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Saudi Arabia and Turkey the "Arab Spring" - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Two regional powers have come to prominence amidst the dramatic developments of the “Arab Spring”, which has created powerful storms as the process of change takes place. The two powers are Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are currently playing important roles through advising and offering initiatives in order to avoid total chaos, and so the regional ship does not crash. We do not know the degree of coordination between them, but [such coordination] is necessary.

Saudi Arabia received the injured President of Yemen who during the past few weeks has stalled over accepting the GCC initiative, which would have provided him with a safe exit and established a smoother transition process in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has become strongly and directly involved in this issue. At the other end, Turkey is engaged more and more every day in the Syrian issue, which seems to have reached a tipping point where the protest movement has been suppressed in a bloody fashion, whilst it appears the regime has come too late with several steps to respond to the demands of the people, who raised the ceiling of their demands each time someone was killed.

It is true that the two countries are influenced by, and interact with, the rest of the region, but the closest neighbor remains the primary concern, because if there was a battle in a neighboring country, its consequences would inevitably spill over the border.

So it was natural that the Yemeni President, along with the other officials who were injured [in the recent attack on the Yemeni presidential palace], would transfer to Saudi Arabia, and for Saudi Arabia to become part of the solution to the problem, and participate in ideas to facilitate the transition of Yemen towards a process of stability. This is a role that is impossible to avoid, whatever the price, as it is not only a moral issue but also related to national and regional security interests. Chaos in Yemen, were it allowed to happen, would have catastrophic repercussions in the region.

This does not mean that [Saudi Arabia] offers magic solutions or influence, the key to the solution is within Yemen itself, and the role of external actors, including its largest neighbor Saudi Arabia, is to facilitate and assist. During the months of crisis and protests in Sana’a, accompanied by divisions within the military, street fighting, and finally battles between the tribes and the President, it has been proven that whatever the foreign party and whatever its influence, the intransigence of internal parties can cause any efforts or mediation to fail. We saw this happen with the Gulf initiative, which was on the verge of being signed several times, only for the President to retract his agreement.

Almost exactly the same case applies to Turkey, Syria’s largest neighbor, albeit with different details. For Ankara, Syria has been a strategic key during Erdogan’s era, in order for Turkey to return to the Arab region politically, economically and culturally. Ankara invested a lot in the relationship with the regime there for years, and was even a mediator between Syria and Israel. Turkey was surprised by the angry uprising against the regime, which was inspired by what had happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and realized that what was happening could adversely affect Turkish national security.

Thus the Turkish stance evolved with the development of events in Syria, from advising the Syrian regime to accelerate the reform process, and considering the situation there to be different from what happened in other Arab countries, to critical and angry remarks from Erdogan and his Foreign Minister, about why the Syrian leadership did not listen to their advice, and why the regime has not ceased to kill demonstrators. Now Turkey is hosting the first conference of the Syrian opposition, which wants to overthrow its former ally.

Turkey’s concerns with regards to its neighbor are understandable. There is a long border between them, and the distinct possibility of a mass exodus, of which some signs have already appeared. There is also the highly sensitive issue of the Kurds, which almost led to a war between the two countries in the past. Then there is the gravest danger; the Syrian regime escaping from its current pressures by waging a battle or even a war against Israel.

Like Saudi Arabia in the case of Yemen, Ankara can do no more than provide advice, ideas and initiatives during the period of protest, but were a transition period to become a reality, then they would both have a more active role in political and economic assistance, and facilitating the safe transition to stability.

The question is, what about Libya? The answer is clear; there are no neighboring regional powers able to do anything for a regime which has transformed a revolution into a war. This is a situation where no state is able to interfere except the superpowers.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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