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Turkey: Why The Empire is Striking Back

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Tonight, all eyes will be on Turkey where the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) and Eurasia will be inaugurated.

Set to be launched under the theme "Bridging Regions in Transformation", this is the first-time ever the Geneva-based international organisation has dedicate a single meeting for both MENA and Eurasia; a clear indicator of how interconnected our world has become.

Blue Mosque and Bosphorus

On the other hand, this meeting constitutes the third Forum event in Turkey, which is a statement in its own right.

In recent years, Turkey has managed to re-emerge as a key regional and global player politically. Apart from its current role in trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, Turkey (a member of NATO) has always acted as a mediator in the Middle East, building on its relations with Arabs and Israelis.

Speaking of the World Economic Forum, one also has to remember that in 2009, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan gained instant popularity in the Middle East following his angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos.

At the time, Mr Erdogan vowed never to return to the Forum as he stormed out of the session in which he opposed the Israeli aggression against Gaza.


(A YouTube clip portraying the 2009 Erdogan-Peres confrontation at Davos)

Turkish relations with Tel Aviv haven't improved since then; particularly following the Israeli Commando raid against the Mavi Marmarra Gaza flotilla in 2010. An incident which ended with 9 Turkish peace activists killed while over a hundred were injured in total.

As Turkey grew even further in its prominence, relations with the Forum - an NGO which constantly stresses on its no political, partisan or national interests - seem to be back at its peak with preparations underway for the current meeting which takes place in Istanbul.

Mr Erdogan is expected to give the Forum's Opening Address himself tomorrow morning; as he addresses fellow heads of states, a number of key regional and world politicians, business leaders and journalists, he seems all set to cement Turkey's positioning as a regional leader.

Now, as for his 2009 vow... well, Erdogan said he would never return to the Forum, however, he never said anything about bringing the Forum- which usually holds its Middle East summit in Egypt, Jordan or Morocco - to Turkey.

Turkish Delights

However, the prime minister wasn't the only Turk winning the hearts and minds of the Arab Street over the past few years. He was competing with Mohannad and Noor, two famous characters from a Turkish television series by the name of Gümüş.

This phenomenal television series literary swept the Arab World in 2008 and began an ongoing and unprecedented demand for Turkish drama across the region. 


(A YouTube clip portraying the outstanding welcome the cast of Gümüş received in a recent visit to Dubai)

On a more serious note, and in a post-2011 Arab Spring, Turkey has become even more interesting to examine as the newly-freed Arab countries looked for models of secular states that has managed to balance being a democracy and being Muslim.

More importantly, Turkey hasn't allowed its past to stand in the way of its future, and with a consistent annual economic growth of 7-10% is looking quite bright at the moment.

Although not being an oil-based economy, Turkey has managed to surpass many of its rich Middle Eastern counterparts and its debt-burdened Western neighbours, who have long denied it membership to the European Union.

As all this was happening, a staggering 31.5 million foreign tourists visited Turkey last year, mostly from Europe, the Arab World, Eastern Europe and Japan.

Turkey has certainly regained its leadership position on the world's stage; the post-Arab Spring Middle East has a lot to learn from the Return of the Ottoman Empire, as one leading Arab columnist portrayed it.


*A summerised version of this article has first appeared on the World Economic Forum's offical blog on Monday 4 June 2012.