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BURAK BEKDİL > The Shanghai Seven?

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Once again, Turkey looks “directionless.” As usual, “a bit of everything” ideology leaves the Crescent and Star in the dark.

The bitter truth is that Turkey is too oriental for the European Union, too non-Arab for the Arab League, too non-African for the African Union, too irrelevant for ASEAN and the Union of South American Nations and too western for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was perfectly right when he said that “[the SCO] is bigger than the EU in population. And [with membership in the SCO] we shall have a chance to get together with the countries with which we share common values.” That was a follow-up on his January remark that “the West does not want a powerful Turkey,” and a November speech in Cairo that “all the West wants is to tear the Islamic world to pieces.”

It is no coincidence that a public opinion survey a few years earlier revealed that only a third of Turks believed they shared common values with the Europeans (the most recent poll puts the percentage of pro-EU Turks at 30 percent).

As columnist Robert Ellis often remarks, at a meeting of the Istanbul Forum in October, Mr. Erdoğan’s chief adviser, İbrahim Kalın, spoke of the growing gap between Islamic and Western notions of what constitutes sacred and religious rights, as well as freedom of expression, and concluded that “the European model of secular democracy, politics and pluralism seems to have little traction in the Arab and larger Muslim world [including Turkey].”

There is more than enough evidence to suggest that in Mr. Erdoğan’s ideal Turkey, the key parameters are economic and military might, as well as regional leadership and size – not pluralism, democracy and civil liberties mixed with economic and military might and regional leadership. So, his courtship with the idea of SCO membership is not just rhetoric aimed at grabbing the EU’s attention in terms of accession talks. And of course Mr. Erdoğan’s Turkey shares more common values with SCO member states – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – than with EU member states.

Freedom House’s Map of Freedom 2013 shows all SCO members, except Kyrgyzstan, in purple, which stands for “not free.” Kyrgyzstan, like Turkey, is yellow, which indicates “partly free.”

It is not a coincidence, either, that Turkey, a dialogue partner in the SCO, shares common values with the two other dialogue partners, Sri Lanka and Belarus. These values are a decades-long civil war (as in the case of Sri Lanka) and an inherent contempt for civil liberties and pluralism (as in the case of Belarus. See “Minsk criteria for Turkey” in this column, March 21, 2012).

So, the Turkish membership in SCO would be a marriage made in heaven. All the same, although Turkey perfectly fulfills membership criteria in terms of democratic culture and freedoms, it may have to wait for another half-century for SCO membership, after having spent half a century in the EU queue, since the last member SCO heavyweights would wish to see is a country that champions Sunni Islamism.

Too bad, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s efforts to mastermind a “Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Union” were derailed after “the man who made tomorrow” failed to foresee that spring could also blossom on the Arab Street.

But it’s not too late. Just like its leaders have decided – only to feel imperial again – to build Turkey’s own “national” missile, fighter jet, tank, helicopter, warship, credit rating agency, hybrid car, tram, space program, cartoon character and, believe it or not, “national Turkish potato,” Turkey can always launch its own pact in which, naturally, half the envious world will queue up to become members: the Turkish Islamic Union!

The idea belongs to Ceylan Özbudak, a keen follower of the controversial (and often amusing) Islamic leader Adnan Oktar: “We believe that [world peace] can only be achieved through a Turkish Islamic Union, where all the countries will be independent in their states, but they will be under one roof, and Turkey will be the spiritual leader of this Turkish Islamic Union.”

Good luck ladies and gentlemen, and sweet dreams…

February/08/2013

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