Wanted: Syrian people
I shivered with the thought of a future conflict between “friendly and brotherly” Turkey and Egypt when I read the news announcing that their naval forces of had successfully completed joint military exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, which the New York Times viewed as “the latest sign of warming ties between the two former rivals” and a potential “significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East.”
The last time Turkey showed similar signs of warming ties and held joint military drills signifying geopolitical change was with Syria.
Gone, also, are the days when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was greeted as a “rock star” in Lebanon, or, at least in words, a figure of fraternity in Iran. I recall a Lebanese friend telling me in Lisbon that “Israel-bashing was an easy sell on the Arab Street, but that is until other realities become better sells.” That was when Mr. Erdoğan’s rock star career was at its peak. Then came “other realities.” Nowadays, crowds gather in front of the Turkish Embassy in Beirut, but not to cheer for Mr. Erdoğan. Instead, they are protesting Turkey.
According to the findings of a survey, “The Perception of Turkey in the Middle East,” conducted by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung foundation, Turkey’s popularity on the Arab Street fell to 69 percent this year from 78 percent in 2011 (based on interviews with 2,800 people in 16 countries).
A year and a half after start of the Syrian Spring, the entire world is still struggling to identify who the Syrian people really are. They are, according to the neo-Ottoman Turks, the Syrian National Council (SNC). In the spring after the Syrian Spring, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu - and what this column called the “ironic Friends of Syria” - declared the SNC to be the sole representative of the Syrian people. As we are half a year away from the second spring after the original Syrian Spring, the biggest friend among Friends of Syria, the United States, has changed course. Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the SNC cannot anymore be considered as the leader of the opposition.” Does Mr. Davutoğlu have any idea why his American counterpart has disowned a troupe he himself so heartily owns?
The Friends of Syria will now be looking for the “Syrian people” at a new gathering in Doha, instead of Ankara or Istanbul. Is it not amazing that the world’s greatest powers, now joined in by the soon-to-become superpower Turkey, cannot identify a group of over 20 million people?
The TESEV study can give a hint about where such a populous group may be hiding from the attention of the international community. According to that survey, 66 percent of Middle Easterners polled believe: a) Turkey has made a positive contribution to peace in the Middle East, and b) Turkey should play a bigger role in the region.
However, that ratio was a much tinier 39 percent in Syria. Should that number not have been much higher if the Syrian people were the Syrian people Ankara and the ironic Friends of Syria claim are the Syrian people? Why did the pro-government media jump on this research as substantial evidence of Turkey’s growing regional clout, but preferred to ignore one particular finding mentioning a puzzling “39 percent?”
Apparently, from a Turkish point of view, the real Syrian people are that 39 percent. But what about the 61 percent? Who are they? Terrorists disguised as Syrians? Bolivians? Martians? Who are the Syrians? Those who kill in the name of a brutal dictator, or those who kill in the name of Sunni supremacy?
We outsiders are finding it increasingly difficult to locate you, dear Syrian people. Will you please stand up and make yourselves visible?