By Gideon Rachman
In 1996 a friend of mine called Jim Rohwer published a book called Asia Rising. A few months later, Asia crashed. The financial crisis of 1997 made my colleague’s book look foolish. I thought of Jim Rohwer (who died prematurely in 2001) last week as a I listened to another Jim – Jim O’Neill, formerly of Goldman Sachs – defending his bullish views on emerging markets in a radio interview.
Protest in Istanbul, Jan 2014 (Getty Images)
According to the Turkish proverb, if you spit down it gets in your beard and if you spit up it gets in your moustache. In other words, it’s a mess either way – and that pretty much sums up the state of EU-Turkish relations as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, prepares to visit Brussels on Tuesday for the first time since June 2009. Read more
The turmoil in Turkey
Turkey is in political turmoil. In recent weeks a corruption scandal has gripped the government, resulting in a series of arrests, the moving of hundreds of senior police officers, a challenge to the power base of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a split between Mr Erdogan and his former backers in the Gulenist movement.
In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Daniel Dombey, Turkey correspondent and Tony Barber, Europe editor, to discuss how these developments threaten the political and economic stability of this large dynamic country that is vital to the geopolitics of both Europe and Asia.
At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.
So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more
Free Syrian Army soldiers on the Turkish side of the Oncupinar crossing into Syria (Getty)
What to do when the nightmare next door shows no sign of coming to an end? That is the dilemma facing Turkey, perhaps one of the countries most troubled by the brutal civil war raging in Syria, with which it shares a 900km long border.
Consider the issues Ankara has to address: 600,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil, for now and the foreseeable future, dozens of deaths on the border, the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria, diplomatic strains, domestic political controversy and economic fallout.
So what do you do if you are a 76m-strong Nato member with serious ambitions to play a big role in the Middle East and beyond? A number of answers are emerging from Ankara: Read more
Protests in Gezi Park (Reuters)
Four months ago demonstrations about trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park grew into mass protests against the rule of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Now trees – or, put another way, the polarised politics of big development projects – have sprouted up once again on Turkey’s agenda. Here are five reasons why. Read more
Turkish actors Kivanc Tatlitug (L) and Songul Oden (R) (Getty)
It looks like the unkindest cut of all. After years in which the march of Turkish soap operas across the Middle East has been hailed as proof of Ankara’s soft power in the Arab world, someone wants to pull the plug.
The post-coup government in Egypt, which is barely on talking terms with Turkey, appears to be encouraging a boycott of Turkish soaps, a move that not only hits a showpiece cultural export but comes at a time when Ankara is confronting a host of problems in the Middle East.
The glory days of August 2011, when prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by thousands of sympathisers at Cairo airport, seem very far away. Indeed the upheaval in the Arab world, which once seemed set to bolster Turkey’s influence, is turning into a serious headache on issues ranging from soap operas to shootings. Read more
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Getty)
The coup in Egypt might be bad news not just for Turkey’s government, which had cultivated ties with Cairo’s Islamist leadership, but also for the thousands of demonstrators who have protested against Ankara in recent months. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, appears to have toughened his stance towards the protesters in the wake of the army intervention against his allies in Egypt. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The words freedom and democracy seem to be yoked together – like gin and tonic or Laurel and Hardy. In the rhetoric of many western politicians, the two words are used almost interchangeably. Promoting his “freedom agenda” in 2003, President George W Bush hailed the “swiftest advance for freedom in the 2,500-year story of democracy”.
Erdogan with Major General Hassan al-Roueini in Cairo, 2011 (Getty)
Two years ago, Egypt was the scene of one of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s greatest foreign triumphs. Now it is a country that he and much of Turkey look on at with anguish, a reminder that many of Ankara’s ambitions for the Middle East have come crashing to earth.
Turkey invested heavily in the Egyptian revolution and also in the government of Mohamed Morsi. Mr Erdogan was one of the first international leaders in early 2011 to call on then President Hosni Mubarak to heed the message of the demonstrators clamouring for his exit.
When, months later, Mr Erdogan visited Cairo, thousands of supporters greeted him at the airport.
Nor did ties end there. Ankara announced the extension of a $2bn loan to Cairo. Mr Morsi was acclaimed by the congress of Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP last September. Just a few days ago, the Turkish prime minister discussed his plans to visit the Gaza Strip – which he would almost certainly travel to via Egypt. That trip looks much less likely today.
In sum, the Egyptian coup may be a devastating blow to Turkey’s vision of a more democratic, more Islamist-leaning Middle East in which Ankara plays a leading role, partly by virtue of philosophical ties with governments in the region, partly because of its own experience in beating back military influence. Read more