Turkey learned much from the Arab Spring
Today’s Turkey is not the same Turkey that was caught unaware of the Arab Spring in 2010. Despite liberal pens in the West praising the Turkey of the past and waiting for opportunities to vilify the Turkey of today, the truth is that the change has been to its advantage.
Let me try to explain the reasons for this difference and how it will reflect on Turkey’s foreign policy today. Firstly, in 2010, Turkey had not yet been able to get rid of its broken state structure. This prevented the state from embracing a joint threat perception, and the distance between civilian politics and military bureaucracy manifested itself outside as being without policy.
This in turn made Turkey seriously fragile and open to interventions and manipulations by regional and global actors. Today, especially after July 15, 2016, cooperation occurred within the state and in an environment with the military bureaucracy accepting the leadership of civilian politics, so now all actors who use public authority have the same perception of risk and threat.
The second difference is that in 2010, the fundamentalist Gülen Movement had ensconced itself within the state and there was no awareness of the damages wrought by this secret group that could terrorize large parts of politics and the bureaucracy. With the effective fight begun by the then prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in 2013, this secret group started to be cleaned from the state.
In response to this purge, the members of this secret group attempted a coup on July 15, 2016, following orders from its leader, Fetullah Gülen. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful coup attempt, the group was pushed out of the state. As of today, the presence of this group, known as the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) within the state, has been minimized and its existence in the military, security forces and judiciary has been scattered and its influence seriously limited.
The third difference is that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that came to power in 2002 had not faced any great foreign policy crisis by 2010. The AK Party and its leader Erdoğan’s international image had been positive as politically righteous actors. The developments experienced after 2010 completely overturned this. Erdoğan was demonized and came to be a symbol malice in the eyes of politically righteous actors internationally. Those who showed Turkey as a model of democratization began to speak of it as a country in the process of succumbing to authoritarianism.
In 2010, the state, due in part to its capacity and mentality, only assumed that it could conduct foreign policy by using soft power. Debates of Turkey as a model were held over Turkey’s perceived good reputation in both the Islamic world and the West and Erdoğan’s positive image on the Arab world’s streets.
In a short period, the fact that the Republic of Turkey was in a great illusion and that it was actually weakest at the point it thought itself to be strongest was shown. Turkey was caught unaware by the Arab Spring and paid an enormous price from its effects. It watched how rising radicalism, fanaticism and terrorism effected itself. Desirous of intervening, the tools at hand were insufficient.
At the point that has now arrived, Turkey has the capacity to use soft, hard and smart power all at the same time.
Turkey learned much from the Arab Spring process, and especially the Syrian civil war. This learning period was directly reflected in Erdoğan’s policies. This does not mean that Turkey will make a U-turn in its policies toward Syria or Egypt. However, it should be known that Turkey will take more balanced foreign policy steps and will not conduct its foreign policy based on what is said by one actor.
The reason behind this comparison is to give meaning to Turkey’s approach to the Qatar crisis. Turkey is against Qatar being pushed into the position of being a country supporting terrorism and thus becoming isolated, and believes that the destabilization of Qatar will cause a threat to regional peace. So, while supporting Qatar, Turkey is not neglecting to speak with the other parties and is continuing and even enhancing its bilateral relations with them.
I am not unobservant of the presence of those who are trying to transform the Qatar crisis by forming a fictional Turkey-Qatar axis and ascribing the malignancy in the region to these two countries. So believe me, Turkey is not deceived by this, and it never will be.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on June 9, 2017.