A stroll down the Arab Street

A stroll down the Arab Street

Why, really, has Ankara put in so much time, resources and energy to toppling a neighboring dictator after befriending that same dictator for several years?

a) For purely humanitarian reasons, because that dictator had begun to kill his own people.

b) Because Ankara was given a subcontract from the Big Powers to topple the dictator.

c) Because Ankara wholeheartedly believes in the supremacy of (preferably Turkish-led) Sunni-ism in the Middle East.

d) a, b, and c

e) a, b, and c, plus delusions of neo-Ottoman grandeur.

Until recently, the government (and pro-government media/pundits) line would mark (a) as the correct answer. But, in a televised interview, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu himself offered an (f), which is most probably only one ingredient in a more correct (and more complex) answer.

Minister Davutoğlu’s (f), in his wording, is: “Had we not sided with the Syrian people, how would we have taken to the Arab Street?” Now, that’s something new. Until recently, the minister said that we all (well, not all of us) thought that the Syrian civil war had merely enlivened the noble Turkish spirit to side with the underdog.

But now we see that the Turks were in fact only siding with a bizarre mix of al-Qaeda men, a willing lynch mob, and Sunni supremacists under a holy umbrella, in order to take a stroll down the Arab Street. I am confident that Minister Davutoğlu was speaking from his heart when he acknowledged that.

But in democracies, we journalists should have a right to ask why it was so good for Turkey to take that stroll down the Arab Street. What makes a walk on the Arab Street so precious, worth all the effort and risk of confronting not only the Dictator of Damascus but also Iran, Iraq (Baghdad), Russia, and China, somehow subtly combined? What do we expect to gain from a stroll down the Arab Street? Why the Arab Street and not any other street? Mind you, not all of our neighbors are Arabs, if the answer to the preceding question is “because Arabs are our neighbors.”

Minister Davutoğlu’s fresh explanation for the all-out (non-conventional) war against Syria (and Iran, Iraq, Russia, and China) also coyly explains why Ankara chose to fight a cold (but loud) war against Israel: A free ticket for a stroll down the Arab Street. It worked, initially, for instance on the anti-Zionist but strictly Shiite streets of Lebanon. That, too, was the Arab Street, until Mr. Davutoğlu had to learn that there is no homogenous Arab Street.

Zionist-bashing did not give us a free ride on the Arab Street, so we have had to chose which direction to take at a junction we had not anticipated: the Shiite Arab Street or the Sunni Arab Street? Naturally, we have chosen the latter, not knowing whether fighting Bashar al-Assad would give us a free ticket for a stroll, or for how long that free ticket would be valid. Until we have to choose between the Wahhabi Arab Street, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Arab Street, the Salafi Arab Street, or the Arab Street of our choice: the Arab Street that leads to a glorious Ottoman past.

The disturbing question will remain there. How much more shall we have to pay for each choice of new direction that Minister Davutoğlu thinks is the way of the Arab Street, but which is in fact just a long avenue with endless junctions?

What else did Minister Davutoğlu say in that interview? He said the Syrian regime’s legitimacy was based on people’s fear. Why, then, Minister, did you become that illegitimate regime’s buddies, knowing that this illegitimacy was based on people’s fear?

I think the unconvincing old argument that Ankara was siding with the bizarre mix of Sunni jihadists for humanitarian reasons was nicer. The new argument that we are fighting the Dictator of Damascus to win a free ticket for a stroll down the Arab Street may well be more honest, but it is less rational.