Saturday, February 5, 2011

Turkish Role in Arab Unrest Put Under Microscope

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Fulya Özerkan / Hurriyet

ANKARA, Jan 31: Amid the ongoing unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, eyes are turning to Turkey as experts debate whether Turkey’s recent rise on the global stage, its stable democracy and strong economy have contributed to the outbreak of protests.

Violent protests in Egypt, one of the largest countries in the Arab world, are targeting President Hosni Mubarak, as street fighting between demonstrators and security forces has claimed the lives of at least 125 people, according to reports.

“Turkey always has a positive image in the region and its rising influence has led to some sort of jealousy in the Arab world, which is one of the reasons for the current transformation process,” said Professor Semir Saliha, a Middle East expert from Kocaeli University. He said since 2002 the Turkish government has been sending positive signals to the region in the name of democratization, reforms, human rights and participation in politics.

The six days of protesting in Egypt comes hot on the heels of protesting that overthrew the longtime president of Tunisia, where protests are still continuing with people demanding the whole governement resign.

Saliha pointed out that statements made by U.S. President Barak Obama in both Ankara and Cairo in the period following his inauguration as president created a positive perception regarding U.S. policy toward the region, but a pursuit of opposing policies – especially regarding Israel – caused disappointment in the Arab world.

“Turkey managed to fill in the blanks in this vacuum,” he said.

Turkey looks at the region from three perspectives: firstly, what impact the unrest in Egypt could have on the Arabic-Israeli dispute, a significant source of tension in the region; secondly, what possible effects the revolts could have on the other countries in the Middle East; and, thirdly, whether the current turmoil could lead to an ailing Egypt and rising Turkey in the region. In his daily column for Radikal, Murat Yetkin said Ankara’s evaluations suggested that if Mubarak is overthrown, then a chain of transformations could be ignited throughout the Arab world.

In Tunisia, the government, once regarded as one of the Middle East’s most stable, was overthrown after widespread protests and street violence forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after 23 years in power. The revolt in Tunisia inspired countries across the Middle East and North Africa, with nationwide demonstrations in Egypt swelling into the largest uprising in three decades, sending shockwaves throughout the region.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said governments in the Arab world could not remain indifferent to the fair demands of their citizens.

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