Will the West accept AKP-like governments in the region?
During the weekend, there was a Chatham House meeting in Istanbul, Chatham House being the top think tank in Europe. Suzan Sabancı hosted it with Vodafone’s sponsorship.
Developments in Syria, Egypt, experiences of the Arab Spring and Turkey were discussed at the meeting.
The Istanbul roundtable meeting was also attended by President Abdullah Gül and EU Minister Egemen Bağış; all eyes were on Turkey. Our intervention and developments in Syria, whether Turkey would fill the gap that is to appear after the United States withdraws from Iraq and how much political parties that would become the ruling parties after democracy comes to Arab countries would resemble the Justice and Development Party (AKP) were all discussed in detail.
The concern of the West is that the newcomers would adopt a tough Islamic stance instead of resembling the AKP. It is being questioned whether the West, in particular the duo of the U.S. and Israel, as in the example of Hamas, would react to this. It is being said that in such a case there might be a return to the military regime and dictatorship eras and that the real hell would break loose then.
President Gül delivered a very open and a generally very discreet speech. He explained Turkey’s vision of the region, how far it can go to make the Assad regime fall, how much it believes and trusts Iran, its question marks and whether it would take the role of filling in the gap to be left after the U.S. withdraws from the region. A very stimulating question and answer section was experienced.
Egemen Bağış answered questions from participants with witty and humorous replies as always.
Participants learned a lot from those two officials and from Turkish and British experts. Unfortunately, Chatham House rules (That is, “who said what” was not to be written) were valid. Because of this, I cannot give you any more details. But I can say this: There are so many unknown (political and economic) elements; Turkey seems to be the strongest and the most stable country in the region.
Applauses and freedoms
We came across the same situation also in the Chatham House meeting. Just as we listened to the same criticisms in the European Parliament, just as we were both applauded and criticized harshly in the international press; we listened to the same words here.
Foreign experts explained with such praise and expectations how predominant Turkey was, the role it plays in the Middle East and the significance of it in relation to the Western world that I as a participant cheered up.
Eventually the topic shifted to journalists in jail, the abnormalities in arrest and detention periods and the oddities in our justice system and my balloon collapsed. Because all the critics were right. As a matter of fact, they also indicated they cannot understand this chaos that is exporting democracy to the Middle East.
Weirdly enough, outstanding names within the ruling party also cannot come to term with this irregularity. They openly talk about it in their private conversations. They accept that even changing three or four laws would pave the way to eliminate this shame.
Somehow, the prime minister does not give any signal to act on that direction.
Manager of the Chatham House Turkey project Fadi Hakura’s briefing paper was interesting because it showed the other side of the medallion. Hakura pointed out it was difficult for Turkey to be a role model for Arab countries because of several problems: the ongoing Kurdish issue, its semi-secular democratic system and the situation of the minorities and also its search for a new policy while coming up short of being a playmaker and a reference country