Zeynep Dedeoglu, of the Journal of Turkish Weekly, conducted an exclusive interview with Misbah Al-Ahdab, Vice President of the Democratic Renewal Movement, Lebanon, considering the recent events in the Middle East.
Q: What is the most significant development of the last year?
A: The most significant development of the last year is the guy who burned himself and triggered the Arab Spring. I think it is a very difficult question. It is so relative, but being from the Arab world and being from politics, I think it is a major change and trigger.
Q: How do you appraise the role of Turkey in this process?
A: In the Arab Spring, I think the role of Turkey has been extremely positive as an example. I agree with people who say one should not take the model because the model could be different and different models could be here, there, and everywhere. Turkey made an internal development that is considered very highly in our part of the world because they think that one could shift into better living standards, having a higher GDP, better economy, and having this affect all people. On the other hand, I think that the role that Turkey is playing by at least giving safe haven to Syrian opponents is definitely very constructive. Otherwise, these people would not have the possibility to work on organizing leadership for themselves. This puts Turkey in a very challenging situation because what they had done until now would probably provoke high expectations. Everybody is waiting to see what will happen next. Would Turkey step back and fall under the pressure of those neighbouring tyrannical regimes or would it continue in a way or another putting pressure on and triggering changes in the area.
Q: How do you assess the goings on in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya that have overthrown their leaders?
A: I think different things are happening. I’m very happy with what had happened in Tunisia because Islamists have 30-40% but they didn’t have the whole structure. I hope this will be a model for other countries. In Egytpt, they are worried about what happened. I think there are lots of counter-revolutions supported by certain Arab regimes. I think the Egyptians should have a chance to reorganize themselves. I don’t expect things to happen all of a sudden. It is normal when there is a transition to go through difficult moments. It is normal to go through bumpy situations but one should not go back. There is no going back. One should continue. This is why I think that Egypt is worrying. What happened in Libya is still not visible, one should wait and see developments. It is not easy. Libya also looks complicated.
Q: What are your assessments on Syria? Why does it take so long to change the regime?
A: Because there is an organized regime that has put together a strategy in order to continue existing. It has support by even some other countries that probably don’t have good relations with the Syrian regime, but at least don’t like the Syrian regime’s changing. The Arab countries are paralysed in a certain way in waiting for anything to happen. But the impressive thing is the resistance of people over there. Eight months later, having like what we heard today an average of twenty-five causalties, people are dying on daily basis with no protection, no international support, no Arab support. I think that it is an irreversible process. I had heard that there would be sweat and tears and they would turn into blood. I hope it does not continue.
Q: What is the main expectation by Lebanese people of Turkey?
A: I think that the role of Turkey in what is happening in Syria has been very important. I think the expectations would be, hopefully for the future, to have an economic area in the Middle East that would give the possibility for this development to happen. We have three different possibilities. The Arab countries, there is Iran, and there is Turkey as major players. Arab countries are going through difficult moments. Egypt as a major player is going through transitions. Saudi Arabia is also going through transition. They are organizing the transfer of leadership to another generation. It would take another five years. I think that the presence of Turkey would be a deterrent against falling into the system of the Ayatollah. I think that the major goal of people in general is to live a decent and dignified life and to respect others and be respected also. I think Turkey could play a very important role in this direction. I think we have to look to what links us to Turkey in the future rather than defining links between Turkey in the past. There is no more Ottoman Empire. In Turkey, even though there is an Islamist government, it is not an Islamist country. I think it is a country that is shifting development more into Europe. We are not talking about values, we are talking about development. I think we would like to maintain our values and we would also like to see development in a country like Lebanon
Q: What would happen in Lebanon if the regime in Syria collapses?
A: It depends on how it collapses. There is a big military structure that has been organized in Lebanon because Lebanon was a battleground for all the confrontations that happened in the region. So all those weapons put together in Lebanon could be used in a way or another. But I hope that, as I told you, even though it will be difficult, it will not stop because its the real will of people but there is real natural trend that would push things into positive direction.
Q: How can Lebanon contribute to other Arab states since it has an experience of democracy?
A: We have the possibility to live good years where we made developments. We have problems but at least we are working on opening the country while other countries were closed because of the regime. So I think it is easier in Lebanon to achieve success and that this success will definitely prevail everywhere, because it would also be a model to be used by brothers in Syria. The idea is to just bridge some gaps. Even though we went through 30-40 years of problems and wars in Lebanon, we still have an achievement of 30 years of development behind us. We can start further and use this openness that we had in Lebanon and bet on it rather than betting on the drawbacks.
Q: There are some arguments in Turkey that EU-Turkey cooperation can be a model for the Arab Spring. How does the Arab world assess such cooperation?
A: I think the Arab world is also a player. But it just sp happens that Europe, Turkey, and the Arab world are in a vital space together around the Mediterrenean. I think that it is very important to work on creating new mechanisms between Europe and Turkey. Specifically, there is something new that is happening—that is the Arab Spring. We would rather have Turkey and the EU working together with Arab world in order to trigger development shifting them upwards rather than us shifting the others downwards.
Q: How do you evaluate the image of the EU in the Arab world and can this image problem be overcome if the EU acts together wth Turkey?
A: The image of the EU is not necessarily negative in the Arab world, but it was dealing with existing political structures and regimes even though they are financing civil society. The image is that they don’t know us. They don’t know what we want and probably don’t know how to deal with us, while Turks are much closer because of many factors. I think that Turkey can definitely be a very good bridge between European and Arab countries. There could be a very strong triangle if Turkey plays a very good role from certain angles and corners.
Q: There are some experts claiming that Turkey is suffering from an expectations-capability gap, especially in the Middle East. Is sympathy for Turkey cyclical or is it a geographical restructuring based on solid ground?
A: No one can know in advance, whatever decision is taken you always have setbacks that obstruct your way. Disappointments will definitely be destructive. I think whatever happens, it has to be strategic. Even if there are setbacks and or hurdles, Turkey, Arab democrats, and the EU have to get over them. Capacities and possibilities could be developed and bet on.