Arab revolutions may take decades
The Middle East section of the Valdai Discussion Club will hold the conference “Transformation in the Arab world and Russia’s interests” in Sochi on February 17-18. Hasan Kanbolat, director of the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), speaks about the results of the Arab Spring so far and Russia’s policy in the Middle East in an interview for the club’s web site (www.valdaiclub.com).
What have been the results of the Arab Spring so far?
The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and spread to the rest of the region. However, the causes had been brewing for years. One of them is the desire of the younger generation to get rid of long-standing dictatorships in North Africa and their natural desire to improve their lives and achieve democratic changes. The revolutions arose naturally. At the same time, nobody knew when they would happen. It is clear from the correspondence of the U.S. administration published on the WikiLeaks site that Washington failed to see the revolutions coming.
We live in the 21st century. Everything happens fast. But these revolutions may take decades. The results of the Arab Spring – positive or negative – will become clear later. What’s important are the long-term results, not the short-term results. And let’s hope they will meet the aspirations of the Arab people for democratic change.
Has the United States played a role in the current processes in the Arab world? Are the West or Iran involved? The answer is yes, but only as regards the events following the revolutions. Since the outbreak of these revolutions, the United States, the West in general, and Iran have been trying to use them in their interests. The Arab Spring has already reached the Middle East and now we are witnessing revolutionary events in Syria. Let’s hope that Syria will not turn into a second Iraq but that there will be regime change and the democratic demands of the Syrian people will be met.
Do Turkey and Russia take the same stance toward the region?
Turkey and Russia have common interests in the region and seek stability above all. They hope the authorities and the opposition will reach an agreement and that future administrations will accord people more rights and freedoms.
Syria is of special importance for Turkey because it shares an almost 1,000 km-long border with that country. Moreover, they have a shared history and their peoples are bound by close ties. So events in Syria have an effect on Turkey. Syria is the gateway for Turkish exports to the Middle East, and stability in Syria is vital for Turkey’s foreign trade.
Is Turkey likely to take part in military action against Syria?
Turkey generally objects to outside military interference and made this position crystal clear during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, although it was subjected to heavy pressure. It did not make concessions and refused to open its northern border and take part in the military operation. Moreover, Turkey conducted an evenhanded dialogue with all forces inside Iraq, regardless of their religious, ethnic and political views, and did not support any armed group in that country.
Now we are witnessing a similar situation in Syria almost a decade later. Many are wondering again whether Turkey will take part in military action. Turkey may again be subjected to pressure on this issue. Personally I don’t believe Turkey will opt for a military solution. This is a very difficult decision. Turkey is not a dictatorship but a parliamentary democracy, and its parliament is unlikely to endorse participation in a military operation. Moreover, not a single political party in Turkey advocates a military solution.
What outcome do you predict for Syria?
It is hard to predict how events will develop in Syria. Whether Bashar al-Assad’s regime will end or not is not the main question. It is important to prevent Syria from turning into a second Iraq, an unstable country with never-ending violence. One way to reach a settlement is the immediate implementation of democratic reforms by the al-Assad regime. Some people may think it is too late but it is never too late to carry out political reform. We hope for reform, even if this seems unlikely. Otherwise, the bloodshed in Syria will continue, and this cannot be justified by any means. Several months ago ten people were being killed in Syria per day, whereas now the average has risen to 100.
Can Turkey be a model for Arab countries?
Why is Turkey offered as a model? Why does it evoke interest? It is not the wealthiest Muslim state. Gulf countries are much richer than Turkey. Nor is it the Muslim country with the biggest population. I’d explain Turkey’s appeal by its parliamentary democracy and its path to European integration. I think every country should follow its own road and have its own model, although it can borrow positive experiences from others.
The main thing is to refrain from suppressing the opposition, to allow it to coalesce, and also to create a system of government that allows for the democratic transfer of power to the opposition if need be. If Turkey can serve a model for other countries of the region in this respect, that is a good thing.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.