Turkey Must Remain Neutral To Maintain Role-Model Status

Article Summary
Semih Idiz argues that although currently marginalized, Turkey may regain its role as a mediator for the Middle East. Arab countries facing battles along religious-secular, ethnic-national and military-civilian lines will eventually look to Turkey for guidance. However, the ability to play this role depends on Turkey’s continued regional neutrality. 

When you look at the big picture, Turkey is beginning to be marginalized in important political and diplomatic moves in the Middle East. Diplomatic sources attribute this to Ankara’s growing involvement in the region’s conflicts, adding that Turkey is siding with the Sunni bloc in regional sectarian strife. Right or wrong, it is easy to understand that these diplomats convey these points in their reports to their capitals.

Until a couple of years ago, one of Turkey’s most important assets was its ability to talk to all parties in the region, including Israel. But Turkey can no longer preserve this unique feature, and it does not now appear to be  a “mediator” country. As we saw in the Syria case, Turkey is now a country that is trying to protect itself from the fallout of Middle East developments, and it is counting on NATO and the UN to do so.

A Turkey that distinguishes itself with its democratic and secular characteristics and with the ability to mediate should be making an impact on the current crises. The turbulent Middle East is in need of such a strong regional player.

Rami Khoury of Beirut’s Daily Star wrote on March 31 that there are three battles raging in the Arab world:

  • military vs. civilian authorities
  • Islamists vs. secularists
  • ethnic/tribal/sectarian identity vs. national identity

Of course, in Turkey we are familiar with the battles on this list, as they continue to this day. However, even though punches are still thrown between the differing sides, Turkey has made serious progress on these issues. I am not claiming that Turkey has fully solved any of them, but we have made great strides in identifying the problems.

Turkey’s efforts are also important for the Middle East. As Khoury wrote, all of these are issues Arab countries will have to confront and solve. This is why Turkey — despite being somewhat marginalized from the diplomatic and political process in the region — is important for the region. At the end of the day, even if they don’t currently feel the need for it, regional countries will need a constructive role model.

But the most important prerequisite for properly playing that role is for Turkey to refrain from becoming involved in long-term conflicts. If not, our most vital contribution to the Middle East will not materialize.

Found in: secularism, sectarianism, islamists

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