[Letters] Turkey and the Arab Spring

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[Letters] Turkey and the Arab Spring

As the Arab Spring enters its fourth month, it faces challenges but also presents opportunities. Despite setbacks in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the democratic wave has already begun to change the Middle East’s political landscape.

The national reconciliation agreement in Palestine between Fatah and Hamas, signed in Egypt on May 3, is one of the major results of this change. Other substantial developments are certain to follow.

Turkey’s policy of engaging different governments and political groups in the Arab world has transformed Middle Eastern politics. Turkish officials have stated on various occasions that change in the Arab world is inevitable and must reflect people’s legitimate demands for justice, freedom and prosperity. Moreover, change must occur without violence and a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy should be ensured.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan sought to achieve this in Libya before the ongoing fighting in that country broke out. Erdoan’s quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy sought to ensure a peaceful transition to a post-Qaddafi era. This gradualist approach complements Turkey’s principled position on the need for reform in the Arab world, including Syria, with which Turkey shares a 900-kilometer (560 mile) border.

Over the last decade, Turkey has developed different types of relationships with the countries of the Middle East, targeting improved relations with both governments and the public. Indeed, Turkey is probably the only country that has been able to promote relations at the two levels in the Arab world.

This engagement policy has paid off in several ways, in the process raising Turkey’s profile in the region. Arab intellectuals, activists and youth leaders of different political inclinations have taken a keen interest in what some describe as the “Turkish model.” Turkey’s stable democracy, growing economy and proactive foreign policy have generated growing appreciation of the country’s achievements, which has augmented its “soft power” in the region.

This is reflected in the Arab world’s lively debate about how Turkey has been able to reconcile Islam, democracy and economic development. That debate, more importantly, is about how Arab countries should restructure themselves in the twenty-first century. The growing gap between governments and people in the Arab world has become an unsustainable deficit - a point that has gained new significance as the Turkish experience has gained greater salience in these countries.

As the Arab Spring unfolds at different speeds in different countries, Turkey continues to urge Arab governments to undertake genuine reform. Arabs deserve freedom, security and prosperity as much as any other people, and Turkey stands to gain from a democratic, pluralist and prosperous Arab world. A democratic era promises to give the Arab world a chance to be the author of its own actions. It will also enable Arabs to develop a new paradigm for relations with the West based on equality and partnership - a position Turkey has come to symbolize.

Finally, Turkey’s policy of engaging various actors in the Middle East - repudiated by some as controversial, extreme and even terrorist - has played a significant role in bringing some of these forces into mainstream politics. Given the new political realities in Egypt, Tunisia and the Palestinian territories, as well as in Lebanon, Libya and elsewhere, the more important of these actors are no longer secret or illegal organizations.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

Ibrahim Kalin, senior adviser to the prime minister of Turkey.
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