The Greater Middle East Initiative, a Turkish Perspective

by Dr. Duygu Bazoglu Sezer
The GMEI has aroused intense interest in Turkey for a variety of reasons. The most obvious ones are geographic proximity and cultural/religious affinity. Any major change in the region is likely to have deep repercussions here. Also, the word “reform” rings a very familiar bell in Turkish ears, as the country has been immersed in a radical reform process almost day after day since the year 2000 in order to qualify for EU membership negotiations.

Three major clusters of opinion are apparent:

Cautious Optimists: This group sees the GMEI as a positive project in principle with the potential to help the region modernize itself politically and economically only IF certain preconditions are met.

The first precondition relates to the question of the ownership of the project. Who will be the leading policy-making and implementing agents? The core concept behind the project is, as I understand it, the modernization of the system and society through partnerships between the G-8 and regional actors to wipe out the root causes of so-called “Islamic terrorism.” Success of the project depends first and foremost on the acceptability of this core concept to the regional actors. Alas, the project’s handling so far does not conjure up images of a true partnership-in-the-making. The project should be redesigned with the help of substantive input from the region—if the perception of an ideological crusade against Muslim countries by Western experts and authorities is to be eliminated. The National Endowment for Democracy is often viewed as the leading instrument of this presumed crusade. Hence, give us a chance to be innovative and to create institutions that are home-grown. Do not transplant or push copies from Washington.

The second precondition is the need to recognize that the Arab-Israeli conflict was and continues to be the central source of instability in the region. For GMEI’s acceptability, let alone success, Arabs must see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is absolutely vital that the United States act urgently (basically along UN Security Council resolutions) before the conflict’s poisonous tentacles reach out to choke the GMEI.

Official Turkish position seems to be somewhere along these lines. Officials insist that Turkey does not wish to present itself as a “model” to others on the question of reform or the recently popular thesis in the West that it has successfully married democracy to Islam. Like this author, many believe that talk about the so-called “Turkish model” is outdated and should cease to be raised. Every country has its own special needs and aspirations.

Pessimists: The second group of opinion dismisses the project as unwise and undoable. A foreign-made project designed to transform Muslim countries through foreign social engineering will trigger deep regional resistance. They believe that in the absence of a popular demand for change—as is the case in the GME—social engineering will not work; instead, it will create greater instability.

Rejectionists: The third group consists of Islamists who believe that the GMEI is another ploy of Western imperialists in the heartland of the Islamic world to destroy their culture and identity and to break to pieces the social fabric of Islamic society.

Personally, I would add another caveat: its neo-conservative political/intellectual pedigree poses a major obstacle to an unemotional approach to the project. The neo-cons have been utterly discredited by the disastrous example of Iraq. To get a fair hearing the GMEI needs to be disassociated from the neo-con agenda. How? Perhaps by removing the neo-con cadres in the American administration from positions of influence.

In summary, I believe that despite its several key deficiencies, the project deserves serious consideration. Many of us in the region feel that it is time for us to change in order to better be in tune with the requirements of a globalized world. Our region has stayed behind on numerous indices: democracy, economic growth, the growth of human resources, etc. Political and economic change that is lead by domestic forces, in cooperation with external partners, and that is gradual, should be welcome. The efforts of the fledgling civil society will never be adequate. Governments should be enticed to head the process. Both parties, that is the GME and the West, have a mutual stake in working together in real partnership. If they can thus mobilize the region’s collective energies to build a more democratic and prosperous “arch of stability” from Afghanistan to North Africa, the cause of international peace and security will have been served. But, again, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must move towards a resolution before the region’s energizes and will can be mobilized to this end.

- Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. This article is part of a series of views on the US "Greater Middle East" initiative for reform, published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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The Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust—A new partnership
A Small State for Palestinians: A Great Step for the Greater Middle East
A view from Washington
Reform in the Arab World: Tensions and Challenges
Promoting Reform Efforts in the Middle East
Let us be Democratic about Democracy
The Greater Middle East Initiative
The Greater Middle East: Moving Beyond Mutual Refutation to What is Required
Reform in the Arab World Requires that True Intellectuals Speak Out
Difficult but necessary: a joint strategy to promote political reform in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

The Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust—A new partnership by Senator Richard G. Lugar
A Small State for Palestinians: A Great Step for the Greater Middle East by Gidi Grinstein
A view from Washington by Pamela and Robert Pelletreau
Reform in the Arab World: Tensions and Challenges by Shafeeq Ghabra
Promoting Reform Efforts in the Middle East by Nizar Abdel-Kader
Let us be Democratic about Democracy by Dr. Abdul Aziz Said
The Greater Middle East Initiative by Richard W. Murphy
The Greater Middle East: Moving Beyond Mutual Refutation to What is Required by Hazem Saghiyeh
Reform in the Arab World Requires that True Intellectuals Speak Out by Daoud Kuttab
Difficult but necessary: a joint strategy to promote political reform in the Middle East by Dr. Steven Everts