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November 14, 2008

Turkish Leadership
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to mediate between the U.S. and Turkey. Others, including Patrick Barry and Ezra Klein, have written about the broader strategic implications. I want to underline one thing: Erdogan, depending on how you define things, is an Islamist or was an Islamist at some point. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) is quite clearly a religiously-oriented one. For those who feel that Islamist parties and U.S. national security interests don't necessarily go together, Turkey is proof that this need not be the case. Yes, Turkey can always be dismissed as an outlier, but, just the same, it can serve as a model for what we might expect from other Islamist parties in the region (after all, it serves as a model for at least some reformists within the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan).

There is also something else to keep in mind. Turkey is one of the only democracies in the Middle East. It is not an accident that regional leadership goes hand in hand with having a strong, proud democracy. It is hard to imagine Egypt, under its current autocratic leadership, playing a similar role. Governments that are considered illegitimate and weak at home are not in the position to be strong abroad. If President Mubarak of Egypt, for instance, announced an ambitious regional initiative, it would be a statement coming from one person, representing, really, only one person. He has no parliament to back him up. He would in no sense be authorized or supported by his people in doing such a thing (and we know that domestic support is critical for the long-term success of foreign initiatives). Lastly, if one person makes a decision, one person can always change it, so why cast your lot with something so fickle. In other words, in Turkey, the conduct of foreign policy is more institutionalized. It is not entirely dependent on Erdogan. The same cannot be said for the conduct of, say, Egyptian and Jordanian policy in the region.

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