By İhsan Yilmaz
June 26, 2014
Fatih University and the İstanbul Social, Economic and Political Studies Institute conducted a survey with 520 people in some Middle Eastern and North African countries. According to the research, a democratic and stable Turkey is valuable for these Middle Eastern populations, according to the views expressed by the elites. Thus, they believe that authoritarianism is a loss for Turkey's image abroad. According to the findings, the policies of Ankara towards Egypt and Syria must be very seriously recalibrated. Fatih University and İstanbul Institute Assoc. Prof. Dr. Savaş Genç led the research, which was prepared by a team of researchers. The surveys were conducted in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Iran and Morocco between May 1 and June 15. About 50 people from each country were interviewed. People in politics, the bureaucracy, academia, research centers, civil society organizations, the media, industry and trade were asked to answer survey questions. According to the survey, the Middle Eastern elites believe that Turkey's foreign policy goals exceed its capabilities, but they still see Turkey as a model, given the deteriorating overall situation in the Middle East. Almost half (49 percent) of the Middle Eastern elites surveyed believe that Turkey's foreign policy goals exceed its capabilities, while 27 percent said they didn't know.
Prof. Genç states that the decision-makers in Turkish foreign policy should revise their foreign policy, which he said has transformed from “zero problems with neighbours” to the contrary, becoming a party in regional conflicts. As a result of what I call an “Envero-Islamist” adventurist, hard-power foreign policy, in 2014, only about 70 percent of respondents said Turkey has played an important role in the region, as opposed to 85 percent last year (see 'Rise of Envero-Islamism in Turkish foreign policy,' Today's Zaman, June 20). The research also found that 11 percent of respondents described Turkey as the friendliest country in the region, down from 20 percent last year. Those who described Turkey as their least friendly neighbour, however, rose from 9 percent to 25 percent in 2014. Turkey is no longer seen as the leading regional player in the Middle East, according to the poll. In 2013, Turkey ranked number one among the region's countries, listed as the top player by 33 percent of respondents. Turkey moved down the list to be replaced by Iran this year. According to Genç, despite its appeal being on the decrease, due to the secular and democratic nature of the country, especially compared with the rest of the Middle East, Turkey is still a reliable country.
According to the research among the elites, 60 percent of Iranians are in favor of rapprochement with the United States. Speaking of rapprochement, a significant portion of the Israeli elites support positive relations with Turkey, with as high as 86 percent saying so. This high result is the combination of people who say that Israel should be allies with Turkey (34 percent) and those who say relations should be normalized (52 percent). Of the Syrian elites, 61 percent say the priority should be a cease-fire and that the crisis should be solved around the negotiation table. According to Genç, the elites in the Middle East have realized that there is no winner in the wars in the region. For Turkey, the elites have envisioned the role of a country that is able to speak to both Israel and Iran at the same time.
The results clearly show that Turkey must jettison the Envero-Islamist foreign policy and return to its soft-power diplomacy, which enables Turkey to talk to everyone in the region and to act as an impartial referee.