TESEV survey produces curious results

TESEV survey produces curious results

The latest survey by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) on perceptions of Turkey in the Middle East has produced some interesting results which reveal a mixed and in some respects confused picture. 

According to the survey, conducted in 16 countries where 3000 people were canvassed by phone, Turkey is not the most popular country in the region anymore, compared to the level that it was during 2011-2012. The good news however is that Turkey is still in 3rd position in this regard following the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. 

Egypt and Syria stand out as the countries where positive Turkey-related perceptions registered the sharpest decline during 2012-2013. One does not need to be a political scientist to understand why. Those who had a positive view of Turkey in Egypt stood at 86 percent in 2011 and 84 percent in 2012. This has now dropped to 38 percent. 

In Syria, on the other hand, only 22 percent have a positive view of Turkey, dropping from 44 percent in 2011, and 28 percent in 2012. These are curious results given that Ankara has been supporting the country’s Sunni-majority in their fight against Bashar al-Assad. One would have thought therefore that positive perceptions of Turkey would be higher. 

The same applies for Egypt where Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to be a strong supporter of ousted President Mohammed Mursi and the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government. This means that the Muslim Brotherhood is either not as strong as some believe, or many Egyptians have turned against Turkey for one reason or another. 

The response to another question in the survey shows that the percentage of those who believe Turkey is pursing sectarian-based policies in the region is also on the rise, going up from 28 percent in 2012 to 39 percent now. Given the large Shiite population in the Middle East, and the sectarian divisions that the Syrian crisis has stoked, it is surprising that this figure is not higher.

Notwithstanding all of this, however, of those questioned across the Middle East, 51 percent still said Turkey was a model country. When asked why most pointed to its economy and democratic regime.
Meanwhile 71 percent said they had followed the Gezi Park protests closely, and 50 percent said these would make a positive contribution to democracy. 

The survey also shows that 60 percent supported a greater role for Turkey in the Middle East. Looking at these figures it is clear that Turkey is more popular when it is not considered to be meddling in the domestic affairs of the country involved. If this were not the case one assumes its popularity in Egypt and Syria would be higher.

In countries where it is not considered to be meddling in domestic affairs, however, it is obviously Turkey’s relatively modern outlook - with its liberal economy and democratic system – that remains attractive. If the continuing interest in Turkish TV soaps is also factored in, it is clear that many consider Turkish lifestyles to be desirable too.

On the other hand 76 percent of those surveyed said that the law should get its legitimacy from religion, meaning Islam of course. This figure is said to be over 85 percent in Yemen, Libya and Saudi Arabia. The law in Turkey, however, is based on the secular understanding of the world and not the Sharia.

If, therefore, 51 percent of those surveyed consider Turkey to be a model country due to the relative success of to its economy and democratic system, they are overlooking the vital role its secular legal system has played in this regard. This is either a case of not knowing what real democracy is, or having a purely subjective understanding of democracy based on religion. 

Islam however has yet to prove that it is compatible with the modern understanding of democracy, and looking at this aspect of the TESEV survey it appears minds in the Middle East are still confused when it comes to seminal issues.