Change in the Middle East Puts Turkey in the Eye of the Storm

By James M. Dorsey

A wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa that has already toppled two longstanding, authoritarian Arab rulers, shines a spotlight on Turkey in both favorable and challenging ways.

Turkey’s success as the region’s most democratic state and largest, most diversified economy looms large as Egyptians and Tunisians seek to forge a new future and Algerians, Libyans, Sudanese, Yemenis and Jordanians struggle to ensure that they too will have an opportunity to determine their own course. This unprecedented Arab display of street power puts Turkish aspirations of being a model of development for the Muslim world to the test.

Debate over whether Turkey can serve as a model is no longer restricted to intellectual circles in Western as well as Middle Eastern capitals and policy and opinion makers in Washington, EU capitals and Ankara. It now takes place on the streets and in the parlors of Cairo, Tunis, Algiers, Sana’a, Amman, Manama and Tripoli where change is tangibly being affected. A recent TESEV (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation) survey showed that 75 percent of Arab respondents considered Turkey a successful example of coexistence between Islam and democracy and favored a greater Turkish role in the region.

Turkish achievements in terms of democratization, putting its foot in the door of EU membership, electing in more than one poll a political party with roots in Islamist politics in a dogmatically secular political structure, building infrastructure, and liberalizing the economy are not lost on those who draw inspiration from the descendants of the Ottomans who once ruled them. But so is the pro-longed struggle that brought Turkey to where it is today as well as the warts –including efforts to restrain freedom of the Internet and the press as well as adoption of socially more conservative mores in government-owned establishments and yet unfulfilled recognition of minority rights– that have cast a shadow over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tenure and the state of Turkish democracy.

While Erdoğan’s support for regime change will stick in the minds of Egyptians and Tunisians, so will Iranians remember his failure to support the Green Movement when activists protested in 2009 against allegedly fraudulent elections that returned President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to office. Similarly, many Sudanese, and particularly those in newly independent, oil-rich South Sudan are unlikely to forget Erdoğan’s embrace of wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Nonetheless, in a world where popular revolt is more likely to produce more populist rather than truly democratic rule, the very things about Turkish foreign policy that have  conservative Western foreign policy analysts worried are the ones that resonate on Arab streets and that have substantially raised Turkey’s profile in Middle Eastern public opinion, Israel excepted. Turkey’s increasingly strained relations with Israel, emotional support for the Palestinians, expansion of diplomatic and economic focus to include the Middle East and its ability to balance NATO membership with a more independent foreign policy –as expressed for example in its failed Iran initiative in cooperation with Brazil– strokes with the foreign policy aspirations of mainstream Arab public opinion.

The absence of burning U.S. flags and Islamist slogans in Arab streets has come as a relief to Western policy makers and analysts. Overlooked is the fact that at prayer time, approximately one third of Cairo’s Tahrir Square bowed in the direction of Mecca, not as a political statement but in individual religious observance. In a traditionally conservative, authoritarian ruled part of the world where for much of its modern history the mosque and the soccer pitch served as release valves for pent-up and anger and frustration, Turkey’s marriage of a secular state with a vibrant economy governed by a moderate Islamist party is what cements its appeal. That appeal is bolstered by popular consumer goods sold across the region and television sitcoms that push moral boundaries.

It is also boosted by a perception that Turkey under the AKP and a Middle East emerging from the assertion of popular will on the streets of Arab capitals are giving the death knell to competing ideologies –Kemalism and Islamism– that have proven incapable of catering to 21st century needs. The AKP’s rise to power has deprived Kemalism of its monopoly as a roadmap toward modernity even if the party has yet to convince many that it can embrace those that were excluded by Kemalism such as the Kurds, Alawites and the staunch secularists. By the same token, Islamism has been forced to cede its monopoly on religion even if the West mistakes demands such as a woman’s right to wear headscarf in universities as an assertion of political Islam. Those demands for the right of religious expression in public are couched in terms of human rights rather than religious hegemony. The discarding of ideological straightjackets gives Turkey a significant common denominator with emerging Arab forces. It has also allowed Turkey to establish itself as a point of reference for Islamist and non-Islamist centrist forces in the region. Tunisian Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who recently returned from 22 years in exile, and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, have said they would like to see their countries emulate Turkey. Yet, the limitations of Turkey as a model are likely to emerge as more open political systems develop in Egypt and Tunisia. Those limitations are evident in differences between Turkey’s strictly secular vocabulary and religious terms that shape moderate Islamist discourse as well as its ban on the wearing of headscarves in universities and parliament, and criticism that the AKP has replaced military authoritarianism with civilian authoritarianism.

Contributing to Turkey’s rise is a fundamental change in Turkish perceptions of the Middle East. As Turkey strived for much of its post-World War II history to be identified as European, Turks looked down on those they once ruled as the dominant colonial power. Perceptions of sustained European rejection of Turkey coupled with the country’s assertion of its diplomatic and economic weight across the region and an increased interest in its Ottoman past have changed those attitudes towards Arabs who now are important markets and customers receptive to what Turkey has to offer politically, diplomatically, economically, and culturally. The sense of European rejection of Turkey because it is a predominantly Muslim nation has also garnered it Middle Eastern and North African empathy. Comparisons in economic performance leave no doubt why many Arabs look to Turkey for inspiration: under Erdoğan, average annual incomes in Turkey rose from 3,500 dollars to above 10,000 dollars. Egypt’s per capita GDP of 2,160 dollars increased five dollars over the past two decades, according to IMF data.

Turkey’s newly-found recognition as a modern day regional power capable of flexing its muscles and asserting its influence is in no small measure the result of a level of engagement with the Middle East and North Africa not seen in Turkey since the days of the Ottoman Empire. In doing so, it has benefited from being the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. Where Arab leaders have been reactive, be it to the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Iranian nuclear crisis or the assertion of popular will, Turkey has garnered popularity by being proactive.

As a result, Turkey has created the building blocks needed to position itself as the bridge between East and West that it unsuccessfully asserted to be in the past. Accordingly, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to acknowledge as much by phoning Erdoğan twice in the six days prior to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak being pushed out of office. Yet, Turkey’s successful projection of itself as a bridge is likely to increase the pressure on it to iron out its warts as well as to make a clear cut choice rather than picking and choosing between support of some assertions of popular will while effectively endorsing authoritarian rule elsewhere.

Post-Mubarak Egypt poses a particular challenge to Turkey, testing its commitment to change in the region. Erdoğan was one of the first leaders to openly call on Mubarak to resign in unambiguous terms in a speech that was broadcast on Arab TV and aired in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. His speech represented a break with his foreign policy based on what his foreign minister describes as “zero problems with neighbors” that until then steered clear of democracy and human rights issues in favor of pragmatism and trade deals. To Erdoğan and the Egyptian military, the Turkish model means different things. The Egyptian military, which has effectively ruled Egypt for 60 years, most likely sees Turkey as a model of modernization and economic liberalization controlled by military tutelage that safeguards its political and economic privileges and ensures that Egypt continues to steer a pro-Western course. With other words, the Egyptian military endorses the very model that the AKP has been seeking to modify since its rise to power. If analysis of the Turkish model shows anything, it portrays it as a model of progress in democratization achieved in opposition to rather than driven by the military. Egyptians for now appear to put their faith in the military leading their country within six months to democracy. The lurking schism between the military’s objectives and popular aspirations is likely to emerge sooner rather than later as it increasingly becomes clear that the military will seek to retain as much of the old structure as possible repackaged with elections and greater freedoms to ensure that it is domestically and internationally palatable.

The Egyptian military’s interpretation of the Turkish model is that which pro-Israeli forces as well as AKP critics are advocating, in a bid to curb the influence of the country’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. “Should Egypt’s transition to democracy follow Turkey’s model, the military would take over the presidency and a civilian national unity government that shares power with the military would form. Mirroring Turkey’s constitutional reform process, Egypt would draft a new constitution and prepare the groundwork for free and fair elections,” says Soner Çağaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It is an approach that ultimately prolonged and complicated rather than accelerated Turkey’s moves towards greater democracy and would likely be perceived by many in the Middle East as an effort to stymie Arab efforts to shape their own future and formulate a foreign policy of their own. The Turkish government has so far remained silent on which stage of development of its model it hopes Egypt will look to for inspiration.

Overall, a comparison of what shaped Turkey’s development of its model with circumstances elsewhere in the region does not bode well for Egypt and others in the Middle East. For much of their post-World War II history, Turks have insisted that they needed the straightjacket of association with the EU to achieve political and economic reform. Neither Egypt nor others in the Middle East have a straightjacket to keep them on the right path. Ironically, Turkey’s increasingly chilly relations with the EU fueled by Turkish frustration at perceived European attempts to keep it at arm’s length may well have allowed Erdoğan to get away with his more authoritarian tendencies.

Turkey’s straddling of the democracy fence could also be put to the test if popular protests spread to the oil-rich Gulf, geopolitically a strategic region ruled by authoritarian families that see their countries as fiefdoms, but constitute important Turkish markets and sources of investment. While mass demonstrations in most of the Gulf states are unlikely, discontent in the region is bubbling under the surface. As a country in which a Sunni minority rules a disaffected Shiite majority, Bahrain has already experienced the democracy contagion. Opposition forces in Kuwait are gearing up to take to the streets despite government efforts to buy off protesters with cash handouts. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia’s dismal soccer performance in the Asian Cup, unemployment, floods in Jeddah that killed at least four people and the granting of asylum to the ousted Tunisian leader have sparked protests and criticism on newspaper op-ed pages as well as on blogs and in Internet chat rooms.

Turkish policy decisions will have much to offer the United States, Europe and Israel as the West and Israel seek to come to grips with a Middle East that irrespective of its form of government will be far more responsive to public opinion than close allies were in the past. As a result, they will adopt policies that are more in line with Turkish foreign policy, including withdrawal of Arab, and particularly Egyptian, support of the blockade of Gaza and closer relations with countries viewed as hostile by the West and Israel such as Syria and Iran. To a degree, the West has had a first taste of that in its dealings with the Erdoğan government. A changing Middle East, however, turns a Turkey whose foreign policy initially sparked discussion about how Turkey was lost to the West, into an asset with favorable access in the region that understands how to maneuver and can help the United States and Europe safeguard and further their interests.

The wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world offers Turkey opportunities to enhance its position as a regional model of development but also poses spotlights contradictions in its foreign policy and shortcomings of its democracy. For the first time in its history, Turkey is emerging as a true bridge between East and West. Change in Egypt and Tunisia and unrest elsewhere in the region however puts Turkish aspirations and its ability to live up to expectations to the test.

James M Dorsey is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, a freelance journalist, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. The views expressed herein are his own.

This article was published for Turkish Policy Quarterly.

Arabs Look to Istanbul

For internal circulation

8 November 2010

 By Rainer Hermann


Turkey is not wavering in the slightest from its pro-European course. Nevertheless, as a trading nation with a dynamic economy that is the living proof of the fact that Islam, a secular political landscape and a parliamentary democracy are indeed compatible, it has in recent times rediscovered its Arab neighbours.
There was one good thing about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Lebanon: although it increased tension prior to the publication of the indictment by the special international tribunal into the murder of Rafiq Hariri, it also demonstrated that in the Arab world, Iran can now really only be sure of the support of Shiites. In Beirut and during his trip to South Lebanon, Ahmadinejad was almost exclusively cheered on by Shiites; Sunni Muslims in the Arab world, on the other hand, viewed his visit to Lebanon with considerable disquiet.

There are many reasons why Iran’s influence in the Arab world has passed its zenith. One of them is the circumstances that surrounded Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June 2009 and the bloody crackdown on protests. Another is the growing influence of Turkey.

Last July, Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research discovered that 43 percent of all Palestinians consider Turkey to be their most important foreign policy ally, ahead of Egypt at 13 percent and Iran at only 6 percent. Support for Turkey in the West Bank and in Gaza is virtually the same.

In Lebanon, Ahmadinejad did not succeed in reversing this trend. Shortly before his arrival in Beirut, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was back in Damascus for another meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. In the race for the post of prime minister in Iraq, both these men support the secular Shiite Iyad Allawi, while the powers that be in Iran prefer Nouri Maliki.

In addition to the matter of Iran, Erdogan and Assad spoke about opportunities for reviving the peace process. Assad made it clear that indirect talks with Israel could only be restarted if Turkey were to act as mediator.

Turkey is a “success story” in the Middle East

Up until ten years ago, Turkey was not a player in the Middle East, despite the fact that it shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. It was a quiet neighbour. Today, the state that succeeded the Ottoman Empire is a popular go-between and trading partner. For the states and societies of the Middle East, Turkey – with its dynamic economy and practical evidence that Islam, a secular political landscape and parliamentary democracy are indeed compatible – is a “success story”; it has become a “soft power”.

There are heated debates in the West as to whether Turkey is currently just rediscovering the Middle East or whether it is actually returning to it and – if this is indeed the case – whether it is abandoning its foreign policy orientation towards the West. These questions were recently addressed at a conference in Istanbul organised by the Sabanci University, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the Robert Bosch Foundation.

One of the conclusions reached at the event was that although Turkey has adopted a new, active foreign policy, it has not abandoned its pro-European, pro-Western course. Nor has it shifted the main lines of its foreign policy. The policy of opening up towards its neighbours in the Middle East is much more a matter of diversifying its diplomacy and increasing prosperity in Turkey by tapping into new sales markets.

Foreign policy in the service of trading interests

Turkey’s former foreign policy was based on security considerations and the priority of territorial integrity. Its new foreign policy, on the other hand, is in the service of Turkey the trading nation and seeks to guarantee security and safeguard borders by increasing prosperity. Sükrü Elekdag, one of the best-known ambassadors in the country’s old diplomatic guard, often liked to say that Turkey always had to be ready for “two-and-a-half wars”, i.e. wars against Greece, Syria and the PKK.

In sharp contrast to this, Turkey’s current foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has formulated a “policy of no problems” towards all neighbours, the aim of which is to maximize cross-border trade. With the exception of Armenia, this policy has worked so far. Turkish foreign policy is more than just classic diplomacy, it is trade policy. It is above all Turkey’s new, up-and-coming middle class – the backbone of the ruling AKP – that is benefitting from the new, economy-based foreign policy of Turkey the trading nation.

The industrial cities of Anatolia, which have been dubbed the “Anatolian tigers”, are eyeing as yet unexploited market opportunities in neighbouring countries. While their entrepreneurs are also trading with Europe, they are increasingly focussing their efforts on the Middle East because of Europe’s restrictive Schengen visa policy, which also hits entrepreneurs and investors. This is why they support the visa-free zone which Turkey has established with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

One of the success stories of Turkey’s new foreign policy is Syria. In 1998, the two neighbours stood on the brink of war. Today, their economic and political ties are close. The Turkish-Syrian rapprochement went hand in hand with a cooling of relations with Israel. This process had already begun under Erdogan’s predecessor, the left-wing nationalist Bülent Ecevit, who accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinians. That being said, Erdogan visited Israel as recently as 2005; two years later, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish parliament.

Turkey’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is very different to that of the EU. While both advocate a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a two-state solution, they are talking to different players. Turkey accuses European diplomacy of ignoring reality because it is only talking to Fatah and boycotting Hamas. The Turkish reasoning is that there cannot be a peaceful solution without the involvement of Hamas. This is why Turkey is trying to pull Hamas into the political “mainstream”.

The differences of opinion between Turkey and the West are particularly blatant when it comes to Iran. While the West is toughening its sanctions against Iran, Turkey is developing its trade with the Islamic Republic.

Last June, Turkey voted against harsher sanctions in the UN Security Council. Unlike the West, Turkey believes that the only way to normalise Iran is to normalise relations, which involves trade and diplomacy. Turkey is familiar with the kind of bazaar mentality that is needed for negotiations with Iran. For fear of destabilizing the region, neither the Ottoman Empire nor the Turkish Republic has ever supported rebellions in Iran. For centuries, the safeguarding of a regional balance of power has been more important than the pursuance of a foreign policy based on ideology. This is why Turkey’s sympathy with the dissident “green” movement is only modest.

Just like the EU, Turkey only plays a secondary role in the Middle East behind the United States. At the end of the Cold War, however, it correctly identified the shifting of the tectonic plates in world politics and now, as a modern, self-confident, trading nation, wants to grasp the opportunities that are arising. Turkey still has its sights set on Europe. But the door to Europe remains locked and so this newly self-confident nation is pursuing its own interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Rainer Hermann, Germany  Dialogue with the Islamic World    –  5 Nov 10





The Arabic word “qantara” means “bridge”. The Internet portal represents the concerted effort of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education), Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institut and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) to promote dialogue with the Islamic world. The project is funded by the German Foreign Office.

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung/ 2010

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Editor: Lewis Gropp/


The MEI does not necessarily endorse contents, or policies of the internet resources it extracts.

All Roads Lead to Istanbul

Turkey is more popular now than it has been since the Ottoman Empire. But can it please all of its new friends at the same time?




ANKARA, Turkey – It’s great to be Turkey just now. The economy, barely scathed by the global recession, grew 11.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, and 10.3 percent in the second.  Like the Ottoman Empire reborn, Turkey has sponsored a visa-free zone with Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and is moving toward creating a free trade zone as well. And Turkey is a force not just in its neighborhood but, increasingly, in the world. It’s the next president of the Council of Europe, an observer of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and a new friend of ASEAN and Mercosur. 


And the world is beating a path to its doorstep: When I was in Ankara this week, the Sudanese foreign minister was in town; the French, the Austrians, and the Poles had just visited. Senior Iraqi politicians were making regular pilgrimages. Turkey has become a net exporter of diplomatic services.


“For the first time,” says Selim Yenel, the highly Americanized deputy undersecretary of foreign affairs responsible for relations with Washington, “they’re asking us for advice.”


Like its fellow emerging powers Brazil and South Africa, Turkey was once a right-wing state that the West could safely pocket during the Cold War. And like these countries, the Turks now have the self-confidence to feel that they no longer need belong to anyone. Such states are now a force unto themselves, as Turkey and Brazil demonstrated — to Washington’s chagrin — when they reached a deal with Iran this past May to ensure that Tehran would not produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Intriguingly, Turkey, Brazil, and Nigeria currently serve on the U.N. Security Council, and South Africa and India will next year — a murderers’ row of emerging powers, and a glimpse of a post-hegemonic, polycentric world.


But diplomatically, Turkey matters more than the others do. Among them, only Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim and located in the Middle East, within hailing distance of practically every crisis zone on the planet. And thus the question of what kind of force Turkey will be matters more as well. Turkish diplomats, well aware that the eyes of the world are on them, are quick to give assurances that they are a liberal, secular, and, above all, responsible influence in their neighborhood and beyond.


The question arises, of course, because of the events of this past spring, when, in dismayingly rapid succession, Turkey delivered the unwanted gift of the Iranian deal and voted against a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution to impose sanctions on Iran — and then erupted in outrage when Israeli commandos, determined to stop a flotilla sailing from Turkey to Gaza, killed eight Turkish citizens in the course of a terribly botched operation. The accident of timing left the toxic impression that Turkey viewed Iran as a friend and Israel as an enemy. Turkey’s policy of “zero problems with neighbors” seemed to mean that it was prepared to alienate its old friends in the West in order to mollify countries in its own backyard, including the worst among them. The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman wrote that Turkey seems intent on “joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.”


I think that’s a bum rap. On Israel, virtually everyone I’ve spoken to here, including harsh critics of the ruling AKP, has said that popular opinion was so outraged by the event — the first time since the Ottomans, as one is constantly told, that Turkish civilians had ever been killed by a foreign army — that no government could have preserved its popular legitimacy without demanding an apology (though whether leading figures had to describe the incident as state terrorism is another matter). Turkey is still waiting for that apology. As for Iran, it’s clear that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his team really did believe that the West would welcome the deal they struck, by which Iran would agree to transfer 1,200 kilograms of uranium out of the country to be enriched for civilian purposes. The fact that they were wrong probably says as much about U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambivalence about engaging Iran as it does about Turkish tone-deafness or disingenuousness.   


Still, Turkish officials recognize that they’ve jeopardized their emerging brand identity and have some serious repair work to do. “We’ve got to find something flashy,” Yenel told me. Maybe Turkey could persuade Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier? (Good luck with that.) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has backed off on his apparent obsession with Gaza and Israel’s perfidy, and a U.N. investigative panel may deliver a definitive judgment on the flotilla incident in early 2011 (compelling an Israeli apology, Turkey hopes).


It’s a caricature to say that Turkey has chosen the Middle East, or Islam, over the West. Turkey’s aspiration for full membership in the club of the West, including the European Union, is still a driving force. But Turkey aspires to many things, and some may contradict each other. The country wants to be a regional power in a region deeply suspicious of the West, of Israel, and of the United States; a Sunni power acting as a broker for Sunnis in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere; a charter member of the new nexus of emerging powers around the world; and a dependable ally of the West. When Turkey is forced to choose among these roles, the neighborhood tends to win out, and that’s when you get votes against sanctions on Iran. At this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, for instance, Davutoglu has expressed skepticism about missile defense, because any such system would be aimed at countries like Iran and Syria, which Turkey declines to characterize as threats.


Turkish officials insist that they embrace the “universal values” that drive public discourse, if not necessarily policy, in the West. But they seem to give their Muslim brothers a pass on human rights. Erdogan notoriously exonerated Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir by saying “A Muslim can never commit genocide.” Erdogan also publicly congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his victory in the 2009 election, widely condemned elsewhere as grossly rigged. Turkish diplomats say that they use tough language in private — but autocratic regimes shrug off private recriminations.


Unlike China or even India, Turkey does not resort to the language of “sovereignty” when defending abusive regimes — it takes the “Western” view of international law. Rather, its dilemma has to do with its neighborhood: You can’t be a regional leader in the Middle East if you take human rights too seriously. But the problem might also have to do with the unresolved state of Turkey’s own democracy. Eight years after Erdogan gained power, secular Turks continue to doubt his commitment, and that of the ruling AKP, to human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law. Although many of the people I spoke to saw the country’s recent constitutional referendum — which among other things reduced the power of the army over the judiciary — as a further consolidation of Turkish democracy, plenty of others viewed it as a dangerous ploy by the AKP to increase its control over the state. Secular Turks fear that the country is becoming steadily more conservative — certainly in the Anatolian heartland, if not yet in the big cities.


From the time of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey has been committed to its “European vocation.” But Ataturk was a modernizer, not a liberal; one of his slogans was “For the people, despite the people.” And if Kemalist secularism was not a formula for European-style liberal individualism, it’s scarcely clear that the AKP’s market-oriented moderate Islamic restoration is, either. Turkey’s democracy is not yet “consolidated,” as political scientists put it.


Turkey is a success story that the West has every reason to welcome. The image of moderation and tolerant cosmopolitanism that it offers to Middle Eastern audiences contributes not only to Turkish soft power but to global peace and security, at least in the long run. That’s already a pretty solid record. But Turkey is not content with being the brightest star in its benighted neighborhood; it wants to play on the world stage. And that ambition may force Turkey to find a new balance among its competing identities.


James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of, most recently, The Freedom Agenda. “Terms of Engagement,” his column for, runs weekly.

Foreign Policy, Washington   –   15 Oct 10