Turkey’s perception in the region – friend or foe

IMG_9788 (Kopie)Turkey is perceived very positively throughout the Mashreq and Maghreb. For many inhabitants of the region it is an economic and political model to strive for. However, this trend is progressively declining. Why is Turkey perceived as a model and why is this trend declining? What is the role of Turkey in the region and as a bridge to the West?

These questions were discussed during a lunchtime debate at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom on 28 May in presence of Gökce Percinoglu, Project Coordinator of the Foreign Policy Programme at TESEV and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MEP, ALDE rapporteur for accession negotiations with Turkey.

The Middle East is going through a period of immense change; the unexpected developments triggered by the Arab Spring have radically reshaped the region and the future remains uncertain for almost all countries. Especially the conflict in Syria and the alarming situation in Iraq have become a crucial issue for Turkey and many other countries in the region as well as Europe.

Turkey plays an important role in the region and has become an actor in the transformation process since the very early stages. It has dramatically expanded its influence in recent years throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, operating as an interlocutor and partner to Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East.

Understanding how Turkey’s role is perceived in the region is critical to foreign policy making in Turkey, as well as to the EU countries. Therefore, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation – TESEV publishes an annual survey on the perception of Turkey in the Middle East. The fourth edition of the survey shows that Turkey is the country most positively viewed by the population in the Middle East and the Maghreb. By many Turkey is seen as a model due to its economic strength, its democratic institutions, its secular state and because at the same time it is a Muslim country.

However, due to domestic and foreign issues, positive perception is decreasing. Why is that so? Our panelists seemed to agree that the Syrian conflict, the Arab spring, the lack of a continuous engagement in many countries of the region and the ambiguity in its relation to Europe all affected the perception of Turkey by its neighbours. Gökce Percinoglu and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff also concurred in their analysis of the future. Turkey will continue being a strong economic power and mediator in the region. But for that to happen it must clarify its stance on EU accession, tackle Human Rights violations, solve several domestic issues such as the role of the Kurdish minority, as well as its relation to Armenia and Cyprus.

You can download the full report “Turkey’s perception in the Middle East” here.

Julie Cantalou