Monday, June 27, 2011

Will an Arab Spring be needed for Turkey?
 Sunday, May 29, 2011

The question of what exactly President Barack Obama wanted to achieve by his Middle East speech was on everybody’s mind in Washington last week, which was filled by Israel related events. Obama’s speech on the Middle East and “shocking” 1967 lines reference created a political earthquake between him and Israeli right wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with conservative Jewish-Americans, many of whom I talked with during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington.
The AIPAC crowd was not only woeful with Obama’s rhetoric but also was disturbed by repercussions of the Arab Spring across the region in addition to serious signals about the possibility of the peaceful protests’ arrival into Palestine. These vexations subjoined by the fear of loosing regional allies left and right were clearly reflected on Netanyahu’s body language at the White House, while lecturing Obama in front of a whole world.
Turkey was also another source of exasperation among the AIPAC crowd, which was lengthily discussed in two AIPAC panels. Robert Wexler, a former co-chair of the Turkish Caucus at the Congress, therefore had two extremely difficult tasks at the conference; to defend Obama’s speech against mostly wrathful audience, and explain the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leadership to some other ireful listeners as not a total “enemy,” an observation, which Wexler only laughed at when I conveyed to him during post-panel conversation.
There certainly seems to be a “Turkey” problem for Israel, though it increasingly appears from Washington that the United States administration has been settling for a “modus vivendi” with “fretful” Turkish administration, by mainly pursuing a case by case approach in the relations.
Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of the Policy Planning at the State Department until just a few weeks ago, as the first woman to fulfill the position in U.S. history, in an interview after Netanyahu’s theatrical joint session of Congress address on Tuesday, stated Turkey did not exactly live up to the expectations of Washington as a regional partner in last two years, citing primarily the Tehran Reactor Deal, in which she refused to elaborate how exactly the accident happened.
On Syria, Slaughter sees the Turkish diplomatic efforts to persuade Assad regime so far “ineffective... since Syria is still continuing its violence against its people,” though she believes that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu “have a real opportunity to exercise regional leadership here.”
Ankara so far neither went far enough to join the West in sanctions against Assad regime, nor was able to stay indifferent to Damascus’ brutal crackdown on its civilians. In result, neither Damascus nor the West has come to appreciate its efforts.
Views greatly vary over what constitutes ‘naivete’ or “foresight” for Turkey’s Syrian policy. One “realist” Turkey and Middle East expert this week was seeking an answer behind what the expert called Turkey’s “unrealist” policy towards Syria, arguing that “since the basic power structures of the Syrian regime are strong and civilian protests are over-blown by the Western media,” why then does Ankara push Assad into Iran’s arms and demolishes decade long political and economic investments there?
What is taking place is probably the following: While S. Arabia, by large, is taking the lead of the counterrevolution forces in the region, the discussions continues in Ankara whether to take a lead of the “pro-change” forces during “the fourth wave of democratization,” as Slaughter calls the Arab Revolution, and this indecisive state of Turkish mind produces half-measured and thankless policies. “All previous waves of democratization have resulted in more democracies overall, those countries that make it, that cast off dictatorship and succeed in electing governments… over time they will also make the Middle East a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous region,” said Slaughter.
It is not only the Arab world but also Turkey has a tough road ahead. While the Arab world will live through upheavals, Turkey will undertake a historic mission to write its own, civilian Constitution following the June elections, deal with the Kurdish reality head-on and witness if the Ergenekon trials will do a just, so Turkey can start its normal life.
Slaughter warned, “The world is watching Turkey particularly in light of all the turmoil across the Middle East. Can Turkey continue to provide a model of a democracy, which embraces pluralism, tolerance, and basic human rights, including freedom of expression, in a Muslim-majority country? If it can, it will play an increasingly important role in 21st century politics. But if it fractures along religious-secular, civil-military, urban-rural, or democratic-autocratic lines in ways, which fail to integrate universal human rights with religious parties in a true democracy, it will lose its leadership position.”
Indeed, in the post-election period, it is Turkey who will have to update its own democratic credentials by creating such an inclusive constitution so it can lead by its own example in an evermore democratized region.
If the Turkish leadership cannot get these vital issues right, I am afraid, or confident, that we will witness the spirit of the Arab Spring begin with startling splashes in many corners of Turkey.
That is why, there is no other way for Ankara but to set audaciously a sample for best democratic norms, for its and region’s future.

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