Hugh Pope, Transtlantic Academy | 13 May 2011
The Middle East’s season of popular revolts for greater freedoms has thrown a critical spotlight on Turkey’s ambition for a leading role in the region, whether as an actor pursuing a ‘zero problem’ foreign policy or through the gravitational pull of its ‘Turkish model’.
The region’s commercial giant was caught dramatically off balance by the wave of unrest. Some 25,000 of the 110,000 Turks who work in the Middle East lived in Libya, and had to be evacuated from projects worth at least $15 billion. For weeks, Turkey hesitated to call for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster, jarring with Turkish leaders’ rhetoric in Egypt that had sought to portray Turks as firmly on the side of youth, change and democracy.
Syria’s troubles have embarrassed Turkey too. For more than a decade, Damascus has been the fulcrum of Turkey’s re-entry into the Arab political system, a relationship that was focused on the Assad family regime. Turmoil in a country with an 877-km border with Turkey also showed that Ankara’s one-size-fits-all ‘zero problem’ approach could at best only hope for a long-term impact on the Middle East’s traumatized status quo. And a multilateral free-trade zone for Syria, Jordan and Lebanon will take longer now, along with its promise of greater regional integration, stability and prosperity.
But it is too early to dismiss Turkey’s role in the region. Even while threatened with refugee flows from Syria, Turkey has not blinked from its no-visa policy for several Middle Eastern states… read more