The coalition military intervention in Libya that began on March 19th was an example of a well coordinated and organised operation, with a legitimate legal mandate in the form of UN Resolution 1973. Nonetheless, there are several debates regarding the intervention in question as well as the strategy that is being followed by the coalition.
There are two central questions that should be answered in order to understand the discourse regarding the intervention in Libya: (a) what do we want to achieve? (b) How far are we willing to go? If the operation has limited goals such as the maintenance of the no-fly zone it would probably be qualified as a success whereas if the plan is to intervene politically undertaking peace/state-building operations, it might result in a catastrophe or in a long-lasting, torturous situation like Iraq.
While the revolution in Libya has for many turned into a civil war between the rebels and the pro-Gaddafi forces, the situation in Bahrain is also deteriorating. The intensification of the demonstrations and the possibility of this turning into a violent conflict could have serious implications for the Middle East and the US in the near future.
Even though the revolution in Bahrain has similar socio-economic characteristics as other revolutions in the region, it also has an ethnic-religious component. The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led the Shiias to escalate their already protracted struggle against the discriminatory policies of the ruling Sunni minority. Furthermore, the Sunni government has strong relations with America’s ally, Saudi Arabia whereas the Shiias have strong bonds with Iran, which has been accused of fuelling the demonstrations in Bahrain.
One characteristic of the revolutions in the Middle East has been the lack of organisation, the absence of common goals amongst the demonstrators, and an inability to look beyond the present task of getting rid of the incumbent. In this sense, even though the media have presented these demonstrations as being pro-democratic, they are essentially anti-regime. They have also been characterised as movements driven by radical Islamist ideas which could, as Gadaffi warned ominously, transform one state after another into a potentially more extreme version of Iran. Yet in the example of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – the party most likely to rise to power after Mubarak – we have not seen evidence that it is willing or able to take the reins of power. On the other hand, we cannot easily disregard the possibility that Islamist radicals might take advantage of the virtual state of civil war in Libya. Moreover, since the Libyan military is already deeply divided it is unlikely that it will be able to maintain the same degree of relative stability as its Egyptian counterpart did recently, leaving a definite opening for Islamist groups to exploit in a post-Gadaffi state.
After such powerful demonstrations against Arab regimes, it is clear that whatever forms of governance develop, due attention must be given to the public’s demands if peace and stability are to be sustained. In Egypt and Libya, as well as in most of the other states where repressed societies are confronting their respective regimes, the next governments that come to power either by force or through elections could easily be Islamist. Whether the states that emerge are moderate or radical, the parliaments which are formed will almost certainly have a strong Islamist representation.
Thus, the pluralistic template of government which the West is advocating as the answer to the region’s problems could easily have negative results for western interests if Islamic parties gain influence, even if they are democratically-inclined. The result would be a region where an element of Islamic governance and democracy coexist as seen in the case of Turkey. Such a model, containing a paradoxical mixture of economic liberalism and cultural-religious conservatism, would likely preserve a significant degree of Islamic nationalism, both in foreign and domestic policy, in order to maintain social cohesion.
If we use the Turkish model of governance to analyse the future of the regimes in transition, we can easily envisage a region where Islamism has a very prominent role. Such a model would allow the Arab-Muslim states to develop economically through trade and increased financial ties with the West. Conversely though, the common element of Islamism could also intensify feelings of solidarity among Muslim states, while not necessarily reviving the idea of Pan-Arabism.
Equally significant is the impact that such a development might have on the balance of power not only in the Middle East but also internationally. Countries such as Egypt and Libya might no longer support American operations in the Middle East as they have previously. As seen in 2003, Ankara refused to allow American troops to enter Northern Iraq though Turkish soil to prevent any negative ramifications for Turkish interests in Kurdish Iraq or Kurdistan.
Therefore, there is a huge amount at stake for the US and the West as these momentous events continue to play out. Crises like those in Egypt and Libya recently illustrate the misguided strategic planning of the US with respect to the Middle East in emphasizing the stability of local regimes over a desire to see their Arab clients promote genuine democratic values. If the revolutions in the Middle East unfold as has been suggested above, then, the emergence of a distinct Islamic pole in the center of the world map is far from implausible.
Posted on www.global-politics.co.uk on March 5, 2011
Although the above illustration of Turkey is, to a great extent, valid, it is relatively simplified compared to reality. Ankara’s ambitions seem to be much greater. Although its relations with the U.S. remain largely stable, Ankara does not hesitate to challenge them by collaborating with Iran and Russia in the economic and energy/nuclear field. Furthermore, Erdogan’s recent statements on the Palestinian problem conflict show a hostile attitude towards Turkey’s traditional ally, Israel. This action primarily aims to approach the Arab-Islamic states using Islamic solidarism and also to internationally “alienate” Israel.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has released provocative statements on the importance of Turkey to the E.U. and also on the fact that Turkey does not need the E.U. to emerge as a major strategic power which indicate the balanced diplomatic rhetoric of Ankara.
Regarding the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, Turkey is doing everything it can to prevent the control – through mutual agreements and the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zones – of underwater energy resources from Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Egypt. Finally, regarding the Cyprus Conflict, although Turkey seems to want a solution, it keeps delaying it seeking more concessions or new parameters that would allow it to handle not only the North but also the South marine part of the island. However this does not seem to be easy because of the increased diplomatic relations of Nicosia with its neighbours.
A clear shift
The result of the above equation, which includes many other summands, is clearly indicative of an emerging Turkey spreading its “tentacles” in every direction. Turkey aims to play not only a regional but also a global role. Its changing relations with Israel, the provocative attitude towards the U.S., NATO and the EU, the prospect for its own nuclear program, its cooperation with Iran and Russia and the closer relations with the Arab-Muslim world show a gradual but clear shift of foreign policy towards a more autonomous, stronger and global role. It should be noted, however, that although this scenario is realistic, is not a near future scenario.
Means to an End
An important point to be made is that Turkey has currently an absolute need for the millions of Euros of EU funding it receives for its development and in order to achieve its objectives. In this light, Ankara appears to be using the EU for its own gain but at the same time is not showing the necessary political will to properly entering it. Let us not forget that while in past years Turkish public opinion was in favour of joining the EU, this has now changed dramatically. Erdogan’s government cannot just disregard this fact because the Turkish public opinion has always been a key factor in Turkish foreign policy and because, now more than ever, AKP (Erdogan’s party) needs the support of the people in the upcoming elections. Furthermore, Ankara seems to be using its position in the NATO alliance to seek funding and the placement of weapons facilities in its territory which is one of the reasons why Turkey still keeps close relations with the US and NATO.
Conclusion: Realistic but not so easy
To conclude, it is clear that Ankara’s ambitions extend beyond the borders of the Middle East and the greater Mediterranean region. The emergence of Turkey as a global power is visible and its efforts for a global and regional Islamic cooperation under the Turkish umbrella is not impossible to be materialised. To fulfil its goals mobilizes all means available; exploits all the resources; takes advantage of all of its allies and creates policies with long-term results. However, Turkey has still a long way to go and plenty of time to get there. We should not forget that a lot of things might happen during this course, given the fact that we live in a constantly changing local, regional and international system.
Posted on http://www.global-politics.co.uk/ on December 10, 2010