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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 237,972 182,848 147,700 21
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,790 2,500 2,530 92
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 166 - (28/04/11)

The Middle East in turmoil
Everything in Turkey is dominated by two salient facts. It is facing elections in mid-summer in a few months time. Its mildly Islamicist government in power is gravely challenged by the turbulence in the Middle East, over which it once ruled.

Turkey is a genuine democracy; there is no doubt of that. In 2003, when the US and the UK were bent on their ill-fated invasion of Iraq, the Turkish parliament very narrowly turned down permission for coalition forces to use Turkey as a base for their operations. This was despite the government going along with the Western proposal.

Subsequent events in Iraq have certainly seemed to the populus and electorate to have vindicated the stance of parliament at the time.

What is going to be their reaction to their government's handling of the grave crisis unfolding now in the Middle East?

The ideal mediator?
Turkey is a key country in world politics, at the juncture of the Middle East and Europe, indeed Eurasia. It once had a vast empire in the Arab world. Its government has offered to broker a ceasefire in Libya, as rebels advance, retaking vital oil towns after the NATO air strikes, which are then besieged and taken again by pro-Gaddafi forces.

Turkey, as a Muslim nation and a democracy, would indeed be an excellent interlocutor for the Libyans in theory; but in practice the memory of its centuries of former imperialism in the Arab world lingers on. With fighting continuing to escalate in Libya, Turkey is intensifying its efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. It is one of the few countries that still has both its embassy open in the Libyan capital Tripoli and a consul functioning in Benghazi - the centre of the rebel opposition.

Senior Turkish diplomat Selim Yenel said a political solution is crucial for Libya. "Turkey is now talking to both sides, and is, we believe one of the few countries that can to talk to both sides. In the end it's the only way out, otherwise more and more military actions will push people into a corner and you have to show a way out. And we believe a diplomatic solution is a way out. "

A Turkish change of heart
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had good relations with the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and until recently had strongly opposed military intervention and, in particular, NATO's involvement. But, Erdogan has since changed his stance, now supporting NATO and calling for Gadhafi to stand down.

Though such inconsistencies may cast suspicions on Turkey's objectivity, diplomatic correspondent Semih Idiz said Turkey is in a unique position to mediate. "It is a fact Turkey does have unique characteristics stemming from the fact that it is an Islamic country, that it is a NATO member, so yes, such a thing could be possible," said Idiz. "But, of course, if you are willing to be a mediator it's not up to you, it's up to the people you going to mediate between, to accept you."

International relations expert Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University said any mediation will be difficult, but the bigger question is what is next if Gadhafi falls?

"There is no structured opposition in Libya, there is no structure even in Libya. This is a big problem once Gadhafi is ousted. What will happen no one really knows. So this is a recipe for chaos," said Aktar.

Both the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul have warned that Libya could become another Iraq or Afghanistan.

A new bipolar strategy
Turkey has pursued an ambitious new foreign policy under Mr Erdogan, with the aim of becoming a regional power. The policy relies on two strategies.

First, solving conflicts with its neighbours. Twenty years ago, Turkey was at daggers drawn with every country on its border. Today, it has friendly relations with all of them, except Armenia.

Second, allowing business ties to drive foreign policy. Turkish companies are among the most competitive in the region, and they have led the way in establishing a Turkish presence in Iran, Iraq, Syria, the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. Whenever the prime minister or president travel, they are accompanied by big business delegations. Visa-free travel has been agreed with Libya, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Free-trade zones are being negotiated.

This has meant in the past cosying up to leaders like Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, Hosni Mubarak and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It has resulted in substantial Turkish investment in these countries, and tens of thousands of Turkish nationals working there.

So when the Arab uprisings began, Mr Erdogan was presented with a dilemma.

His political success in Turkey is partly due to his finely-tuned populist instincts. As a politician who has loudly stood up to Israel, he is something of a hero both among his largely Islamic constituency at home and among Arab populations elsewhere. So he wanted to do the popular thing by supporting the uprisings. But doing so put the profitable relationships his government had nurtured with the governments confronted by these uprisings at risk.

Tunisia happened too fast for anyone to react, and Turkey was left with the easy job of welcoming the new regime. Egypt was trickier. If Mr Erdogan called for Mr Mubarak to go, and he survived, there could be potential reprisals. The Turkish prime minister followed his instincts, told the Egyptian leader his time was up well before President Obama got round to it, and events vindicated him.

Further discomfort
Libya was trickier still. There were 30,000 Turkish workers there. Col Gaddafi was less predictable. So the Turkish government kept its comments neutral while it organised a mass evacuation of its own and other foreign nationals.

Turkish officials say Mr Erdogan has called Col Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam several times to explore a negotiated end to the fighting. Libyan opposition leaders have been flown to Ankara for talks. Turkey says it was making progress when they were stopped by the start of French air attacks on Libyan ground forces. Just how much progress is not clear - the Turkish plan was to persuade Col Gaddafi to step aside and organise new elections, goals that never seemed very close.

Events in Bahrain, Yemen and especially Syria could provide further discomfort for Mr Erdogan. He has maintained conspicuously warm ties with the current governments in all three countries.

The tortuous path of Turkish policy has also been influenced by the general election scheduled in less than three months time, and Mr Erdogan's need to shore up his conservative Muslim base. Muslims in Turkey, like those all over the Middle East, have conflicting feelings about Libya. They have been clamouring for something to be done to help the Libyan opposition, but there is deep antipathy to Western intervention, and to any action that could result in Muslim civilians in Libya being killed.

Once the UN resolution was agreed, though, Turkey was always likely to want to play a role. It prides itself on being a responsible player in the UN and on its support for multilateral security operations. Turkey has 1,600 troops in Afghanistan and has regularly commanded the international force there.


 

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