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Disillusioned by EU, Turkey turns eastward 10 août 2006

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Religion, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

Associated Press (AP), August 09, 2006                            Türkçe

Suzan Fraser, Ankara

Ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has steadfastly fixed its gaze on the West – and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought his nation closer to its dream of being part of Europe than at any time since the demise of the Islamic caliphate.

But now – as the EU questions whether it really wants to let in such a large, relatively poor and overwhelmingly Muslim nation – there are signs that Erdogan is shifting his foreign policy focus from Europe to the Middle East and the Islamic world.

This week, Erdogan played host to Saudi King Abdullah, the first visit there by a Saudi monarch in four decades. Earlier this year, Erdogan visited Qatar, Bahrain, Pakistan, Sudan and Indonesia. In March, he became the first Turkish leader to address a meeting of the Arab League.

Erdogan has also condemned Israel’s attacks against Lebanon in deeply emotional terms and in February hosted the exiled political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal.

The eastward shift has major strategic implications for Washington, which views Turkey as a key bridge to the Muslim world, a partner in the war on terror, and a model for how Western democratic values can coincide with Islam.

What it means for Turkey’s tortuous European project is not entirely clear, but the current atmosphere is certainly a far cry from a few years ago when Erdogan immediately toured European capitals, including Rome, Madrid and Athens, after his Islamic-rooted party took power in 2002.

«Erdogan’s has turned his direction toward countries outside of Europe,» said Ayhan Simsek, a columnist with the New Anatolian newspaper. «Erdogan was seriously disillusioned by Europe and is now giving priority to Muslim countries.»

Turkey’s renewed interest in the lands it ruled from the 16th century to the early 1900s indicates a possible departure from the path hacked out by the founding father of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who imposed Western laws and even outlawed Islamic dress and introduced the Latin alphabet in place of Arabic script.

Many Turks now would like to see their country regain the Mideast leadership role it enjoyed under the Ottoman sultans.

«Turkey was a country that led the region,» said Simsek. «The government would like the country to take on the leadership again.»

Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser and the architect of the policy switch, seemed to echo those sentiments.

«Can we stay away from the effects of regional developments by saying: ‘We have turned toward the West and have nothing to do with the Middle East?’» the Milliyet newspaper quoted him as saying.

An avenue for renewed Turkish influence in the Middle East has opened up with its offer to contribute troops to an international stabilization force in Lebanon, although many Arabs may feel uneasy at the notion of seeing soldiers from its old colonial master.

The switch to the East coincides with increased frustration in Turkey over European reservations against making Turkey not only a full EU member but probably the Union’s most populous country. Europe has set a host of legislative and economic conditions, and the suggested timetable would drag on well into the next decade.

It also comes as ties with the United States are at a low over US reluctance to rein in autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. Turkey fears an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq, as do neighboring Syria and Iran, which also have significant Kurdish minorities.

Polls show support for the EU has fallen from around 75 percent before October 3 – when the EU took an historic decision to open membership talks with Turkey despite the widespread reservations – to about 60 percent now.

The shift also feeds the aspirations of many in Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party who not only feel spurned and disappointed by Europe but also feel a pull from the country’s Muslim neighbors.

«Erdogan’s agenda and that of the EU are now clashing,» said Ali Tekin of Ankara’s Bilkent University. «The EU was a way for him to advance religious freedoms but he has now seen that on many issues, such as adultery, the headscarf, women’s role, there is a clash.»

Erdogan’s government has also made no secret of its disappointment over European court rulings backing Turkey’s secular laws that ban the wearing of Islamic-style headscarfs in schools and public offices in Turkey.


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