Erdo?an’s Middle East Agenda
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s visit to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya Sept. 12-16 is seen as a new chapter in Turkey’s relationship with the Middle East.
The visit has created huge excitement, and much has been written about Erdo?an’s rising popularity in the Arab world. Writing in the Guardian, Mohamed Ayoub called this the beginning of the “Turkish era” in the Middle East. Some commentators described Erdo?an’s “rock star” status among the Arab youth. One publication went so far as to call him “the new emperor” of the Middle East. Some see this as a result of Turkey’s increasing assertiveness in its region.
Putting aside the Western fantasies of the “new sultan” and the like, all this says something about the changing dynamics of the new Middle East. The Orientalist myth that the Arabs cannot rule themselves and are happy to live under authoritarian regimes has been shattered by the Arab revolutions. The Arabs have shown that they can get rid of their dictators and aspire to democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Add to this list development, prosperity and economic justice and a balanced relationship with the West based on equality and mutual respect. These are the key values of the Arab revolutions — the values which the Arab masses see Prime Minister Erdo?an as representing.
This is not an outburst of emotions devoid of rational thinking and strategic vision. There was as much emotion as reason at Tahrir Square in Cairo. The Tunisians got rid of their petty dictator because they wanted to live in freedom, dignity and economic prosperity. The Libyans overthrew Qaddafi and realized the dream of millions of Libyans for democracy and the rule of law. A similar struggle for freedom, democracy and dignity is taking place in Syria and Yemen. The Iraqis, Bahrainis, Algerians and others are no less interested in the same values and aspirations. When Erdo?an became the first leader to visit the three centers of the Arab revolutions, the revolutions that are certain to change the face of the Middle East, he raised all the key issues that are central to the unfolding paradigm shift in the Arab world.
It is true that all this is happening with a lot of emotion, passion and excitement. There is nothing wrong with that. But the Arab revolutions are also underlined by strategic thinking and rational politics and political values that have been suppressed and subverted for decades in the Arab world. The revolutionaries in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere have demonstrated that they can organize, challenge the status quo and get concrete results. The phrase “Arab street,” which I find highly condescending and belittling, does not really capture the new strategic mindset that is taking over in the Arab world. “Arab street” conjures up mob psychology and suggests that Arabs act not on reason but on emotion alone. But the realities on the ground are very different.