1 Aralık 2011 Perşembe

Turkey in the 2011 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey

Kerim Rached   JTV

On November 21, Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, released the results of the 2011 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey conducted in October.

A total of 3,000 people from various cities across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates were polled regarding numerous aspects of some of the most contentious issues in the region today, including the Arab Spring, Obama administration, Arab-Israeli conflict, Egyptian elections, national and religious identity, media access, and Iran. While the results of public opinion polls or surveys cannot quite be used in any sort of conclusive statement regarding what’s to come, they do help provide a picture of social and political trends as well as perceptions in a given region, which is ultimately useful in its own right.
There were a few Egypt-only questions in the survey, which is appropriate considering the Egyptian public’s current political discourse and growing anxiety as it moves toward its first democratic presidential election in history. Egypt’s current military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, stated on November 22 that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces currently governing Egypt is committed to holding elections before the end of June 2012. The renewed unrest and bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators by police and state authorities in Egypt, particularly in Tahrir Square, is currently ongoing.

One the more significant key conclusions of the survey found that “Turkey is the biggest winner of the Arab Spring.”

38% of Egyptians polled said they would like their next president to look like Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (31% polled across all five Arab countries gave the same answer). Runner-up Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not have much cause to celebrate here as he trailed far behind at just 11%, only two points ahead of South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

The Turkish political system was found to be even more popular than its current prime minister, with 44% of Egyptians polled preferring their country’s political system to look like Turkey’s, and 10% preferring France’s.

In response to the question of which international political figure they admire most, 22% of participants from across five Arab countries answered Erdogan. The Turkish administration’s increasing popularity among the Arab public has been highlighted fairly often in the media since Erdogan’s appearance at Davos in 2009, although it was not quite until the Arab Spring uprisings that this popularity began to be converted into direct political influence in the Middle East. However, it should be noted that the combined vote of the next two most admired leaders here, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah (13%) and President Ahmadinejad (13%), may illustrate the still-significant popularity of the Shiite bloc and extreme ideological rhetoric on the Arab street.

When asked which two countries they felt played the most constructive role in their reactions toward the Arab Spring developments over the past few months, 50% included Turkey in their answers, 30% France, and 24% the United States. These three countries are often cited as being the most proactive in both politically and militarily responding to the ongoing events of the Arab Spring. France and particularly Turkey, the respective administrations of which are incidentally led by two very different headstrong political leaders, have raised their regional and international profiles as of late through their own initiatives in regional conflict resolution, although at times their rivalry with each other becomes apparent.

While Arab discussions regarding political developments in their respective countries are generally pessimistic, 55% of those polled found themselves to be “more optimistic” than before “about the future of the Arab world” when reflecting upon the Arab Spring. Questions regarding uprisings in various Arab countries also found overwhelming support in each case for the rebels, yet only 35% were willing to say the international intervention in Libya was the right thing to do, with 46% calling it “the wrong thing to do.”

In many debates in the United States as well as other countries, more often than not there seems to be no doubt as to the Arab regimes in question having little to no domestic political legitimacy, but how certain states and political actors should approach the Arab Spring uprisings and with what aims in mind are often contentious issues. The Arab public also seems to be concerned about the political processes through which their demands are met and to what extent various foreign actors are involved in seeing their goals realized.

In Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, there are still significant portions of the population which differ greatly from one another on a variety of issues including identity, domestic politics, and even the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although some have written off any chance whatsoever of Egyptians electing non-fundamentalist candidates to political offices, 32% of Egyptians polled in this survey said they would vote for an Islamic party while a close 30% said they would vote for a liberal one.

It is true similar polls over the years have led many to believe that Arab public opinion, regarding certain issues more than others, can be fickle, and some of the results of the 2011 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey when contrasted with last year’s might confirm that impression. However, when taking into account how rapidly some of the dynamics of the Arab Spring conflicts have changed and how the relevant developments have effected popular Arab sentiment—ultimately the driving force behind the grassroots uprisings—it should be acknowledged that Egypt as well as other Arab countries currently undergoing revolutions have not necessarily been “lost” to any one international or regional political bloc or another as of yet.

Turkey, due to its immediate geographical proximity to these unstable countries, has especially had to evaluate what effects any supportive overtures or gestures toward either the rebel factions or their opposing governments could have on its long-term economic and political interests. During a certain period earlier in the Arab Spring and in a few brief instances here and there, Turkey was seen by some across the Arab world to be somewhat in favor of the status quo at times. At the moment, it seems to have decisively bet the better portion of its new-found regional clout on pro-democracy demonstrators throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The Obama administration, currently preoccupied by domestic issues and preparing for the upcoming 2012 presidential election, also seems to be comfortable with and supportive of the Turkish role and profile in the region, with which it has coordinated many common policies toward Arab regimes.

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