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New Middle East and the Model of Islamic Power

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan Issues

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has recently said in an address to his country’s parliament that a new Middle East is emerging in which Turkey will be the leader and in control of new wave of changes. The main question, now, is to what extent his remarks are realistic and conform to the reality of the current developments in the Middle East, and to what extent they just reflect Turkey’s aspirations and new ambitions. It is not easy to make a simple judgment in this regard. To achieve a correct understanding of his remarks, the Middle East and North Africa should be viewed in the light of developments whose exact name has been thus far subject of serious debates at regional and international levels. The Arab Spring and the Islamic Awakening have been the best known designations for new developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The United States had already used the Greater Middle East and the New Middle East which were meant to serve Washington’s specific interests in the region. The main dispute, however, is not over the name. The main issue is that the Middle East and North Africa are changing as political systems based on familial hierarchies, including monarchies, lifetime presidencies, and emirates fall short of meeting modern needs and necessities. The main issue is how those necessities and needs will be met from now on. An even more important concern is the power model which is to replace outdated political systems that are based on familial descent. It seems that, thus far, three kinds of models have had claims to be substitutes for the old model.

1. The “Pious Predecessor” model which is promoted by Salafi elements that are backed by Saudi Arabia;

2. Velayat-e Faqih model, which is spearheaded by Iran; and

3. Secular Islamist model of Turkey.

The choice of the model toward which the Middle East and North Africa, which make up the entire Arab world, will finally incline, depends on what model will be able to meet real demands of the new generation of Arabs that is seeking change in all areas. In reality, the change-seeking Arab generation has arisen out of the Islamic culture and traditions, but unlike past generations, it cannot tolerate traditional power structures in their hereditary form and demands active participation in shaping the power structure. What has raised Turkey’s hope in being able to promote its own political power model as the best substitute for the past model, is the quality of new demands of the change-seeking social forces. Turkey believes that the new Middle East is moving toward some form of reconciliation between the Islamic traditions and modern democracy. They also maintain that the model offered by the Justice and Development Party is the sole model which has been able to establish a healthy relationship between the Islamic values and democratic ones. Developments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have apparently made Ahmet Davutoglu and his colleagues hope that their moderate version of Islam will gradually secure a firm foothold among the Muslim masses.

There is no theoretical consensus on the degree to which their viewpoint conforms to the reality of developments in the Middle East. However, Turkish politicians believe that the Saudi model cannot be offered as an acceptable model of the Islamic power in the Middle East. They maintain that the Saudi model is, by nature, traditionalist and extremist, and when combined with the existing power structure in Saudi Arabia, which is seen by Ankara as being based on Salafi - Wahhabi foundations, will not be able to draw the attention of the change-seeking generation in the Arab world that is well aware of democratic mechanisms of power.

Turkey believes that any influence of the Saudi model will be ephemeral and a result of petrodollars as well as the oil wealth which is the common asset of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf. In reality, however, the change-seeking generation sees the Saudi ruling system as being too reactionary to be worth adopting. It becomes even more so when remaining elements of Baathist-Socialist way of thinking are combined with a special sense of nationalism which is common to Arabs. Turkish officials also argue that Iran's power model is based on the Shia ideology which is facing limitations in the Sunni world and can only find a foothold in countries with a majority Shia population whose number in the Arab Middle East is just a few.

In reality, it is a result of the aforesaid notion that Turkey’s foreign minister claims his country will become the leader of the Middle East and its model of the Islamic power can be transferred to and be adopted as a role model by the change-seeking generation in the Arab world. Therefore, they think the Turkish model can be promoted not only because other models are stalled by innate shortcomings, but because of the simple reason that Turkey has been able to forge a harmony between the Islamic values and democratic values pioneered by the Western world. As a result, they say, Turkey’s moderate version of Islam has been able to introduce the Islamic world to a new path of development as well as political, cultural, and economic progress without facing major conflict with the West. The degree to which their reasoning is correct and conforms to the realities of the Middle East developments is quite a different issue. The important point is that Turkey has cherished this notion and is acting on its basis.

The reality, however, is that North Africa is not a good testing ground for Turkey’s model of political power. North Africa has its own special conditions and is shaping its own model of political power structure based on the experiences it has gained during tens of years of interaction with the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood without paying much attention to other successful or unsuccessful models. The real litmus test for the Turkish model is the ongoing unrest in its southern neighbor, Syria. Even Turkey’s officials have correctly understood this reality. The emphasis put by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Article 5 of NATO statute, to which Turkey is a member, clearly shows his way of thinking. It proves that unlike what Turkish politicians think, their model of power cannot be promoted through democratic mechanisms, at least in Syria, and most probably it will need a bloody civil war or foreign military intervention in order to be established in that country. Accepting this assumption will take us to the conclusion that Syria has turned into an arena of intense rivalry among three aforesaid models which claim to be suitable models for political developments in the Middle East. It is quite possible that the rivalry will be further complicated by military intervention of NATO upon the request of Turkey. In that case, it may draw other sources of global power into the vortex of the Syrian war and its consequences may go far beyond the ambitions of Turkish officials. Such a turn of events may not only cause drastic changes in the Middle East, but also have profound effects on international politics and lead to a new round of cold war and global power groupings which may reshape the international order in a totally new way.

Key Words: New Middle East, Model of Islamic Power, Arab Spring, Islamic Awakening, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Mollazehi

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