Opinion

Compass

Turkey’s crisis is not about Erdogan

Nader Mousavizadeh
Jun 14, 2013 19:29 UTC

The decision by Turkish authorities to send the riot police in to clear Taksim Square — while expressing a more conciliatory tone in a meeting between the prime minister and a delegation of Taksim activists — is a high-stakes gamble at a moment of genuine vulnerability for the country. However, the thinly disguised glee with which the protests against the prime minister’s domineering rule have been met by observers in the West is as politically shortsighted as it is strategically misguided. That Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought much of his recent troubles on himself — with his imperial manner and his government’s creeping encroachment on the civil and political liberties of his citizens — is evident even to many of his supporters. He and his thrice-victorious party now have an essential task of dialogue and engagement ahead of them, in order to ensure that what remains a fairly limited protest movement does not escalate further and undermine the momentum enjoyed by the Turkish republic.

For the West, however, two equally important tests have presented themselves: can it calibrate its concern for domestic political liberties in Turkey with an adequate appreciation of the economic and geopolitical value that the country provides? And is it willing to accommodate more generally — and more lastingly — an alternative model of a globalized, economically thriving democracy that nevertheless ascribes profound value to its religious and cultural heritage?

For all his success and standing, Erdogan was never, in the minds of most Westerners, “our kind of leader.” Proudly Muslim; resentful of the casual and damaging racism long directed at his country and his people by a standoffish Europe; and fiercely nationalistic in his attempt to carve out a Third Way of Islamist capitalist democracy, Erdogan’s success was often seen more as a rebuke to the West than a welcome demonstration of a Muslim society’s ability to combine modernity with national identity, religious devotion with commercial vibrancy, NATO membership with an independent foreign policy.

It is a measure of the still-resilient illusion of a Western-defined process of globalization that the right kind of emerging markets leaders — and their politics — should look and sound like ours. Well, Erdogan doesn’t and won’t. Nor did Lula of Brazil. And nor will President Xi Jinping of China, something made plain under the surface of pleasantries at last weekend’s summit with President Obama.

The Turkish model was never as flawless or widely applicable as its proponents made it out to be. Tarnished, however, as it is today by over-zealous police enforcement in the streets of Istanbul and the arrogant reaction of a bewildered leadership with a sterling record of electoral success and economic growth, the danger is that the world now loses sight of just how valuable Turkey’s example remains to global politics as well as economics.

Peril and paranoia in the new Middle East

Nader Mousavizadeh
Nov 28, 2011 17:47 UTC

The year of the Arab Awakening is drawing to a close with an ominous air of peril and paranoia hanging over the Middle East. A movement of genuine promise for more legitimate and accountable government for the peoples of the Arab world is in danger of being overwhelmed by the forces of tyranny, corruption, fundamentalism and conflict. From Syria to Egypt to Libya, Palestine, Israel and Iran, resistance to peaceful change is manifesting itself in ways new and old – and all in the context of a global re-alignment of power that few in the region yet recognize. Preventing the four central challenges of the Middle East – Iran, the Arab Awakening, Energy Security, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – from turning into conflicts with global implications will be a task far more for the countries of the region themselves than at any time in recent memory. For this new reality the parties are almost completely unprepared.

This was confirmed during a visit last week to the Gulf where the collapse of trust between adversaries – as well as allies – was on stark display. Arab leaders expressed as much distrust of each other as they did of their ascendant rivals, the Persians and the Turks. The minimum demands of the Palestinians are as distant as ever from the maximum on offer from the Israeli government. And for a number of regional leaders buffeted by the extraordinary changes forced by popular movements from Syria to Tunisia, a key lesson appears to be lesser, not greater, openness to representative government. The Middle East, more than any other region of the world, gives validity to the old joke that even paranoid schizophrenics have enemies. But to the very real perils arising from deeply divergent interests among Arabs, Turks, Persians and Israelis is now added a degree of heightened paranoia that threatens to multiply the perils with consequences reaching far beyond the region itself.

Critical to understanding the new strategic landscape is an appreciation of the degree to which the United States – since Suez, the arbiter of war and peace in the Middle East – is on course for a long-term disentanglement from the cares and conflicts of the region. While its commitment to Israel certainly – and to its Arab allies less so – long has been more than just a matter of security, it is evident that a Middle East less critical as a source of oil will be one less able to claim the extraordinary expenditure of blood and treasure made by America over the past half-century. As a consequence of technological advances leading to new discoveries and new sources of oil and gas, the next oil shock will likely be one more defined by the growing irrelevance of the Middle East to the United States – however much the region’s ability to disrupt international oil markets will remain.

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