Turkey’s Middle East drive falters in Arab Spring

Regional turmoil, unrest threatens Ankara's allies like Gaddafi, Assad, while creating new rivals, such as Egypt.

Erdogan 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erdogan 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, signed their long-awaited
But, with hundreds reportedly dead in Syria, Erdogan has to take into account that Syria’s anti-government opposition enjoys wide support in Turkish public opinion. Turkey hosted leaders of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and allowed a meeting of opposition leaders in Istanbul, enraging Syrian officials.
Erdogan tried to square the circle by urging Assad to undertake democratic reforms to assuage the opposition, but the Syrian leader turned a deaf ear and opted instead to dispatch troops against protesters.
Meanwhile, Turkey is also seeing new rivals for influence in the region emerge. Iran, interpreting the regional unrest as a continuation of its own 1979 revolution, has sought to make inroads in Egypt and perhaps Bahrain. Egypt, which sidelined itself from the Arab World for decades under Mubarak is making a new bid for power, as its Palestinian mediation demonstrates.
Hakura of Chatham House said Turkey doesn’t have much to teach emerging Middle Eastern democracies, although Erdogan’s moderate-Islamic Justice and Development AKP Party may serve as a model for Muslim groups testing out their countries’ new democratic arenas.
 “On the abstract level, Turkey does provide some lessons and some examples to the region. But on the issue of political and economic reform and nation-building, the key country remains Egypt,” Hakura said.

While the outlines of the new Middle East have yet to fully emerge, Pope said it is likely that Turkey will re-balance itself towards the West again.
“They had a good run in the last few years, but now the opportunities are going to be fewer. Turkey is going to have to revisit the EU relationship,” Pope said. “What makes Turkey what it is today is 80 years of integration with the European-Western norms. In the last few years they have neglected that in favor of the Middle East.”