A report issued by TESEV (the Turkish Foundation for Economic and Social Studies) has asserted that Turkey is the country people in the Middle East sympathize with the most, pay attention to the most and [are most likely] to perceive as a model. The report analyses data gathered from 16 countries - from North Africa to Iran - and is based on interviews with 2,323 people. The study’s principal aim is to examine the perceptions [individuals hold of] Turkey throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. [Knowledge of] popular attitudes provides essential information not only to analysts and scholars, but also to politicians.
When compared with previous similar reports, this particular release represents encouraging news for Turkey. Turkey has maintained its popularity within this broad region, and sympathy for Turkey is on the rise - aside from a few exceptions.
78% of respondents in sixteen countries said they hold a positive view of towards Turkey. This makes it the most popular country in the region, [in contrast] to last year’s research, which concluded that Saudi Arabia was the most popular country in the region. In countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Turkey’s popularity is above average. Yet there are also some countries where Turkey ranks below average.
The only sharp decline in popularity took place in Syria, where [Turkey’s former] 93% popularity rating crashed to 44%, a clear sign that Ankara’s [hostile attitude] towards Bashar al-Assad is not welcome, despite the Turkish authorities’ insistence that its policy in Syria is solely meant to target the regime and not the people. It seems that Syrian public opinion [of Turkey] has been negatively influenced by the Assad regime; but even this cannot overshadow the increasing popularity of Turkey in the region.
[The report contends that] Turkey is appreciated in the region because of its contributions to peace and its involvement in negotiation processes. Regional powers like Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as international actors like the US, Russia and France rank behind Turkey [in these indices].
Turkey is perceived as having the region’s second strongest economy after Saudi Arabia. The poll suggests that respondents believe that, in ten years, Turkey will overtake Saudi Arabia and become the largest economic power in the region.
The poll notes that 66% of respondents across the Arab world view Turkey as a model for their own countries, compared with 22% who said it was not. Among those who approve of Turkey as a model, 32% cited its democracy [as a reason for their favorable opinions], 25% its thriving economy and 17% its strategic importance. The arguments provided by those against the Turkish model can be listed as such: Not a strong enough Islamic character (23%); too closely linked to the West (16%); its secular system (16%); its non-Arab [identity] (9%); and the historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire (9%).
Results show that our popularity is not solely linked to policies decided upon by Ankara. They show that there are also economic, social and cultural factors - including the extremely popular Turkish TV series and increasing contact through tourism - [that determine perceptions of Turkey in the region].
The TESEV concludes its report with a caveat: “To be popular with the people does not guarantee diplomatic success. We must also remember that the sympathy we have cannot always and everywhere be translated into power.”