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The International Writers Magazine:Middle East Politics

Turkey's smart gamble
Saleem Ayoub Quna
Are the modern Ottomans coming back to their ancestor' previous backyards in North Africa and the Fertile Crescent they were forced to evacuate a century ago?


A host of more than just popular signals and indications in the streets of major Arab cities supports this assumption. The old Ottomans reign over these vast territories had lasted for four long centuries prior to their expulsion by the end of World War 1. Look again at the flags of all Arab countries in north Africa including Egypt before 1952, and compare them with the Turkish flag. Of different design and hues, they all carry or carried the same symbols of Islam: Crescent and stars.

But the latest more practical show of the rising Turkish political prominence in the Arab world was an unprecedented live speech by Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an before an emergency meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in the Arab league Headquarters in Cairo to discuss the Syrian deteriorating situation. Erdo?an could not have a better proof of this diplomatic breakthrough than the hero's welcome he was accorded by Egyptian officials and people in Cairo and later in Tripoli.

"Arab governments and leaders should pay attention to their own people's calls for democracy, freedom and justice", he told the distinguished gathering. His statement came shortly after two important regional developments closely related to the Arab-Israeli ongoing dispute and confusion.

It is impossible not to notice the significant correlation between the Egyptian attempt to assault the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and the Turkish rising temper towards Israel. Translating the Egyptian mind-set at this juncture would be something like this: Turkey which never went into war against Israel, tied to her by various military and economic cooperation agreements has recently sacked the Israeli ambassador from Ankara. The Turkish government decision was based on Israeli government's failure to apologize or compensate the killing of nine Turkish peace activists while trying, with other international activists on board the ship Maramara in May 2010, to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza.

This is while Egypt's hands are tied in this regard despite the fact that Egyptians fought four wars against Israel since 1947, lost hundreds of thousands of Egyptian lives, spent billions of dollars on war efforts, still living with a de-facto "humiliating" peace treaty with Israel that was signed by the late authoritarian ruler "Anwar Al-Sadat" in 1979. The Egyptians, until just last week, were unable to send the strongest message to the world regarding their feelings towards Israel.

The new overtures by Ankara towards its ancient backyards directly connected with the Arab-Israeli dispute climaxed months-long amidst Turkish hot diplomatic push against continued Syrian military bloody crack down of the growing popular uprising against the Ba'thist regime in Damascus.

The big question is what motivates the Turks to come this far in their support for Arab aspirations, simultaneously coupled with their defiance of Israeli policies and expectations?
Turkey has been standing at the doors of the European Union for many years trying to open it. The European answer has always been a polite and slow no. Being a vigilant member of the North Atlantic Defense Treaty was a different issue for the Europeans. Probably to the benefit of Turkey, the Europeans have been asking the Turks to introduce many political, social, legislative and economical reforms and demanded many criteria to be met to which Turkey responded favorably. But the Europeans will continue to think that to open the doors of their envied Union for Turkey means an unconditional invitation to seventy million Moslems to share the blessing of this man-made paradise!

Did Turkey finally get the message? Turning its face southward, Turkey depicts a very promising opportunity to play a major role to its benefit, economically and politically. The Arab world represents a huge potential for any regional power to ponder investment. One of the major obstacles Turkey faced in this regard was its close relations with Israel. How to accommodate between its friendship with Israel and its interests with the Arabs?

The chance finally came about when Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish peace activists in May 2010. Had Israel immediately or later, apologized and accepted to re- compensate this loss of lives, the Turkish government could have at least kept its domestic asset of support, but the Israeli intransigence was clear enough. Israeli concerns in Gaza outweighed its interests with Turkey. Then suddenly arrives the Arab spring that is still sweeping across Arab North Africa and Asia. Even the Europeans saw the light at the end of the tunnel and jumped to the rescue of the armless peaceful protesters in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Syria in different forms and levels not excluding the military option as in Libya so far.

The scene does not lack some ironies and analogies. The European colonizers whose departure from these countries was celebrated less than fifty years ago are coming back as the new second-row liberators. The Turks stand is clearer. Turkey has centuries-long common history with the Arab world, it shares geography and Islam with it, has been repeatedly turned back by its northern European neighbors, trying to consolidate its domestic popular support and finally being slapped in the face by its special "ally" Israel". The new Ottomans estimate it is the time of action, of making choices and cease a historical opportunity to sneak back to their previous backyards.

The Middle East will always be a pandora's box. It can bring together on its soil its very old colonizers; the Turks and its more recent occupiers, the Europeans, to start a new game of competition and cooperation. It is also were angels and devils, wearing masks, can blithely dance on the same floor!
© Saleem Ayoub Quna September 20th 2011

Besancon: Victor Hugo
Saleem Ayoub Quna

The surprising pleasantness of Hugo's birthplace was a delight

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