Two roads diverged in Arab transformations
I remembered the famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” while listening to M. Marzouki in Ankara the other day. The poem reads, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--/ I took the one less travelled by / And that has made all the difference.” It is the difference between Spring and Fall when it comes to Arab transformations. Marzouki noted that the Arab Spring could still turn to Arab Fall in Ankara. So two roads diverged, not in a yellow wood, but in the Arab transformations.
That is the base line of what is happening in our neighborhood nowadays. One road is well trodden; the other has not ever been taken before. Not ever taken before in the Arab world, I dare say. It is sectarianization or democratization, one based on religion the other on secular values. One is about dividing into homogeneous communities; the other is about having a heterogeneous society. That is what the new democratically elected Arab rulers are going to decide now. They will either choose the well-trodden sectarian path or the less travelled democratic development path. Every revolution comes to a crossroads eventually. This is the crossroads of the Arab Spring.
Turkey is for democratization, not sectarianization in the region. Iran on the other hand, is for sectarianization and against democratization. Democratization brings stability to the region while sectarianization destabilizes it. While stability is good for Turkey, it is bad for Iran. Countries that have industrial things to sell thrive in stability. Two countries in our region – Israel and Turkey – have industrial economies. Iran has only its ideology to export. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are in a similar position. Iran represents the Shia faction, which is very active on the sectarianization front lately with the Syrian crisis. The Salafists have their sponsors in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey is a country with Sunni majority, both Hanefi and Shafi. With Egypt around however, Turkey cannot claim to lead the Sunnis. The al-Azhar complex in Cairo, the bastion of Sunni orthodoxy, was established around the 8th century, about a century earlier than Oxford University’s All Souls College. We have no equivalent in Anatolia. The only idea left for Turkey to defend in the region is that of a harmony in diversity – the idea that all religions, sects and ethnicities can live together side by side. Heterogeneity and secularization: That is what constitutional government and democratization is about.
When the Syrian crisis started, an early worry for us in Ankara was how the containers loaded with Turkish industrial products would travel to the Gulf. A very worldly worry, you may say. People were suffering after all. Yet that is what still concerns us the most about Syria. In a neighborhood with non-market economies, we wanted to be on good terms with capitals. That is what “zero problems” policy should mean – to eliminate political differences so that the physical barriers remain open. Now with turmoil in capitals and increasingly messy transitions, the Turkish concern remains the same. It’s about the flow of containers.