Arabs want to see a modern Turkey

Arabs want to see a modern Turkey

The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) released the results of a survey yesterday in Istanbul, about how Turkey was perceived across the Middle East and North Africa. The survey was carried out between Oct. 19 and Dec. 15, 2011 among 2,323 people in 16 countries, namely Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Yemen and Libya.

In fashionable terminology, it would not be wrong to call the survey: “How Turkey was perceived in the Arab world in the Arab Spring season.”

The survey reveals that Turkey is the most popular country in the eyes of 78 percent of the region. It is interesting to see Turkey - as the most secular and modernist country of the region - followed by Saudi Arabia (seen as positive by 64 percent), which is the most conservative country under the strict religious rule of Sharia.

When it comes to the question why Turkey is so popular, the answers reveal more interesting details. The Muslim identity of Turkey is the third most important factor, considered so by 23 percent; however the two most important factors are its democratic rule (by 32 percent), and its working economy (by 25 percent).

That explains why the Turkish President was subject to questions about Turkish TV serials by the leaders of United Arab Emirates earlier this week during his visit. As he was trying to tell them about the strength of Turkish banks in order to attract more investment, his counterparts wanted to know how the serials would end, because their wives watching the series’ at home were wondering - as if Gül would know about this in advance.

Turkish soap operas are so favorable in the world of the Arab Spring because they show that to live a modern and open life in a modern society is possible. They tell stories about Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya. They tell the stories of ordinary Turkish people who can go to Friday prayers and observe their religion freely - like people in Cairo, Baghdad and Tehran – but they can also get social, with men and women together, dancing, falling in love, flirting and even drinking alcohol from time to time.

That is why Turkish soap operas are considered a social catalyst, whereas Al-Jazeera is considered the political catalyst in the media dimension of the Arab Spring.

Turkish soap operas give messages of hope that a modern political, social and economic life can be lived by Turks, as well as by Arab viewers. It is a message of hope.

It is a more modern Turkey that is eyed by the Arab street at this time of the Arab Spring, not a more conservative Turkey.

Therefore, strengthening Turkish democracy, rights and freedoms could expose Turkey even more as an example for the modernization of political life in this troubled region.

There are lessons in the TESEV survey for all governments in the region, for the good of all the people of the region.

TESEV, Middle East, North Africa