‘Interventions in Mideast should not cast shadow on demands for change’

Zeynep Dağı

March 20, 2011, Sunday/ 15:55:00

Since the wars in Iraq and the presence of the United States in the Middle East have been feeding anti-American feelings in the region and leading to a loss of trust in Western values, interventions in the region should be sensitive toward people’s demands for democratic change, according to one observer.

“Interventions of any kind should not cast a shadow on the will of the people of the Middle East to determine their own future,” said Zeynep Dağı, a former academic in international relations and currently a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) since 2007. “The Turkish government believes that the people in the region should chart their own course. The West should be aware of the sensitivities of the region and find common ground to address the problems,” she added, answering our questions for an interview.

The UN Security Council late on Thursday authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians after Muammar Gaddafi’s forces closed in on Libyan rebels. The Libyan government has declared a cease-fire.

As Sunday’s Zaman was going to print on Friday, the leaders of Britain and France and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League were planning to join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Saturday on Libya.

Amid fast developing news, Dağı answered our questions on the latest developments in the region.

Authoritarian leaders had to leave their positions in Tunisia and Egypt after revolutions and we started to see the domino effect shaking the other countries of the Middle East and North Africa. But in Libya, the situation is different. Do you think the Libyan leader’s heavy attacks and gains against the rebels will discourage the populations from revolting in rest of the region?

There have been important developments in the region starting in Tunisia and then in Egypt. The populations of the region started to show the whole world that they were demanding change and democracy. But we have to not forget that it will take a long time for democracy to be institutionalized as there are different traditional structures in those countries. The revolt in Libya shows us all that change is not going to come easy and that we should be ready for disappointments, too, but at the same time it is not right to surrender to disappointments. What is clear is that there is strong will for democracy by the people of the region, from Egypt and Tunisia to Bahrain and Libya. [Former President Zine al-Abidine] Ben Ali in Tunisia and [former President Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt tried to resist the protests, but they failed. In Libya, we see the resistance of the Libyan leader has been forceful by the use of arms. Each of those countries has different characteristics. Even though the public at large has a common demand -- democracy -- differences make our analysis distinct for each country.

Could you elaborate on those differences?

There is a tribal structure in Libya, and not all the tribes are united against Gaddafi. In addition, the Gaddafi family is reported to have billions of dollars of investments in other countries, and the family has a strong grip on the government. As Gaddafi has been isolated by the international community, he has increased his use of violence against the people who are rebelling against him. One factor that makes Libya different in the eyes of the West is its oil reserves. Many European countries were Libya’s largest purchasers of oil last year.

When it comes to sanctions against Libya, there seemed to be no united action by the world community for a long time although the UNSC has authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Do you think that decision has come too late?

It has not been easy to have a unified action against Libya, and it has taken a long time. It seems like Gaddafi has gained time out of this uncertainty, but despite that he has been losing legitimacy every day both inside and outside of the country. The fact that Russia and China did not veto the vote at the UN Security Council shows that there is a strong unity in the decisions taken regarding Libya. As the UN authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, we can now see a new process in the region since the option for a military intervention is in the agenda. So far, we have witnessed a process in which only domestic dynamics were determinants. Meanwhile, countries like Germany and Brazil stress the risks that a military operation carries in Libya and they said they will not be involved in such an operation. The management of this process will be of the utmost importance in terms of how the winds of change in the region will be affected because an intervention has the potential to affect change in both negative and positive directions. Recalling the example of Iraq, an intervention is likely to have a negative effect. Gaddafi might have changed tactics after the UN resolution, but destructive warfare is still possible. The attitude of the Western powers in this process is also important for the people of the region, as far as their future relations with the West go. The Western powers should be respectful of the human rights and the political will of the people in the region.

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‘Gaddafi cannot ignore pressures, inside and outside’

The celebrations in Benghazi on the announcement of the no-fly zone show that sentiment is positive about Western intervention. Do you think that military and political pressure will force Gaddafi to step down?

There have been fears that massacres could occur in Benghazi. No matter how much resistance Gaddafi shows, it is impossible for him to ignore the pressures against him, both inside and outside. There is much need for rational decisions now to minimize the number of losses.

Keeping in mind the Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Turkey opposes a military intervention in Libya. What do you think of this?

Based on the example of Iraq, Turkey has justifiable concerns. Interventions of any kind should not cast a shadow on the will of the people of the Middle East to determine their own future. Wars in Iraq since the 1990s and the presence of the United States in the region have been both feeding anti-American feelings in the region and have been leading to a loss of trust in Western values. The unsuccessful policies of the United States in Iraq have been strengthening conflicts in the region. Therefore, any foreign intervention at this point carries the risk of negatively affecting the direction and power of change in the region. We see this reflected in the words of the Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jabril, who had said that they are open to any kind of aid except an American presence in their land. The international community should be mobilized in order to end civil war inside Libya, but since the anti-Western sentiments run high in the country, the situation presents a dilemma. Meanwhile, Turkey expresses those concerns of the people and sensitivities in the region. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that past foreign interventions, especially military ones, had only deepened the problems they sought to solve. The Turkish government believes the Libyan people should chart their own course. The West should be aware of the sensitivities of the region and find common ground to address the problems. The people of the region see themselves able to express their own demands for democracy and get it.

Following the UN Security Council’s decision, our president, prime minister and foreign minister all called for a cease-fire and end to bloodshed. The prime minister stressed that Turkey’s stance is pro-democracy and that the Middle East will not be able to resist the change as the world has been rapidly changing. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey supports the UN’s decision regarding Libya.

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‘Rulers need to produce policies respecting people’s demands’

In addition to Libya, there is a crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain, where foreign troops from Sunni-ruled neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have intervened. How do you evaluate this foreign intervention?

We can see the rise of an ethnic uprising in Bahrain. The country has been rocked by Shiite protests over the past month. Some analyses concentrate only on that aspect of the conflict. But the uprising has qualities beyond ethnic demands as people from all ethnic backgrounds and religions in the region seek a better quality of life, more freedoms and democracy. The rulers in the region need to produce policies respecting those demands.

Do you see Iran’s influence regarding developments in Bahrain?

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Tehran has been influential in the areas where Shiites are in the majority. In recent years, Iran’s defiance against the West and Israel has made it a focus of the world. But let’s not forget that Iran is not outside the sphere of the revolutionary movements that started in Tunisia; on the contrary, it is inside of it. In the latest elections in Iran, the Iranians showed their opposition to the regime on the streets. Therefore, the movements cannot be reduced to actions based on ethnicity or religion. Otherwise, we will ignore the people’s demands for democratic change and their power. At the same time, we should avoid being used by some who would like to exploit the situation. It is strategic to have a principled, pro-democratic stance.

Were the Western powers ready for these uprisings?

They were not. Before the uprisings, democracy and democratic demands were in a way special to the Western countries. The demands of the people of the Middle East have shaken the perceptions of Westerners about the people of the Middle East. The West had sharpened its negative views toward the Middle East and Islam in particular after the traumatic events of Sept. 11. Some Western observers have fears that the revolutions will lead to radical Islamic regimes in the region. But they are seeing that the demands of the people are not based on religion but have universal references such as human rights, freedom and democracy. At this point, the West and the United States need to support those democratic movements. US President Barack Obama was first unsure about the developments but now is supportive of the movements.

The issue about whether or not Turkey can be a model for these countries always comes forward in debates. What would you say about that idea?

Turkey has presented a model that has shaken established beliefs, both in the East and the West. Those beliefs were centered around the idea that Islam and democracy could not be in harmony. However, Turkey is a successful model as it has been able to merge democracy with Islam. Western powers have seen what Turkey can do with its own resources. Islam has not been an obstacle to development; on the contrary, [Turkey has shown] they can go hand-in-hand. With this success, Turkey can use its soft power as a moderator in the region for peace. The West has started to realize Turkey’s strength. Turkey’s experience with democracy and its relations with the Western countries and institutions have been exemplary. The Turkish example would soften the West’s orientalist approach to the East, making bridges between the Muslim and Western societies possible. The Turkish experience is important also because it presents an antidote against any kind of radicalism.


‘Israel will have to abandon its radical stance’

What influences do you think the developments will have on Israel?

The developments have qualities to reshape Israel as well as reshaping the other countries of the region. Israel will probably have to leave its radical and confrontational position as the world is increasingly becoming pro-integration. Israel will have to normalize its radical policies because the people of the region and the countries of the region do not pose a threat against the existence of Israel. Even though Israel tries to dictate policies to keep the countries of the region out of the international area, the changes in the region will force Israel to normalize its policies.

Do you think there will be more space for the establishment of a Palestinian state?

This will become a reality if the people in the Middle East have a common demand for democracy. If democracy is based on the supremacy of the rule of law and human rights, Israel will have to respect it. A string of Latin American countries have recently recognized the Palestine state along borders that existed before the 1967 war. In January, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev endorsed a Palestinian state, saying Moscow had recognized independence in 1988 and was not changing the position adopted by the former Soviet Union. Israeli policies that have been aimed at dividing the Palestinians and driving them out of the Palestinian land become gone bankrupt.

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