Turkey stands as a shining model for the successful integration of Islam, democracy and capitalism, and could be an example for the entire Middle East and North Africa as the region faces continuing uncertainty and turmoil, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said last month during a speech at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Babacan, a former foreign minister and Turkey’s point-man on the economy, extolled the dynamic economic changes that Turkey has undergone in recent years, and hailed the country as a positive force in resolving some of the world’s thorniest disputes.
The “Arab Spring” revolutions that have roiled the region from Tunisia to Yemen to Syria: these were not triggered by outside influences, he said. They were the result of the “domestic dynamics of these countries.”
Turkey has shown how Islam and democracy and capitalism can coexist peacefully, Babacan told the crowd of over 100 students and professors from Fletcher and Tufts.
“When people observe a functioning example, people are more encouraged to ask for more in their own countries,” he said. “We have been talking with leaders: change is coming, you can no longer have a closed regime with an open society— satellites, social media, the Internet— you have this kind of society moving forward and you are running this closed regime, this is not sustainable, this cannot continue.”
“We have advised these leaders to lead this change, or you will be pushed by change anyway,” he said.
Babacan was introduced by Professor Vali Nasr, a veteran Fletcher expert on political and social developments in the Muslim world.
“These days you don’t have to look too far, whether it’s in the United States or elsewhere: everyone is in awe of Turkey’s spectacular success,” Nasr said. “[Babacan] is the key architect of this historical transformation of Turkey.”
Building on his economic expertise, Babacan warned that the global economy remains deep in crisis and Europe and the United States were doing little to resolve its core causes.
He said the Euro zone countries and the United States have yet to deal with the underlying causes of the global economic slowdown: a weak financial sector, weak corporate balance sheets, risky public financial positions.
Babacan also warned that this year will be a year of reckoning for the European Union, and he pointed to the recent collapse of the Dutch government over the budget austerity measures as a harbinger for Europe’s coming fiscal battles.
“2012 will be a test year for European countries,” he said. “2013 will be a test year for the American economy. After the elections (the new administration) will find very difficult decisions on the table right away. There has to be serious fiscal adjustment and a medium term plan to deal with the deficit. So far, there is no credible plan to deal with deficit.”
Babacan also addressed several of the long-running disputes in the region, such as the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, the status of the split island of Cyprus and the violence in neighboring Syria. He said Turkey was strongly supportive of the six-point peace plan pushed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, but he said Turkey was strongly against any sort of military intervention or sending weapons to the embattled Syrian opposition forces.
He also said the Syrian opposition is coalescing into a viable alternative to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We need to see visible, verifiable and indisputable change in the country,” Babacan said. “The primary responsibility to end the violence will rest with the Syrian regime.”
--Mike Eckel, MALD Candidate ('13)