As old regimes in the Arab world dissolve, a new voice is asserting itself on contentious regional issues. Now the world’s 15th largest economy, Turkey is quickly becoming a powerful voice in Middle Eastern politics.
To address the changing political landscape of northern Africa and the Middle East, the Sanford School of Public Policy held a discussion Tuesday with two journalists who follow Middle Eastern politics, focusing especially on Turkey and Israel. In a panel titled “Israel-Turkey and the Greater Middle East,” Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, and Semih Idiz, a Turkish columnist and international television commentator, each gave speeches and answered questions on the recent developments in the two countries and changes to their relationship.
The democracy that Turkey has nurtured has not gone unnoticed by countries like Egypt, Idiz said. Egypt is watching Turkey, which has shown that democracy and Islam are not entirely incompatible.
“How can a 99 percent Muslim country attain a level of advancement and democracy and actually be part of the developing new world where it is increasingly influential?” Idiz said.
Idiz noted that there is significant talk about a Turkish model of democracy and whether it can be replicated in other Muslim countries like Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. He said there is an ongoing debate over the extent to which the nation’s democracy can be used as a template for other governments. Idiz personally believes that Turkey as a model for democracy has at times been misinterpreted.
“It was a model that did not emerge overnight. It emerged as a result of what I call the school of hard knocks,” he said. “If there is anything in the Turkish model argument, it shows that this is not an easy path for these countries to follow.”
Beyond addressing the idea that Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive concepts, Bronner and Idiz both mentioned the increasingly complex relationship between Turkey and Israel.
In May, the relationship between the two countries was strained after Israel raided an aid ship headed to Gaza, killing nine people in the process, many of whom were Turks. Bronner also noted that Israel perceives “the niceness” Turkey is showing toward Iran as undermining the economic sanctions that Israel and the United States believe could be effective.
Idiz said the two countries previously had a relationship that was “sustained through thick and thin” but “recently went sour.” Both speakers were disheartened with the prospect of future relations between the two countries.
“The first thing to say of course, is that the state of Israeli-Turkey relations as they are today means that something is out of joint,” Idiz said.