Arab observers: Middle East admires European Turkey
Flags of Turkey, (R), and the European Union are seen in front of a mosque in İstanbul, Turkey, in this Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005 file photo. (Photo: AP, Osman Orsal)
Turkey had attracted a great deal of attention in the Middle East thanks to its rich culture, its ability to reconcile religion and modernity, development and soap operas; however, there is now little reference to Turkey as a proper model and to its historical experience in the region.
The experts in the region, noting that the interest in Turkey in the Middle East should be attributed to the start of Turkey's membership talks with the EU, stress that the peoples of the Middle East, particularly the Arabs, admire the European side of Turkey. Experts further underline that a Turkey that is a member of the EU would attract greater attention from Arabs. According to Daniel Abdulfettah, representative of Al Arabiyya TV in Turkey who is also an expert on Turkey, Arabs prefer a Muslim and European Turkey to a Middle Eastern Turkey. Recalling that the Arabs have become more interested in Turkey since the start of the membership talks with the EU, Abdulfettah said: “After this, the people have become more interested in Turkish products, science and technology and even its literature. Admiration for Turkish soap operas is also because of the European side of Turkey.”
According to Egyptian journalist Sara Khorshid, who also pens columns for the Guardian as well, Arabs have always been admirers of anything from Europe. Noting that the primary reason for the growing attention to Turkey in the Arab world is Turkey's ability to stay European despite its Islamic identity, Khorshid further says, “If Turkey some day becomes a member of the EU, this will please the Arabs more.” Ali Halane, BBC Arabic's representative in Somalia, notes that a Turkey that is a member of the EU will create historic opportunities for not only Ankara but also for the EU and the Middle East as well. According to Halane, Turkey's membership in the EU will improve ties between European and Middle Eastern cultures. Dr. Magdy Said, editor-in-chief of Nature Arabic magazine, stresses that Turkey has made huge progress through reforms in different fields, including human rights and democratization, to become a member of the EU. Said, who believes that Turkey has turned its eyes in different directions due to the EU's anti-Turkey stance and policies, stresses that Turkey should never shelve its EU membership bid. Recalling that he does not believe the EU has closed its doors to Turkey's membership, Said further notes that owing to its economic performance and integration with the world, Turkey has become even more important for the EU and that it may emerge as a stronger candidate with additional reforms.
Muhammad Abdulkadir from the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Research says that a Turkey that is member of the EU would be better for the Arabs and the Middle East. Stressing that intellectuals in the Arab world are uncomfortable with Turkey's improving ties with some Islamic groups that came to power after recent developments in the region and its attitude by which it ignores the others, Abdulkadir argues that Turkey should rely more on its European side. The change of popular perceptions of Turkey in recent times is also receiving attention. Taxi driver Mahmud Şems asks whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, also arguing that there have been many media reports on alleged links between the Turkish government and the Brotherhood. Noting that he has been to Turkey almost every month in recent years, businessman Magdy Zabel notes that the European side of Turkey should not change. Recalling that Turkey should become a member of the EU as soon as possible, Zabel says: “A Turkey that is integrated with Europe will serve as a beacon of hope for us. Being a neighbor with the EU will secure a huge transformation in the Arab world.”