What would Turkey tell Israel about the Arab Spring?
“Where is Bashar al-Assad? Why isn’t he doing anything?” a colleague, an editor of economic news, asked last week.
“Since when did you become a supporter of al-Assad?” I asked him, surprised.
“I’m not fond of him, but I’m more frightened of the Salafis. I prefer al-Assad to the Salafis,” he replied.
This conversation made me recall a recent meeting between a group of journalists and a senior Turkish official at which he talked about the latest developments in the region. The official was asked about the possibility of Turkey becoming encircled by countries that are dominated by “Islamist groups,” which might be under direct influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The fear that Islamists will take over the Middle East has been ever-present not only in some circles in Turkey, but also throughout the Western world, ever since the Arab Spring began, but those who must be really terrified by this possibility are the Israelis. That is why, although they have chosen to remain silent about the Arab Spring, it is no secret that they are not very happy about it, falling back on the motto that “the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know,” as the outcome of the upheavals has remained uncertain.
While reading the statements Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made to a group of visiting Turkish journalists, to the effect that Israel was ready to talk with Turkey any issue (except negotiating an apology for killing Turkish citizens on a humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza), I felt 100-percent confident that those Israeli officials with more common sense would have been anxious to exchange views with Turkey about the present and future of the region, an exercise that would have taken place very frequently had relations between the two been normal.
A few months ago I asked a senior Foreign Ministry official what Turkey would have told the Israelis about the Arab Spring if consultations had been taking place like they did in the old days. Below is a blend of the input I received from that diplomat, as well as from the official I mentioned at the beginning of the article, with my own presumptions.
What would Turkey have told Israel, or the Western world in general, about the future regimes of the Middle East?
-The relationship between religion and politics in the Mediterranean is not particular only to Arabs. Conservative politics, and politics that refers to a religious basis, exists everywhere in the world.
-In the former dictatorial regimes, because there was strict control of any type of organized activity, it is to be expected that mosques have become the natural base for the development of any opposition.
-The revolution is not taking place in the name of religion; rather, religion is being used as a conduit. The conflict is not between Islamists and secularists; it is between dictatorships and democracies.
-The time for dictatorial regimes based on fear is over. People are in the street conquering their fear, which is overwhelmed by their longing for democracy.
-There will be Islamist movements. They will have to operate in democratic ways and evolve democratically, just as the “Islamist movements” in Turkey evolved within the democratic system.
-There is no alternative but to support the people in coming up with a stable order, which is in the interest of everyone.