Ottawa Spotlight اضواء أوتاوا

Hitch your wagon to a star

Turkey aims at becoming center of gravity, not ‘democracy exporter’

Nowadays, the Western media have been intensely busy with the question as to whether there is a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy orientation, with some international commentators arguing that Ankara may be slowly turning its back on its Western allies and seeking to regain its status as a regional power in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Arab media are busy with the question as to whether Turkey’s close interest in the Middle East has been inspired by a so-called ideology named “neo-Ottomanism,” in an apparent bid to explain that the conservative ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has a deep longing for the Ottoman era. While some of the Arab media pose the question as a matter of leadership within the Middle East and sometimes compare the abilities of Turkey and Egypt in regards to their ability to deliver peace initiatives, some of them pose it as a question of democracy and stability, showing Turkey as a model.

“Egypt does not want to enter the European Union as far as I know. And as far as I know, Turkey also does not want to become a member of the Arab League. When Turkey wants to become a member of the Arab League and Egypt wants to become an EU member, maybe, at that time, I’ll start thinking there is competition between Egypt and Turkey,” said Egyptian Ambassador to Turkey Dr. Alaa Eldin al-Hadidi.

The ambassador’s remarks, which are probably shared by Turkish leadership as well, came during an interview with Sunday’s Zaman weeks after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan walked out of a January meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres, telling him, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” His remarks were referring to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter, in which Erdoğan accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity by killing more than 1,300 Palestinians.

As a matter of fact, the Davos walkout was the turning point among Arab media, which led to them giving Turkey as well as their own countries and leaderships another look.

“I believe that the Gaza issue was the turning point; the Arab streets thought that Arab leaders should have shown such a reaction long before Erdoğan did,” Ankara-based and well-informed sources told Sunday’s Zaman. “Those who comprehended what Turkey has been trying to do in the region have somehow regretted the fact that they do not have a leader who has a stance like Erdoğan and a foreign minister like Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is able to put his intellectual vision into action,” the same sources said.

“The Middle East is a place where there are strong political foundations. Whether they are democratic or not is a separate issue. It is normal that some eyebrows were raised when Turkey acted proactively. Turkey and Egypt are two important countries in the Mediterranean region. During Egypt’s active efforts to resolve differences between Palestinian groups, it observed that Turkey sincerely and actively supported Egypt’s role. Turkey plays the game according to the rules and openly, but also strongly. This might have led to panic among some leadership. But those who have wisdom do not have such panic. Turkey has no intention of exporting democracy and stability because Turkey knows that it can be powerful only when and if gets a center of gravity,” the sources said.

Half-sentences, misunderstandings

As a matter of fact, one should give credit where credit is due: Turkey has long said democracy cannot be imposed on regional countries from the outside and that it doesn’t want to be a role model that these countries are expected to imitate.

An occasion for Turkey’s firm stance on the issue was a response to the stillborn Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENAI) presented by the US in April 2004 as a G-8 initiative.

Within the initiative, Washington viewed NATO ally Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Ankara welcomed such a role but rejected being a role model and insistently said reforms should not be imposed on regional countries from the outside. At the time, former US President George W. Bush, during a visit to İstanbul in 2004, had praised Turkey as a model Muslim democracy -- a description that has never been embraced by Erdoğan and other Turkish leaders and decision makers -- along with the term “model of moderate Islam.”

Earlier this week, at a conference titled “Turkey’s New Middle East Policy” and held in Washington, Cemil Aydın, a professor of history at George Mason University, called Turkey “the only pragmatist power and rising model that doesn’t have any ideological tendencies” in its region, the Anatolia news agency reported.

This is not neo-Ottomanism but normalizing relations with the Middle East, which should be seen as a result of democratization, Aydın also said.

Half sentences are as dangerous as misquotations, both in journalism and diplomacy. Earlier this week, Serbian member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, expressed resentment over the fact that during a visit to Sarajevo last month, Davutoğlu said “Sarajevo is our city.”

Radmanovic suggested that such remarks have led to fear in the Balkans, in an apparent reference to the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the region. Yet, the full quote by Davutoğlu was a bit longer: “Sarajevo is our city, and İstanbul is your city.”


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