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Arab world favors Turkey, sees as model, study reveals May 18, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Turkey.
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The results of Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation’s “Turkey: Arab Perspectives” survey were evaluated at a meeting held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in İstanbul yesterday.

A new piece of research has found that Arab views of Turkey have become more positive in recent years, as one poll conducted in the Middle East showed that Turkey ranked second in Arab respondents’ opinions after Saudi Arabia, with 75 percent of respondents having very favorable or favorable views of Turkey.

The survey, designed by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and conducted July 24-29, 2009 by telephone in Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and face-to-face in Iraq, involved more than 2,000 people. The number of respondents who perceived Turkey very favorably or favorably was particularly high in Syria, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.“In the Palestinian territories, Turkey was the most positively regarded country, and in Syria it was the highest after Syria itself,” noted Meliha Altunışık, head of the international relations department at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ).

Altunışık noted that the survey also demonstrated that the public in these seven countries perceived Turkey as a major actor whose opinions are listened to and which has influence.

“There is also clear support for Turkey’s third party roles and for Turkey ‘to play a bigger role in the Arab world’ — Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese respondents being the most supportive of this idea. According to the survey, Turkey was also seen as a successful example of the coherence of Islam and democracy and thus considered as a ‘model’ for the Arab world. There seems to be a widespread support for Turkey’s EU membership,” Altunışık also stated in her TESEV-supported report, “Turkey: Arab Perspectives.”

The survey was conducted after the Gaza incursion and the Davos incident, when Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity peaked. Moderating a panel called “Turkey and the Arab world: Rediscovering each other?” one of the authors of that survey, Mensur Akgün, said yesterday that they plan to repeat the survey soon and include Iran.

Altunışık said during the panel discussion that there were several developments related to Turkey and the region that led to the positive perception reported. Those reasons included the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) coming to power in 2002; Parliament’s decision in March 2003 to refuse to cooperate with the US’s plans in the war against Iraq; developments in Turkey-EU relations, particularly the start of accession negotiations in October 2005; and Turkey’s response to the Gaza war and the Davos affair in 2009, when Erdoğan walked out in protest of Israel’s policies.

“As interest in Turkey has grown, so has knowledge about the country,” Altunışık said. “Secondly, contrary to the perception in Turkey about ‘the Arab perspective’ of itself, views in the Arab world are not monolithic.”

She pointed out that different ideologies exist in the Arab world, be they reformist, Islamist, liberal, socialist or others. For Islamists, the debate initially was about the failure of secularism in Turkey, but it has become more complicated because they saw the government’s constitutional reform package as a way for the government to convince the secular establishment. On the other hand, she said, liberals and socialists in the Arab world are not comfortable that power is in the hands of the AK Party.

She also pointed out challenges to the new Turkish role in the Arab world. One is Turkey’s Iran policy — Turkey’s ability to talk to Iran is generally appreciated, but there are some concerns, too.

Asked by Today’s Zaman about the recent agreement regarding Iran’s shipment of most of its high-enriched uranium to Turkey, Altunışık said that solutions which exclude Iran do not work and can even lead to other problems. She added that Turkey’s relations with Iraq and Syria balance its policies toward Iran.

“Even if the current deal does not work, Turkey can say that they have tried. In the end, I think Turkey would move with the international community regarding Iran,” she said.

Commenting on the same issue, Mustafa Ellabbad, director of the Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, said the deal is a rational initiative for Turkey.

“Brazil joined in signing the agreement as a power in Latin America. I am not optimistic that the deal will succeed, but they want to make sure Iran will not be a nuclear military power.”

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