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  • Turkey: Growing Influence in a Influential Region

    Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a man with a mission. In New York this week, fresh from a triumphal tour of the Arab Spring countries, Erdogan will throw his country’s considerable diplomatic weight behind Palestine’s (probably doomed) bid for full statehood at the United Nations General Assembly. He’s also meeting with President Obama on a range of regional issues close to Washington’s heart: Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation, Iran’s nuclear program, the crumbling of the Assad regime in Syria, fostering democracy in the Arab world. In each of these, Turkey is a key player—far more important, in many ways, than the U.S. itself.

    Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a man with a mission. In New York this week, fresh from a triumphal tour of the Arab Spring countries, Erdogan will throw his country’s considerable diplomatic weight behind Palestine’s (probably doomed) bid for full statehood at the United Nations General Assembly. He’s also meeting with President Obama on a range of regional issues close to Washington’s heart: Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation, Iran’s nuclear program, the crumbling of the Assad regime in Syria, fostering democracy in the Arab world. In each of these, Turkey is a key player—far more important, in many ways, than the U.S. itself.

    As Turkey’s relationship with Israel has disintegrated, there’s been a lot of talk of Turkey moving away from its old alliance with the U.S. But in reality, what’s striking is how much common ground Ankara still has with Washington—and how closely allied the two nations’ agendas are. In 2003, in the run-up to the Iraq war, George W. Bush spoke of the U.S.’s “freedom agenda” in the Middle East. The regimes set up in Iraq and Afghanistan after Western interventions didn’t—to put it mildly—do much to advertise the benefits of democracy. But now, nearly a decade after the U.S. set out to reset the vicious cycle of despotism and political dysfunction in the Middle East, Bush’s agenda is finally coming to pass. And Erdogan is far better placed than Bush to promote real, lasting democracy in his neighborhood.

    “During the Bush administration, ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ even became dirty words in the Middle East, for they sounded as euphemisms for sinister Western designs,” says Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol author of a new book, Islam Without Extremes. “Arabs needed to hear a ‘freedom agenda’ from … a fellow Muslim in whose faith and politics they would trust.”

    Consider Erdogan’s recent tour of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Israeli critics—including Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Gaby Levy, as revealed by the most recent batch of U.S. State Department memos released by WikiLeaks—have painted Erdogan as a dangerous Islamic radical “who hates us religiously,” in Levy’s words. But on tour in the Arab world, Erdogan’s message was that the newly hatched democracies of the region should reject Sharia and embrace Turkish-style secularism. His 10-year quarrel with Turkey’s own ultrasecularists, he explained, was against unjust repression of religious expression, such as a ban on Islamic headscarves in Turkish universities that he overturned in 2008. But in his speeches last week Erdogan passionately advocated the creation of secular Arab states that give equal rights “to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people.”

    Read the Full Article on the Daily Beast

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