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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Turkey Cooperation with Arabs in the Middle East

Ali Bulaç
Friday, 16 April 2010 08:33

This week (on April 12-13) a Turkish president visited Oman for the first time in 13 years. I accompanied President Abdullah Gül on his visit. This trip to Oman was organized as part of the relationship developed with Arab countries in general and Gulf countries in particular. According to the president, the Arab Middle East has ascribed three important missions to Turkey in recent years.

First, Turkey is a big country and politically effective. If it uses its power properly, more precisely if it uses it fairly and in favor of regional countries, it could have positive impacts on solving many conflicts and problems. Everyone in the Arab world, from political leaders and intellectuals to the general public and academics, closely follows Turkey. Their expectations from Turkey increase by the day.

Second, Turkey plays a critical role in the security dimension. Dialogue between Gulf countries has been continuing as part of “strategic cooperation agreements.” Regional countries believe Turkey’s new regional policy is integral to ensuring security and continuing stability.

Third, Turkey has significant economic potential. It is a country whose gross national product (GNP) is increasing even though it does not have natural resources. Arab countries rich in natural resources such as oil and natural gas find it valuable to observe the performance Turkey is putting out basically through the power of labor.

In order for the new foreign policy Turkey has launched to be beneficial to everyone, diligence is required in some areas. The West and those who look at the developments from the perspective of the West’s economic, military and political interests seek to predicate Turkey’s entry into the region on two targets: breaking Iran’s influence and achieving what America could not achieve with crude/military power with “soft power opportunities and means” instead. A portion of regional actors that are in a historical and sectarian competition with each other may be pleased with this kind of a mission. But if Turkey enters the region with this purpose, it will jeopardize its legitimacy. When we look at the views and expectations of the Muslim public, we see that their expectations are different.

Despite the propaganda that has been spread, the region’s fears do not involve Iran. Even though the official tone is wary over Iran’s insistence on carrying out an energy program, the public and intellectuals who can assess incidents independent of international forces argue that presenting “Iran as a threat” does not reflect the truth. In this context, perceiving Turkey as a sort of “competitor of Iran or a wave breaker to its development” and interpreting Turkey’s new foreign policy with this perspective is leading to the awakening of deep suspicions. It would be a big disaster for Turkey to be perceived as “a country entering the region on behalf of the West.”

An Omani businessman with whom I spoke said: “Turkey needs to turn towards the region. It needs to gather us around itself like a mother.” I thought it was interesting that this person used the “mother” metaphor instead of a “father” metaphor. To be able to understand the process the region is in, it’s important to understand the social and psychological backdrop. Countries in the region and the Muslim world in general are being insulted by the West, their lands are being occupied, innocent civilians are being killed, historic works are being plundered, natural resources are being stolen and, as if that is not enough, Islam and Muslims are being presented as factors to be feared and that threaten global stability and peace. The use of model mosques by British troops when practicing their firearm skills, the use of civilian targets as entertainment by American troops and the civilian causalities caused by NATO forces in Afghanistan clearly show how Islam and Muslims have become an object of hatred in the subconscious of people in the West. At this point, the Muslim world is looking for a guard for itself.

It is evident that we are entering a new period. This period is unique because it includes a process of cooperation and coexistence.
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