Tuesday, 05 November 2013 21:15


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Having her BA in Economics at Istanbul University (1973); MA in Economics at University of Iowa (1977); PhD in Economics at Istanbul University (1982), Sema Kalaycioglu became an assistant professor in 1982, an associate professor in 1986 and a full professor in 1992. She worked at Yildiz Technical University (1982-2003), Isik University (2003-2008) and Dogus University (2008-2010), where she served as the chairperson, the graduate dean and the dean. For the last 2 years she has been actively involved in the academic councils, activities and seminars of Turkish Asia Strategic Research Center (TASAM) and the Marmara Group Foundation. 

IMESClub: How would you characterize the past decade for the Middle East? 

Pr. Sema Kalaycioglu: I would definitely call the past decade of the Middle East as another lost decade for countries of the region with the exception of the Gulf and perhaps for Algeria and Morocco to certain extend. Human resources, wealth, opportunities and hopes have been wasted over promises of reforms, corrupt practices, futile political squabbles, civil strives, tensions, border disputes conflicts, foreign occupations or interventions, tribal and sectarian warfare. The pportunity cost of not investing resources in the physical infrastructure, education, health, housing and industrial (and all other sectors of production) upgrading has been too high to compensate the potentials the well- being of future decades.

 The first decade of the 21st century actually witnessed the slow process of the demise of national identities in many countries of the region from Iraq to Libya only to be replaced by sectarian(religious), ethnic or tribal identities. With the lid of national identity lifted the perils of all divisive elements broke loose or in the process of breaking loose. That is the situation we have been witnessing in Iraq; what is likely to grow deeper in Syria and definitely what further threatens Egypt because of the increasing polarization between the secular and the mild and ultra-religious segments of the Egyptian society, as well as between different religious groups.    

IMESClub: Which mistakes were committed by intra-regional and outer-regional players? 

Pr. Sema Kalaycioglu: Intra-regionally different kinds of mistakes can be classified as follows:

i. The classical political rivalry between countries play an important and destabilizing role in the Middle East turmoil. Each country or groups within intra-regional countries take advantage of  civil strives in other countries by taking sectarian sides, hosting opposition groups to the point of assisting them in choosing their leaders or governments in exile, sending arms or actually volunteer fighters (militia) to support who they consider close to their ideological preferences(eg. Iraqi and Iranian Shiites fighting along the Syrian National Army against the Syrian opposition, while Sunni groups of all spectrum from the Al Qaida to the Chechen volunteers fighting alongside with the Free Syrian Army). Porous borders, when no proper control exists or in the absence of control allow and/or facilitates these actions, which mass up the political situation further.

ii. Some intra-regional (as well as extra-regional) countries with high ambitions of regional power practice over other regional countries ideologically support, finance or host divisive movements in targeted countries with or without declared agenda.

iii. Inability, inaction or lack of interest of intra-regional institutions (The Arab League) in confidence building, peace- making and conflict resolution also make the situation difficult to find alternative solutions to existing or potential problems at regional levels, which opens door to foreign intervention especially in countries where foreign interest is intensified for one reason or another (energy concerns, oil or natural gas interests)

iv. Refugees going beyond borders to adjacent countries to problem spots constitute major sources of problems even though they are the consequence of the civil wars per se. Although it is mandatory to accept refugees at times of urgent request, allowing factions, armed groups and politically moved parties under the groups of refugees with no proper control nourishes the ongoing problems and deepen them further.

v. Allowing the Palestinian-Israeli problem continue for so long with refugee problems of its own kind attached to it has been a major obstacle against the Middle East peace process for a long time.

vi. Iran and Israel have also been sources of divisive problems for idiosyncratic reasons of their own. Iran as an exporter of radical ideologies also constitutes an actual and a potential threat not only against Israel but also to its immediate neighbors surrounding the Arab(Persian) Gulf, which make these countries either seek extra-regional supporters, or try to play some sort of a destabilizing regional power game to counter Iran’s alleged regional ambitions or actually to weaken the parties, which seem to support Iran to guarantee its reciprocity by means of Hezbollah(in Lebanon and Syria) or Hamas in Palestine. 

IMESClub: The Arab uprisings: Who are the losers and the winners in the East and in the West?

Pr. Sema Kalaycioglu: The process which is called as the Arab Spring has not ended yet. The countries, which were hoped to make a transition to democracy has not given any sign of such transition from taking place and they are not going to do so for a long time as it seems. Therefore, it is merely impossible to talk about any winners in the MENA, in terms of regained political stability (with the exception of Tunisia), increasing prospects for economic growth and job creation, alleviated poverty, increasing life standards, guaranteed human rights in general and rights for women in particular and establishment of law and order. If political stability returns with democratization in the process; if economic growth picks up to ensure secure jobs, if productivity over takes inertia then gains can be talked about.

Intra-regional actors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are among the countries, which did not particularly gain from the Arab uprisings. On the contrary, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar lost a lot of prestige on the way, Turkey risked its role as an honest broker in the Middle East Peace process, while losing its impartiality at the same time and overtook the burden of providing housing, lodging, food, security, education and health services to almost half a million Syrian refugees around its Southern border and deep into its cities. Nevertheless, Turkey’s not getting involved in a military action against Syria, in other words moving and deploying troops in Syria can be considered as an important gain from a potential  loss and an important economic and social cost. The only potential gain Turkey can talk about is with the intensifying civil uprisings surrounding its Southern border, it decisively concentrated to cure its domestic Kurdish problem.

Internationally the USA, which has lost an important leverage over the region because of the Iraqi mission of 2003, can hardly claim any gains in the Middle East at least in the short and the medium run. But it continues to ensure the well-being of the Israeli state and continues to orchestrate possible peace process.

The soft power EU could not remedy any regional ill so far. For that matter, aside from Germany, which from the very on start distanced itself from all Middle East squabbles, France still tries to recover from its Libya mission in the MENA, which did not particularly contribute to the political gains of Mr. Sarkozy, who lost the elections of 2012 to Mr. Holland. The only positive side of the non-involvement of the EU in the MENA problems is that it did not choose to act aggressively in the search of a remedy for its economic ills, especially when it came to Syria.   

Many more years we will be talking about the problems of the Middle East. For we if we talk about any gains of the dire circumstances in the region we can only make reference to the prestige gain of the Russian Federation because of its staunch persistence on the non-military, but political solution thesis for Syria over all countries and the UN.  Russia might have transformed its prestige gains into material gains if it were able to keep its natural gas prices at desired levels because of unrealized Gulf pipeline project and if its arms sales have increased to the Middle East after the Arab Spring in general, and after the Syria civil war in particular.

The same argument might be true to a certain extend for China, and Iran. The latter will prove to have a real gain if sanctions are alleviated because of the initiation of the new Iran and the P5+1 talks over the country’s nuclear enrichment project. I sincerely believe that the mild political change through democratic elections in Iran from the previous administration to the era of the newly elected Rouhani is also due to the electorate sensitivity with respect to the Arab Spring and what Rouhani administration offers as reforms is also due to the very same cause. 


IMESClub: What are the Turkey's regional aspirations in the MENA? 

Sema Kalaycioglu: Through economic, diplomatic, cultural, demographic presence and somewhat military involvements Turkey had been trying to exert decisive influence on the region at large with a special emphasis on religious ideology in the form of constructing an area of Muslim solidarity before the Arab Spring. 

There is certainly an element of strong religiosity in the Turkey’s political mission to the MENA.  With a more religious outlook and the discourse of the AKP governments, Turkey on the surface has been discovering a more hospitable environment in the MENA and even in the Sub-Saharan Africa.  As an attempt of mild form of political cooperation, Turkey has been discreetly following a new political approach, which is often interpreted as “neo Ottomanism”.6 

Since after the 2008 elections Turkey has seemed to adopt a newly defined policy approach of “zero problems with neighbours”. Although it contained elements of make-belief in a region with multiple problems this new definition did not conflict the traditional foreign diplomacy line of Turkey, which based upon the principle of “peace at home, peace in the world”. 

Proud of its success of overcoming a major financial crisis in 2001, achieving high economic and industrial growth in successive years and finding itself among the “enlarged group” of top 20 economies as the 16th top one encouraged Turkey develop new aspirations regarding the geography, which it once had imperial relations until the end of the first World War. If among top global powers, why not practice regional power? If this cannot be done in the EU why not concentrates on the Arab MENA? Turkey not only became economically very active wanted to be at least equally active in regional politics. 

To play this new and mostly self-propelled role of regional power7 Turkey had first started to identify itself with the region more so then ever before. It continued to exert influence by associating itself with the existing religious ideological streams; tried to raise its voice to set the political, security and even the military agenda of the region, and showed willingness to integrate itself with the MENA more by trade, business, investment and foreign aid. Frequent high level state visits, mutual exchange of friendship and brotherhood messages helped secure the new trend in relations. 

 Indeed every single treaty for more liberalised relations with its immediate MENA neighbours beyond the relations of the EU prescribed ones8 at the beginning had been taken as an initiative to reestablish the once integrated system of trade and commerce in the area primarily until Turkey started to react to existing problems of the MENA with political and ideological interest of power practice. Turkey first volunteered for mediation on one of the most complicated issues of the MENA namely the Middle East Peace Process. 

Initiating and pursuing shuttle diplomacies to help conflict resolution between Israel-Palestine (and Syria) had limits from the very beginning. It primarily lacked one essential doze of reality: The recognition of the fact that those conflicts had existed long before Turkey launched the policy shift and many peace initiatives and road maps had been sacrificed or lost on the way long before Turkey decided to design the policy of “zero problems with neighbors”. 

The tragic consequences for the flotilla incident of 2010 did not effectively relax the continental blockade Israel applied against Gaza. Turkey rightfully reacted to the violation of human rights. But the dose of reaction was exaggerated and its proactive approach was not appropriate. For the sake of power practice over intensified relations with its Arab neighbours, Turkey showed too much and too obvious preference for ideological solidarity. 

Turkey failed to be an honest broker, when it lost impartiality, neutrality and tranquility with the notion of being the protector and the voice of the oppressed by siding especially overtly with Hamas. At the end Turkey’s ambition to increase its role as a regional actor on the Middle East Peace Process ceased to be functional at the expense of freezing its relations with Israel. Israel has been aliened to the point of establishing new coalitions in the East Mediterranean on natural gas exploration missions with Cyprus and making joint military manoeuvres with Greece.  Turkey’s effort of reacting or being proactive proved to be unrealistic, when it came to Israel-Palestine conflict.

When it came to Syria, at the beginning being “unaware” of all previous regime conducts in Syria Turkey intensified its relations with it to promote friendly and brotherly contact with Assad and his government9. There too while showing overt preference for the Syrian opposition later it oversaw the role of external actors like China and Russia and a regional actor Iran without analyzing the consequences. 

Almost for every regional conflict in the MENA there had already been other extra-regional and regional actors identifying the same problems before Turkey took its part in the scene.  Turkey at the beginning underestimated the role other regional actors like Egypt and Iran always aspired to play. 

There have also been new actors from the region like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with which Turkey formed a tacit coalition on ideological grounds.   Turkey also acted the same manner towards Iraq, and helped Northern Iraq prosper beyond its relation with the Iraqi central authority to the point of antagonising the Iraqi central authority.      

For more on the issue we highly recommend to read the article by Professor Kalaycioglu: "Changes the Arab Uprisings Promise for the MENA and Turkey". 

Click on it: (available in PDF):


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