Friday, November 04, 2011

Turkey’s economic surge

Turkey’s economic surge and its role in the Middle East

Turkey has been scoring high in economic development. This has already improved the self-confidence of the Turkish people and the government to speak more loudly in the international arena.
If John L. Casti was right in his “Mood Matters,” where he claimed that the rise and fall of civilizations is contingent on the attitudes a society holds toward the future, then we are certainly observing a rising star from within. The mood in Turkey is quite positive, and the country is already convinced it can reach targets that at one time no one gave any credence to. Five years ago, when the prime minister declared a $500 billion export target for 2023, even exporters were skeptical. Last week the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) estimated that this year will see a record $132 billion in exports. The target is still a hard one, but most of us believe that Turkey can do that.

The government’s 2023 targets, disclosed in the run-up to the recent general elections, had another entry: being among the 10 largest economies of the world. Turkey is already the 16th or 17th largest economy, according to different listings. But rising from the 15th to the 10th in those lists is not as easy as rising from the 25th to the 20th. The gap between larger countries is larger. Turkey has countries such as the Netherlands, South Korea, Mexico, Australia and Spain to outdo and only then will the race become serious with Russia, India, Canada, Italy, Brazil and the United Kingdom running for seats in the top 10 economies of the 21st century. This is not easy at all, but it seems that the mood in Turkey is convinced that it will be…

In fact, the Americans seem to have been convinced that this will be the situation in a few years. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at an event organized by the American-Turkish Council (ATC) this week and she stated that she believes Turkey will take its place among the top 10 economies of the world “thanks to the Turkish miracle.” She went further and suggested that the Turkish-American security alliance should improve into a powerful and dynamic welfare alliance.

There is no such thing in the dictionary of international politics or of capitalist economy. But the secretary of state knows what she is speaking about. She explains the “welfare alliance” as utilization of Turkey’s economic surge as leverage for political and cultural change in the Middle East. The Americans are aware that what makes the Turkish prime minister the “new man in town” is not the harsh criticism Recep Tayyip Erdoğan uses against Israel -- Arabs have many harsher critiques of Israeli policies. Nor is it the religious rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood used by Turkish politicians that makes Turks a role player in the region. It is thanks to the economic surge that is being experienced in Turkey despite the undeclared bankruptcies in its immediate neighborhood that the Arabs are looking toward Turkey as a future destination. Turkish soap operas, which have a sweeping effect on Arab pop culture, add to this perception of Turkish wealth. I am sure Clinton is looking at projections of credible institutions rather than the Turkish soap operas, but in the end, she reaches the same result: the Turkish miracle.

Can the Turkish miracle play a role in reshaping the Middle East in lines sympathetic to American policy? Will Arab youngsters looking at the success stories of Turkish businessmen decide to abandon their anti-American, anti-Western, anti-colonialist and anti-Orientalist sentiments?

This can happen only if Turkey, as the new tourism destination of young Arabs, also turns into a destination for Arab intellectuals, academics, inventors, innovators and investors. This can happen only if Turkey starts attracting not only the revolutionary Arab youth in the Middle East but also the Western-educated Arabs from Europe and the US to come and settle down in Turkey.

And this can happen only if Turkey fully abandons its already outmoded nation-state reflexes by means of citizenship rights and opens its doors to the highly skilled migrants willing to come and join the “Turkish miracle.” The Arabs will naturally not want their lifestyles, political structures and economic policies to be reshaped by a country which does not accept the active participation of the Arabs in its own developmental processes. Turkey can be a player in the Arab Middle East only if it lets qualified Arab minds join its workforce, its intellectual circles and its diplomatic-bureaucratic crew.

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