TURKEY AND DEMOCRATIZATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST A TPQ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SÜLEYMAN DEMIREL By Nigar Göksel th Turkeys 9 President Süleyman Demirel was in active politics for over 35 years, serving as prime minister for almost 12 years in total and finally as president before his retirement in 2000. His vast experience in Turkeys own democratization process holds many lessons that are relevant for the countries of the region. In the interview we conducted with him, President Demirel shares his views on the state of democracy in the region, identifying the fundamental dynamics of a functioning democracy and cautioning against quick fixes that can divide rather than unite. Demirel criticizes both the Turkish governments management of relations with the US and the management of Turkeys public opinion on the Iraq issue. As for Turkeys regional role, Demirel believes improving its own institutions and practices is the most effective way for Turkey to contribute to the goal of democratization in the Middle East. A TPQ Exclusive Interview with Süleyman Demirel, 20 June 2005 TPQ: What are the main barriers to democratization in the Middle East? Is it on its way? Should the developments in Lebanon be considered exceptional or isolated incidents? Do you consider it as the start of a greater change in the region? Demirel: We have to be sure what we mean when we say Middle East. The Middle East is Turkey, the Middle East is Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt. We also have to include some of the African countries such as Sudan and Somalia in the Middle East. Pakistan is subject to debate. Sometimes, it is closely involved in the problems of the Middle East. However, in the strict sense of the word, the Middle East covers Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in the Gulf. First of all, the Middle East is heterogeneous. It is composed of peoples and countries which differ in their cultures, religions, languages and political traditions. In most of these countries, democracy is rarely mentioned. My belief is that it is wrong to consider all these countries as one big entity named the Middle East. We can not generalize the problems of all these different countries. Each of them has to be evaluated individually as far as democratization is concerned. Maybe we should start with Israel. Israel has established one of the most powerful democracies in the world. It is hard to apply the same democratic conditions to other countries. Israels democracy unites the people of the country with its government. There is no other country in the region which includes this in its daily agenda. In Israel each citizen is a different political party and the political parties try to unite groups who have different views. Each citizen has power. However politics is not abandoned to the man on the street because the man on the street can be misled very easily. Of course the man on the street is taken into consideration, and that is why there are inconsistencies. However, on major issues for the general interests of the country, the Israeli politician is not surrendered to the man on the street. Palestine is not a state yet. There is a Palestinian Administration but there is not an independent state. As far as I am concerned, the Palestinian Administration is the closest country to this kind of democracy. People have suffered a lot and they have very well educated Palestinians. These people play the main role and have a lot of influence in governance. This means Palestine is not only a terrorist organization, Palestine is not only Intifada, all Palestinians are not terrorists who throw stones at the Israeli police. These people recognize elections. They respect elections. Of course democracy is not only elections but there is a political dictum, free and fair elections. There should be an elected assembly and a government which received the vote of confidence of the assembly. Whether a presidential system or a parliamentary system, the majority of the citizens should determine the executive power. Elections should periodically be repeated. Then comes the main characteristics of democracy such as free justice, free media, free streets, free university and freedom of conscience. The country which unites these shall be successful in its democratization attempt. The next closest country to these criteria is Iraq. By invading Iraq, the United States and other allied countries have committed themselves to bring democracy. This is now their duty and responsibility towards the people of the world and the citizens of Iraq. The President of the U.S. said, in February 2005, before the American Congress, that they came to Iraq to establish democracy, that the Iraqi people will be governed by a better administration and that they would provide the Iraqis with wealth. There is a clear relationship between wealth and democracy. If we look at the worlds economy 86 percent of the global income belongs to democratic countries, which represents only 40 percent of the worlds population. Democracy is freedom, human dignity, and again as I said, it has a lot to do with wealth. Iraq is among the closest countries to democracy in the region. Some successful steps have been taken in this direction. A new constitution entered into force, new elections were held. If Iraq is able to maintain its territorial integrity - it is due to the efforts of its freely elected assembly which unites free political organizations. The claim in Iraq is universal. When Saddam was in power he was considered cruel and according to the majority of Iraqis, he was cruel. He maintained territorial integrity by cruel methods. Now democracy is being experimented with Iraq with territorial integrity being maintained. This is an important experiment for the whole region. The Greater Middle East Project covers the area between Morocco and Pakistan. We have twenty-two different states and these twenty-two states population sums up to 300 million, and a total GNP of 700-800 billion dollars. Whereas Spain has 44 million and its GNP is 800 billion dollars. What I mean is these 300 million, mostly Muslim Arabs, are supposed to possess 66 percent of worlds oil. But as we know, this oil is owned only by a certain number of people in these countries. If this system continues it will be very hard to keep the social peace in these countries. If one day democracy is established in most of these countries, the oil income of any state will be enough to get rid of poverty and educate its people. The political system in these countries is not chosen by the citizens will. This means there still is tyranny. If the problems in Middle East countries are not solved, the worlds peace will again be threatened and people like Osama Bin Ladin will continue to undertake terrorist activities. The main goal of this war against terrorism is to establish peace in the world. It is hard to impose democracy on people. Other countries may help to promote democracy but citizens of the Middle Eastern countries need to be willing to have a democratic administration. If another country helps them form a puppet government, this will also be a failure. The will of the people plays an important role in each country for this Greater Middle East project. Although there are many unknowns, the goal is right. But how will this be handled? In the end, if this project reaches its set goals, I think one of the most important strategic areas in the world will be united and the bridge between east and west will be stronger. As Europe was demolished after World War II, it had to be reconstructed. Later, Europe became more powerful and wealthier than ever before. In Europe, per capita income is 25,000 dollars. As we all know, Europe was restructured by the Marshall Plan and Truman doctrine. Now the Middle East will be restructured by the Bush doctrine, namely the Greater Middle East doctrine. The region between Morocco and Pakistan has the richest petroleum, natural gas and carbon reserves in the world, so the entire planet will profit from these natural sources if we all help these countries implement democracy, as well as peace in the region. Of course the people who control these natural sources today, will not easily abandon their grip on power. Once citizens have power, it will not be easy to change the regime against the peoples will. Up until now, it was said that there was stability in the region, but the cost of this stability was a loss of freedom or simply, dictatorial regimes. If there really was stability in the region, there should not have been wars. You have to implement democracy to establish real stability in the Middle East. Democracy does not always mean efficient administration. The citizens of each country need to be informed and democratic institutions should all be in place. This will produce free market and free trade economies. Liberal economies need entrepreneurship and economic dynamism of this region is crucial for the global economy. Turkey is completely different from all the other Middle Eastern countries. Its advanced cultural history played an important role during its democratization period, namely the transition period from a one party system to a multi party system. U.S. alone can not produce democratization in the region. The people of the countries which will be subject to this experiment will, of course, call this American imperialism and all these complaints will trigger anti-Americanism. As a result, even if you try to help some countries, they may consider you an enemy. This is a very complex situation. What I mean by complex is that the implementation of democracy is a hard task. Lets all hope that there will not be any bloodshed during this period of stabilization. And when I say stabilization, I do not mean dictatorial stabilization or a Pax Romana stabilization, but rather democratic stabilization. TPQ: What kind of a role can Turkey play during this period? Is deterioration of Turkeys relations with the U.S. going to hinder Turkeys regional influence? Is the perception of Turkey by the Middle East a barrier to Turkeys playing an active role? Demirel: As we all know Turkey is a Muslim country - I mean as far as the greater percentage of the population is concerned. It is also a secular country. All the countries I mentioned in this region are Muslim countries except Israel. These Muslim countries do not accept secularism. They think Islam and secularism cannot coexist. This makes it difficult for them to see Turkey as an example. Once upon a time, most of these countries were within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The states, which were created after World War I, presented the Ottoman Empire as an enemy in order to unite their people. Since Turkey is the successor of the Ottoman Empire there has always been animosity. These countries do not have friendly chapters about Turkey in their school books. Most importantly, they find Turkey distant to Islam. So it is not very easy for the peoples of these countries to consider Turkey a role model. The Ottoman Empire invaded these countries against their will, but in my view, the administration of the Empire was successful. We can easily recognize this in the example of Palestine. For 400 years Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace in Palestine. There was tolerance. This also was the case in the Balkans. In my view, everything was well administered. But the Ottoman system became out of date, it fell behind the times. Turkey can play an important role in the region by being an example of a democratic republic. th It has successfully realized its 15 free and fair elections. Turkeys democratic institutions, such as a freely elected parliament, are good examples for the region. To better serve as an example, Turkey should improve its own institutions of justice, human rights, and their market economy. For instance, Middle Eastern countries could adopt Turkeys example easier than Frances because geographically and historically Turkey is situated closer to them in the region. As I mentioned before, although there is animosity they still feel closer to Turkey. Turkey should not interfere in their internal problems, but rather lead them, advise them when help is needed to avoid any kind of war in the region. TPQ: How does Turkeys progress towards joining the European Union effect its relations with the Middle East? Would relations between East and West improve globally? Would Turkey be more distant from the Middle East? If Turkey is accepted into the EU would this have a strengthening effect on Europes power in the Middle East? How would the dynamics change? Demirel: Perspectives of Turkey in the Arab world and Europe differ significantly. If I were to generalize, I would say, the Arab worlds point of view is more shallow. They really do not know what the EU is and what its aims are. I am also convinced that Turks, or even most Europeans, do not know what the EU means. Nevertheless, we cannot expect everyone to know the issue thoroughly. However, there are some facts about the EU known and recognized as successes. For example, all European countries are rich and developed in every aspect. Development is illustrated by discoveries and inventions realized in Europe. They have been inventing for the benefits of humanity. Of course we envy them. This does not mean one has to be a Christian to be successful in these fields. People keep thinking Islam is the barrier to all these inventions and discoveries. Turkey is also a developing Muslim country. It will be prestigious for Turkey to become a member of the EU. When this happens and Turkey catches up with the civilization and the modernity of Europe, people in the Middle East will consider this a great success. Turkeys integration to the EU will have a positive influence on the Greater Middle East project. As a result, if the U.S. wants to be successful in this project, they should strongly support Turkey in every aspect during the process of joining the EU as they have done. A more powerful and more esteemed Turkey could play an important role in establishing peace in the region. If Turkey had never applied for EU membership, it would not have been an issue of credibility. However, being refused after 41 years of trying will harm Turkeys image not only in the Middle East but also, in the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Asia. In any case, not being an EU member will certainly not be the end of the world. I recently attended an important meeting in the Balkans and I found out that Balkan countries are getting closer to Europe. In fact, the problem in Kosovo still exists. They do not know yet whether Serbia and Montenegro shall unite or depart. Slovenia and Croatia have reached the level of 10,000 USD per capita income. Macedonia and Bulgaria are improving. These improvements in the Balkans will have a good effect on Turkey. Turkeys presence is also a great help to them. Turkey had always been in the Balkans and will always be culturewise, diasporawise and credibilitywise. TPQ: If future EU membership is not pronounced as a possibility for the western Balkan countries, do you think the region is under the risk of investments in defense rather than investments in institutional change? Demirel: If there is no peace between these countries they will not prosper. If the EU does not include them in its structure, conditions will not get better for these countries. If Europe wants to be an undivided, democratic, peaceful and wealthy entity, the Balkans should be integrated into the EU. I mean all the Balkan countries including Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Moldavia and Turkey. If not, then the EU will have not united the entire Europe. TPQ: What is the cost of the current tensions in the Israel-U.S.-Turkey alliance? That is to say, does the current situation weaken Turkeys position in the Middle East region? Demirel: We know that Turkeys existence does not depend on this alliance. Even if Turkeys relations with this alliance get into trouble, Turkey will be there. Nevertheless, it seems that Turkey receives great benefits from having good relations in this alliance. These relations all depend on reciprocal benefits. It is very rare to find this kind of commonly shared interests by two countries. The counterpart could also be Brazil. Why not? But this is not the case. The U.S. has clear interests in this region. That is why it built up strong relations with Turkey. Turkey has also profited from Americas power for many years. Such mutual interest is not easy to find. You may not be able to continue such relationships based on joint interests between countries at the same high level for very long. Conditions might change. Mutual advantages may not coincide. Then a new pattern may develop according to these needs and for the sake of good relationships. We should not risk our relations with the U.S. for simple reasons. There is still the ground for close relations with the U.S. There is no decrease in Americas interest in the region. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a new geopolitical map emerged. On this geopolitical map there are four important regions; the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkey has leverage in all of these regions. As a matter of fact, the U.S. needs Turkey in this region, not only as an ally, but to be able to keep peace in the world. They need us for tomorrows world order because in the future, the main powers will be China, India, the Russian Federation, Japan, the EU and the United States. This is a power-game and the United States needs an ally in this power-game to be able to keep its superpower status. It is not very easy for America to find a friendly ally like Turkey in the region. Who else could be a better ally? Russia? Iran? Armenia? So, a close relationship between America and Turkey is a must because of geographical conditions, for historical reasons, and in light of future world politics. Israel is a laboratory for democracy, wealth and economic development. Their power in the world economy can not be underestimated. They have built up a strong economy in a region where other peoples live mostly in poverty. They have always used the most advanced technology. We have to benefit from the experience of this country. We all know that Israels role in the world is very important today, as if it were not a country with more than a mere five million inhabitants. They have power worldwide. Relations between Israel and Turkey have never harmed the Arab world. Turkey is careful enough not to conduct bilateral relations with its neighbors to harm third parties. The United Statess political and economic influence over Israel and Israels political and economic influence over the U.S. is obvious. If ever a peace agreement is reached between Palestine and Israel, it will be very useful for regional collaboration and global peace.