Developments in the Arab World Have not Helped Turkey

Although the Turkish Government would like to believe that the popular revolutions have strengthened it, the welcome mat is not out in the EU.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 01:19

Prime Minister Erdogan
Prime Minister Erdogan

In an article in Newsweek, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğani confidently made the case that Turkish accession to the European Union was essentially doing the EU a favor. He posited that as opposed to the effete membership of the union, Turkey is a vibrant and dynamic country. Only with the addition of Turkey could the European Union aspire to be a world power.

Newsweek apparently agrees with the assessment, as it featured a puff piece pointing to the ruling AKP party of the Prime Minister as a model for the Islamic parties in the Middle East.   It is expected that these parties will emerge from the repressed and semi-clandestine status under which they languished  prior to the recent series of popular revolutions,  in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Yet, Turkish entry into European Union appears more remote than before. Diplomatically, the Erdoğan government may have been prescient by being quick off the mark to condemn the regime of President Mubarak and its actions against the demonstrators. This, however, was counteracted by the fact that Iran was carrying out its repression against demonstrators while Turkish president Abdullah Gul,was visiting Tehran and hobnobbing with President Ahmadinejad.

Worse, Turkey was isolated in its opposition to the imposition of sanctions on Libya and this just highlighted the fact that apparently the last recipient of the Qaddafi Human Rights award will be Erdoğan himself. Turkey admittedly had to concern itself with the fate of 15,000 Turkish nationals in Libya and also $15 billion worth of investments and business dealings.

Erdoğan compounded the situation, by denouncing the West for its presumed hypocrisy "Those who want democracy and human rights in countries that do not have oil, remain silent about the developments concerning countries with oil. Why is that?" he queried. The Turkish Prime Minister ignored the obvious contradiction that the West had raised its voice against Libya,  a country with oil.

The Turkish government has also recently come under fire for tampering with freedom of the press and mistreating its Christian minority. U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, Frank Ricciardone, was called on the carpet after he had issued a mild rebuke claiming that the US was confused by the fact that journalists were being detained in Turkish prisons despite the avowed government policy supporting a free press. He said  "we are trying to make sense of this."

Turkey accused the American ambassador of unfamiliarity with Turkey, although he had served there before.  Interior Minister Beşir Atalay informed him that “Turkey, in terms of press freedom, is much more independent a country than America. … Turkey is a country where there is more press freedom than other democratic countries,”

Volker Kauder, head of the ruling Christian Democratic parliamentary faction in Germany, told the Rheinische Post that he opposes Turkish entry to the EU  "as long as Turkey does not guarantee full freedom of religion," and that "included allowing Greek Orthodox Christians to train priests in Turkey."

Another cause celebre is the Turkish government's legal attempts to seize the land surrounding an ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery on the preposterous claim that the monastery, that antedates Islam by centuries, was built on land on which there had formerly been a mosque.

To be fair, even if the Turkish record was pure, Turkish entry to the EU is currently a tough sell.  Until the problem of Cyprus is resolved, Greece and Cyprus will veto Turkish entry. Additionally, key European countries – notably France and Germany who are major players in the EU, are opposed to Turkish entry.

Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have recently condemned multiculturalism as a failure. They are contending with public opinion that is becoming increasingly hostile to an invigorated Muslim presence in Europe, an inevitable byproduct of Turkish entry.

The hostility was manifest in the French president's whirlwind visit to Ankara as head of the G 20 rather than as French president. France and Germany are trying to sell Turkey something short of full membership called a  privileged partnership but Turkey will have none of it..

The Turkish reception was notably icy and the Turks conveyed to Sarkozy that they would retaliate against France in the commercial arena. The visit was further marred by Sarkozy showing "disrespect" for Turkey by chewing gum while descending from the plane. In retaliation, the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, chewed gum in protest while Sarkozy boarded the plane on his way back.

Prior to setting out for Germany, Erdoğangave an interview chiding Germany for blocking rather than favoring Turkey and hinting at racism: "Obviously, developments in the accession process up till now give the impression of discrimination."

When he arrived in Germany and spoke in Dusseldorf before Turkish immigrants to Germany (who will have the right to vote for the first time in a Turkish election 2 months hence), Erdoğancompared Islamophobia to anti-Semitism as a crime against humanity.

Mr Erdogan's meeting with the German Chancellor Merkel, as well as a planned trip to the EU in Brussels, was deferred as the  Turkish leader flew back to Ankara for the funeral of his former Islamic  mentor Erbakan Necmettin, who died on Sunday at the age of 84. However, had the meetings had gone through they would have achieved little.