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Turkey and the Middle East: Internal Confidence, External Assertiveness

Briefing Paper
Fadi Hakura, November 2011

  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is determined that Turkey should be the leading player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the light of the country's economic growth and healthy bilateral trade with MENA.
  • Two foreign policy principles – 'strategic depth' and 'zero problems with the neighbours' – have been enunciated by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Creating commercial opportunities for Turkish businesses is central to Turkey's 'soft power'.
  • Before the Arab Spring, Turkey succeeded in developing relations with Iran and Syria without sacrificing ties with Saudi Arabia. Since then it has moved closer to the US and Saudi position on Syria and Iran. A robust attitude towards Israel since the 2008 Gaza conflict has increased Erdoğan’s popularity enormously on the Arab street, except in Gaza and Jordan.
  • Three internal factors are preventing Turkey from acting as a model for this multicultural region: the Kurdish conflagration, a quasi-secular system of government and a fragile democracy.
  • Although Turkey's attempts at leadership will be strongly resisted by other regional actors, in the longer term its influence can be maximized through variable coalition-building, careful public diplomacy, selective mediation interventions and further domestic political, economic and social liberalization.
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