Turkey does not really offer a useful template of democratic values and institution-building and thus cannot become a role model for the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Arab states freed from autocracies, an analyst says.
According to an article titled Turkey’s Weakest Export written by Gamze Coskun and published in Foreign Policy magazine, Turkeys’ diplomatic, economic and soft-power resources constrain the country from presenting itself as a model in these regions.
The article notes that only six out of the 135 staffers in Turkeys’ 25 diplomatic missions in the Arab countries actually speak Arabic, revealing its disability in influencing MENA countries through diplomatic channels.
Furthermore, most of Turkey’s exports to the Middle Eastern countries are based on natural resources and low-technology (56 percent), followed by medium-technology goods (40.5 percent). Its shares of high-tech exports remain low (3.5 percent).
The Arabic-language Turkish state TV, considered by Ankara as a key asset of its soft power influence, also trails behind others Arabic satellite broadcasters – not to mention Arabic-language television channels from Iran, Russia and several Western countries.
Turkish TV dramas are also regarded as bad influence in most segments of local populations in Arab countries, Coskun said.
The soft power criterion also suffered from another deficiency, according to the article. “Of the 9,374 foreign students who chose to study in Turkey in 2011, a mere 1,123 (12 percent of the total) were Arabs. This suggests that the talk of Turkish soft power influence might require a bit of qualification.”
Some sections of Arab societies perceive Turkey as a tool of the United States and Europe, and there is a widespread notion among Arabs that Turks tend to be “Western-minded”.
Meanwhile, Turkey faces enormous challenges in protecting civil liberties and reforming its judicial system on its path towards democracy. Turkey has still vague ideas about the extent of press freedom, the imprisonment of political dissidents and so forth, the article said.
The article concludes that Turkey’s pro-Western image, its limited capacity to project influence, and the gap between rhetoric and reality are all parts of the problem that hinder Turkish political influence in the Middle East.