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Time for Turkey to embrace the 'Arab model'

HDN | 9/21/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Once again, Turkey is the talk of the world’s commentariat: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed Israel, run a victory lap across the landscape of the “Arab Spring,” upstaged France’s Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s Cameron in Libya and sat down for a parley in New York with America’s Obama.

Once again, Turkey is the talk of the world’s commentariat: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed Israel, run a victory lap across the landscape of the “Arab Spring,” upstaged France’s Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s Cameron in Libya and sat down for a parley in New York with America’s Obama.

Not a bad week. And then, driven in part by this surge in political testosterone, there is the double storm brewing over the island of Cyprus: Turkey’s vow to freeze relations with the European Union if the Greek-run side of the island is allowed to assume on schedule its six-month rotating EU presidency; and, imminent oil exploration, by Greek Cyprus and Turks as well, prompting talk of “casus belli.”

Never mind that the EU presidency is, to steal a phrase from U.S. Vice President (1933-41) John Nance Garner in describing his own job, “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” And never mind that that we’ve seen this oil exploration/saber-rattling film so many times before since its first premiere in 1976.

But it all makes for plenty of material to recycle the two standard narratives of late. Either Turkey is “turning its back on the West,” or she is convincing (or should convince) the Arabs to embrace the “Turkish model.”

But what if the storyline were that the leading Arab states and Iran were leapfrogging over Turkey, cementing long-term social, economic and institutional ties at rates that leave Turkey in the dust? “Preposterous,” you would say. Which is probably why a February report by “Evidence,” the intelligence arm of the media company Thomson Reuters, has been largely ignored.

As the report (available at www.evidence.co.uk) argues, international collaboration, investment in education and research “builds up a country’s knowledge capacity, its ability to use discovery and innovation to create economic wealth, and its potential to realize benefits in health, culture and the quality of life.”

To measure such progress, the study examined academic papers produced by universities across the region, chiefly in the sciences and agriculture. Turkey had the largest growth, from just 5,000 academic papers in 2000 to 22,000 in 2009. Iran was close behind, surging from 1,500 papers in 2000 to 15,000 papers by 2009. The other major intellectual players were Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Also rising dramatically is the output of the United Arab Emirates.

Most striking to me, however, is the analysis of international collaboration. Only 16 percent of Turkish academic papers were produced in collaboration with a Western institution, whereas the figures were 43 percent for Jordan, 39 percent for Egypt, 38 percent for Saudi Arabia and 21 percent for Iran.

In short, Turkish scientific researchers are talking to themselves while the rest of the region is talking among themselves and to the United States, Germany, the U.K., Canada and Japan.

“While Jordan is the most collaborative nation, Egypt appears to hold a pivotal role in linking within the region as well as into Europe, North Africa and to the U.S. and Japan,” the report concludes.

It may run counter to today’s obligatory narrative, but if you ask me, this is an “Arab model” that Turkey would do well to embrace.

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