Over the weekend, some began to realize that Turkey and its newly prominent international standing, particularly as an assertive regional power, is causing feelings of worry, resentment, and rivalry—and not just in Israel and the United States, where you would expect it.
Seemingly every day since it vocally praised (and tacitly supported) the flotilla, Turkey has been seen to be displacing several Arab states (especially Egypt) and Iran as the prime advocate for Palestinian rights. To take one example: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently endorsed a plan that would see Turkey supervising Gaza crossings as part of a deal that would lift the blockade.
Two authors argue that the Arab countries and Iran have noticed: “You can get a sense of just how attractive Turkey’s leadership is among the Arab masses,” they write, “by reading the flood of recent negative articles about Ankara in the government-owned newspapers of the Arab states.” Last week, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, responded to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s newly vocal anti-Israel rhetoric with his own vociferously anti-Israel speech … which you probably didn’t notice, because everyone is so focused on Turkey right now. (The authors assert that Turkey’s supplanting of Iran could actually redound to America’s benefit. Go figure.)
Adds another author: “Despite the seemingly close relations between the two, there are people in Iran who view Turkey with suspicion. Turkey may be a friend of today, but to the Islamic Republic, it’s the rival of tomorrow.”
(The reality check to keep in mind is that Turkey was just one of only two countries to vote against the U.S.-backed Iran sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, which certainly in effect is the act of a friend.)
Meanwhile, famed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman would not be Thomas Friedman if he did not come along to tell us that Turkey is here to stay as a fairly major power due to a decade of globalization-enhanced economic growth, and, well, here he is doing just that. But it’s true: Turkey’s economy grew at a comparatively blistering rate of just under seven percent last year.
Friedman also would not be Friedman if he did not assure us that Turkey’s economic growth will trump more tribal-type concerns, like anti-Zionism, and ensure the eventual victory of benevolent, pro-American democracy. But again, in this case he appears to have a point: He notes—and I noted this last week, too—that Erdogan’s officially Islamic Justice and Development Party has been losing ground to the opposition, secular Republican People’s Party. Of course, Erdogan’s domestic electoral problems cut both ways: They are probably a prime motivator of his newly ambitious foreign policy.
That policy came under attack late last week from a group of former Turkish diplomats—the country’s éminences grises, basically. “Those who claim to know history well need to remember the misfortunes brought to our country because of adventurous and imaginative cheap hopes,“ they argued, adding, seemingly in reference to the nine deaths aboard the flotilla, “The penalty for such free heroic acts being paid with the lives of our innocent people is a source of distress.”
And Erdogan continues to try to solidify his power. A bill recently made it out of committee and will soon be voted on by the full parliament to allow the prime minister—that would be Erdogan—to run for the presidency without resigning the ministership. If Friedman is right, Turkey’s silent democratic majority may have something to say about that.