Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Turks and Arabs Going Nowhere By Ghassan Kadi Sept 2011

Turks and Arabs Going Nowhere

September 18, 2011
By Ghassan Kadi
The relationship between Turks and Arabs is not any less arduous than that between Sunnis and Shiites. The traditional regional cultures however deal with such issues by ignoring them rather than confronting them.
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For centuries leading up the World War One, Turkey has been the pumping heart of the Orient. WW I was a sad and sorrowful calamity. It reshaped the world in many ways. The Austrian Empire was perhaps the biggest loser of all warring nations. Had it not been for the military and strategic genius of Ataturk, the fate of Turkey would probably have been as bad as that of Austria. The Ottomans might have lost World War One but, the young Ataturk’s Turkey came out victorious and Ataturk had the battle of Çanakkale (Gallipoli) to substantiate the victory claim. That victory however, came with huge changes and costs within and outside the borders of Turkey.
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Just prior to World War One, the Arab-Turkish partnership was wearing thin. Nationalism was on the rise in the Arab World. In this atmosphere, many believed the Ottomans were abusing the Islamic brotherhood that united them with Arabs, treating them as subjects of colonies rather than brothers of a greater Islamic empire.
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The Arab world at that time was in dire need of infrastructure, schools, universities, medical facilities and all forms of industrialization and development. In this respect the gap between it and Europe was ever widening. Arab nationalists blamed this gap on Turkey and began to evoke anti-Turkish sentiments that eventually culminated in the infamous alliance between Sharif Hussein and Britain with Lawrence of Arabia as the mediator. Whether or not Lawrence himself was mislead by his superiors as some historians argue, what is important to note is that Britain promised the Arabs independence if they rebelled against Turkey. What they received in return was Western rule that came with a gift; Israel.
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Modern Turkey was unable to forget and forgive this Arab treachery of re-bunking with the Christian British against their Muslim Turkish brothers. Reciprocally, the Arabs could not forget and forgive the Turks for treating them as subjects. Ataturk’s effort of turning the young nation into a modern state was regarded by the Muslim Arabs as actions akin to being anti-Islamic and anti-Arab.
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The border dispute between Syria and Turkey was another sticking point and continues to be unresolved. The relationship between the two countries was close to flashpoint in recent times.
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Amongst the political rubble, Arabs to-date, remember with admiration that Turkey rejected the establishment of Israel at the time when Palestine was included in its great empire. And, despite their Western outlooks and aspirations, Turkish people remained staunch Muslims. Somehow, the two peoples remained enchanted with each other at a much deeper level that went well beyond politics but truly within the norms of their history and geography.
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On a wider arena, a cynical look at the Turkey’s position indicates that Turkey’s inclusion in NATO was NATO’s gain, not Turkey’s. Perhaps, during the Cold War era, Turkey felt it needed an alliance such as NATO, but with the demise of the USSR, the only thing that NATO could bring to Turkey was a foot in the door to the European Union. The EU however has given Turkey little more than promises and obstacles. Ironically, the EU that favoured Greece against the weak economy of Turkey three decades ago has to now bail out Greece time after time at a time when Turkey has grown to become the world’s sixteenth largest economy.
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To ignore that Turkey is on the rise again as a regional giant is not possible.
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On Turkey’s other doorstep however, are other nations, many of which appear to be giving up on the empty promises of the West. These are Muslim nations with huge wealth, similar cuisine and, not to forget, a great passion for real coffee. Despite decades of luke-warm political interaction, Arabs continued to look up to Turkey, expecting it to take a leading regional role. It is rather ironic that policy makers in Turkey were totally blind to this and, instead of turning their eyes to where red carpets would unroll for them, they were adamant to pursue the EU who shunned them.
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What Turks and Arabs needed was perhaps some time and space to examine each other and themselves. After that, they needed a proper dialogue and establishing a proper foundation to move forward.
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They now seem to be flirting with each other without having that dialogue, and this is a recipe for disaster. There is little time left for Turks and Arabs to re-define their relationships and decide what kind of relationship they want to have for the future.
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Time is running out because the world power structure is changing. Before too long, new alliances will have to be forged. Calculating parties who are in a position of choice, must weigh their choices very smartly.
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With the waning global stature of the US and the eventual ripple effect on Israel and the balance of military power in the Middle East, Arabs and Turks have a golden opportunity to rebuild their relationship on their own terms without any Western intervention. That said, we must be reminded that this intervention has actually started during the Napoleonic period more than two centuries ago and has not stopped since.
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Turkey took the first step to thaw the ice in the recent past, but a realistic analysis of its actions presents a number of contradictions and uncertainties.
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Erdogan seems to have one eye at Iran and another one at Israel. He wants to appease Moslems a he has an Islamic agenda after all. But at the same time, he is also a Turkish national and he wears both hats, the hat of a Turkish leader and a Moslem one. He has put one foot of friendship into Egypt and a foot of ex-colonialist into Syria. He knows well what is happening in Syria and the power deals that are going on under the table in the name of fighting for democracy.
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Erdogan knows well that Assad is under pressure by the West to change his policies about Iran and Hezbollah in return of internal calm. Instead of siding by Syria (his neighbour and should-be targeted friend) and stop following Western agendas, he chose the latter. Yet, he defies the West by taking tough stands against Israel and threatening to use his navy to escort future flotillas into Gaza and all the while, he is hosting a NATO conference aimed at shielding Israel.
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There is no doubt that there is a regional Moslem power struggle between Sunnis and Shiites. The rise of Iran has troubled the traditional Sunni regimes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Nations. They see Assad’s Syria as a Shiite Iranian satellite and whence their full support to the uprising in Syria. Those traditional Sunnis are in strategic alliance with the US, an alliance that Erdogan seems to want to distance himself from and start creating his own under a Turkish banner.
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Erdogan seems to be confused and confusing to say the least. He does not seem to know how to focus. He seems to be aligning himself with some entities and their archrivals at the same time.
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Love them or hate them, Assad father and son have had a long history of long vision and political wisdom. Rumour has it that Erdogan offered Bashar Assad an olive branch and support should Assad ditch Iran and form an alliance with him. With all the shuffling he is doing, how does he expect Assad to trust his stability?
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In the last few months, Erdogan displayed reluctance about Libya. He waited until it became clear in his head who was going to end up as the victor in Tripoli before he took his side. In politics, this is called opportunism, and though very unethical and borders scavenging, in politics, it is a common practice.
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The question is, does Erdogan have a proper plan for forging a new regional role for Turkey or is he going to continue to be an opportunist? Only time will tell.

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