28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Arab Awakening

An “internal affair”

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Turn the clock back three months. From this post, here was my take on Turkish-Syrian relations:

If Turkey is to “trust the masses” and maintain its role as a supporter of the Arab Awakening, it cannot support a Syrian regime that appears to oppress its citizens, and it must sell al-Assad’s government short—in spite of recent amicability—to retain its legitimacy.

To be sure, Turkish-Syrian relations have had their sharp ups and downs between then and now, but the conclusion is still the same. And Turkey may have finally vocalized that real trouble is brewing for the Syrian regime:

“This is our final word to the Syrian authorities: Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally,” Mr. Davutoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken,” he said, without saying what that action might include.

And, given the extensive border between the two countries, Erdoğan has claimed that the happenings in Syria are—in fact—”internal affairs” for Turkey. Even more audacious:

“We have to listen to the voices from over there, we hear them, and of course we will act accordingly,” Mr Erdogan said.

But why the dilly-dallying so far? Because—Turkey has been strategically waiting for Aleppo and, ideally, Damascus, to join the unrest. Without Aleppo and/or Damascus supporting a Turkish invasion, the legitimacy of intervention is questionable. It would be an enormous risk for Turkey to intervene on a stalwart Assad with a peaceful Aleppo and Damascus, and with an indecisive (and apparently confused) international community as backup. And what about Turkey’s military capacity since the resignation of the generals? The word “demoralization” has been thrown around frequently since then. Can Turkey even project power with its military at the moment?

If Turkey chooses not to invade, though, Ankara’s bold words and professed morals will ring false in the ears of the world. Damascus will grin. Riyadh will frown. The West will continue its finger-wagging. Erdoğan knows this more than anyone.

So don’t be surprised if Turkey begins addressing its “internal affairs” in the near future.

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Written by M. James

August 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Waiting for Aleppo

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A recent AJE feature captures an important aspect of the crisis in Syria: As more of the Sunni working and merchant class find themselves in dire financial straits due to the unrest, the uprising in Syria will gain real momentum.

The question remains about whether al-Assad’s open-ended “national dialogue” will placate an increasingly irritated Syria.

The Syrian president has been very timely in his concessions so far, but mere concessions will not be enough when middle-Syria is unhappy with the economy (and sees nothing to gain by keeping the Ba’ath Party in power).

Written by M. James

June 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

Exporting culture to the Arab world

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It is a long-held belief that Turks hate Arabs and vice-versa. The Turks say that the Arabs are lazy, backward, and dishonest, and the Arabs say that the Turks are overbearing, imperious, and West-obsessed. Indeed, surveying the history of Arab-Turkish relations from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, it isn’t too hard to understand where the enmity comes from and why things haven’t been more amicable.

But recently, commercially-driven Turkish enterprises have managed to start bridging the lengthy linguistic and cultural gap that has split even the most apolitical of Turks and Arabs.

These enterprises are known as pembe diziler. Soap operas.

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Turkey sells al-Assad short

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With the recent uprisings in the cities of Deraa, Homs, and Banias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad apparently feels he has everything to lose. Despite Syria’s best efforts to keep journalists out of the country, reports of the ongoing military violence against protestors—as well as imprisonment and torture of civilians—have made their way into mainstream news. Unsurprisingly, the US and the EU have invoked sanctions, and anyone with an interest in political self-presevation has been condemning al-Assad’s “regime.”

This includes Turkey, for which al-Assad can no longer be a legitimate diplomatic partner. No doubt, this ends an era of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria, for better or worse.

Turkey’s relationship with Syria has been cold and confrontational for the vast majority of the history of the Turkish republic, marked by continual territorial disputes over southern Turkey’s Hatay province and differing opinions on Israel, among other things. For example, Turkey, projecting power over its downstream neighbor, constructed dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, threatening Syria’s water supply. In turn, Syria harbored and aided Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and bitter enemy of the Turkish republic. During the course of these events Turkey threatened to invade Syria on numerous occasions. It would be understatement to call their status-quo relationship “on the rocks.”

But these difficulties have recently been put on the back burner in favor of more amicable diplomacy. Recent relations have been relatively warm, beginning–perhaps–with the Iraq War in 2003, to which both countries were vehemently opposed.  Since then, Turkey’s relationship with Israel declined (Syria approved), free-trade agreements were signed between Turkey and Syria, and Syria withdrew troops from Lebanon, making Syria a more eligible parter for diplomacy in the eyes of the international community. Things were looking up.

But in its current state, Syria is more frowned-upon by the international community than ever. Ever since his reaction to the uprisings as they became more prominent, President al-Assad has flushed his legitimacy down the drain. In the wake of the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak, and with the eyes of the world on Middle Eastern “autocracies,” al-Assad’s hardline approach will reflect even more poorly on his government than it usually would. And with Turkey publicly—and powerfully—declaring its support for what some have coined the “Arab Awakening” or the “Arab Spring,” supporting Syria and its government is no longer appropriate.

Will al-Assad leave his post in the near future? It’s anyone’s guess, but it has no bearing on Turkey’s policy toward Syria. If Turkey is to “trust the masses” and maintain its role as a supporter of the Arab Awakening, it cannot support a Syrian regime that appears to oppress its citizens, and it must sell al-Assad’s government short—in spite of recent amicability—to retain its legitimacy.

Written by M. James

May 17, 2011 at 9:21 am