist domestic opposition was busy with the Palestinian issue, Israel and Western imperialism. Burning an Israeli or American flag or cursing US President George W. Bush or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were the assurance of these regimes. As long as the status quo remained intact, external bosses were happy. But when the people in Tunisia and Egypt raised their voices to demand food or freedom rather than cursing their enemies, the magic was spoiled and it became evident that that would be the end of Mubarak and Bin Ali.

There is strong relationship between the demands of the people, the revolutions in the Middle East and the importance of Turkey. This linkage that enabled them to question their own regimes can be associated with the economic success of Turkey and its democratic transformation and civilian projects. Of course, Turkey's refusal to allow US troops to enter Iraq from Turkish territory, the Mavi Marmara attack and Erdogan's walking out on in Davos were symbolic events and instances that attracted the attention of the people. However, even in times when Turkey had good relations with the EU, the US and Israel, it was popular in the region. For instance, despite good bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel in 2005, a Turkish citizen was elected secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

But we need to think about what went wrong with the recent political moves concerning Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Palestine. There is no doubt that the intentions are good; maybe Turkey needs more time to become a strong political actor in the Middle East and complete its economic and democratic transformation, which has attracted the attention of the people in the region. Maybe this should be done in order to preserve the country's past credit and the hopes for the future.

ABDULHAMIT BILICI(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Jul 7, 2012
Words:894
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