Understanding the New Turkey: An Egyptian Perspective

By Labbad, Mustafa El- | Insight Turkey, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Understanding the New Turkey: An Egyptian Perspective


Labbad, Mustafa El-, Insight Turkey


The Middle East region stands on the threshold of a new era in its long history. At present, the situation in the region resembles that which followed World War II, with the borders of its independent states established on the ruins of the Ottoman state in accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The current situation is also similar to the period after World War II, the subsequent changes in international politics and then the division of the world into two camps.

It is no coincidence that Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman state, is a common denominator in the region's distinctive moments, considering its geographical, historical and strategic location. In spite of Turkey's exceptional importance in the region's past and present, we cannot talk about a unified Egyptian perspective on Turkey due to the different ideological backgrounds of the different political streams; the Islamists' perspective differs from that of the nationalists and the leftists. There are subjective factors specific to each political movement in Egypt and how it sees Turkey, and objective factors that influence Egyptian-Turkish relations and Turkey's regional policies. Overall ideological considerations influenced the objective evaluation of Turkey's politics among the Egyptian elite.

The Nationalist and Leftist Movements on Turkey

Arab-Turkish relations have always been--at least since the Cold War -haunted by the Arab elite's concerns, which with time became an obstacle to viewing Turkey's cultural and strategic dimensions or its national and sectarian components. The pivotal role of geography in forming the great importance of Turkey as a central state is in concert with the provisions of history and culture, giving it a geo-political and geo-strategic impact that defies unilateral classification or its being viewed from a single perspective. In return, large segments of the Arab elite with nationalist and leftist tendencies have for many decades relied on ideological accounts in evaluating events and phenomena. The majority of the elite have branded Turkey with subordination to an international bloc, taking into consideration the Cold War experience and Turkey's entry into CENTO and then NATO. And this view prevented them from keeping pace with the developments and changes in a country that strongly affects the region; reducing Turkey's domestic and regional policies to a narrow framework, viewing it in an ideological state of unjustified hostility that blinded them to seeing the true image.

Turkey no longer provides a front for superpower states in the region. Basically, Turkey is an important regional state that is careful to achieve its own national interests through international and regional alliances, and it must be considered from this point of view. Turkey's new foreign policy aims to consolidate its influence in the region and transform it from being merely a member of alliances into being a regional center that keeps a distance from everybody else while simultaneously continuing relations with them. This strategic shift can be noticed through the clear change in relations between Ankara and the countries of its neighborhood, such as Greece, Russia, Iran and the Arab countries, especially Iraq and Syria. Turkey did not sacrifice its network of international and regional alliances for the new political strategy, but rearranged the terms of strategic force for its advantage. Turkey is no longer a captive of alliances with one international party, but has woven a network of balanced relations with major global players like China, Russia and the European Union. In the midst of all this, Ankara did not overlook the role it plays in decision making processes in Washington; Turkey is the only state in the region after Israel that has succeeded in forming pressure groups in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Now we can talk about a Turkish lobby in Washington along with the Greek, Latin and Armenian pressure groups, as well as pro-Israeli lobbies. …

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