Scholars Say Regional Stability Depends on Turkey’s EU Membership

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Arab scholars participating in an Abant Platform meeting held on Saturday and Sunday noted that Turkey acts as a bridge between the European Union (EU) and Muslim countries. They praised Turkey’s performance on the path toward EU membership while protecting its own values.

This platform gives us the opportunity to develop dialogue between the Turkish and Egyptian civilizations. Both civilizations are founded on dialogue and Islamic culture … Abant Platforms will further develop experience-sharing between the two countries [Egypt and Turkey].

Professor Nadia Mustafa, Cairo University

The two-day Abant Platform, titled “Turkey: A Bridge between Civilizations in the EU Process,” was held on December 15 and 16, 2007, at Istanbul’s Grand Cevahir Hotel. Attended by some 50 prominent academics from Turkey and Egypt, the event focused on the influence of Turkey’s EU bid on relations between the Muslim world and European countries.

The platform’s inaugural addresses were delivered by Professor Nadia Mustafa from Cairo University; Fehmi Huveydi, a leading Islamic intellectual and journalist in Egypt; columnist Huseyin Gulerce; and Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Duzce Deputy Yasar Yakis.

In her speech, Mustafa discussed Turkey’s performance in its EU bid and noted that she is hopeful about Turkey’s future. Saying that she attaches significant importance to relations between Turkey and Egypt, Mustafa added, “This platform gives us the opportunity to develop dialogue between the Turkish and Egyptian civilizations. Both civilizations are founded on dialogue and Islamic culture. Political circles and nongovernmental organizations have significant importance in mutual talks between the two countries.”

Mustafa noted that Egyptians have benefited from Turkey’s experience in the field when undertaking several projects. She explained, “Turkey’s and Egypt’s experience in various fields should be evaluated in international projects. Turkey’s experience has contributed to many Egyptian projects. Abant Platforms will further develop experience-sharing between the two countries. We attach great importance to research conducted in Turkey. I am hopeful about Turkey’s future within the European Union.”

Egyptian journalist Huveydi stressed that Turkey has covered a significant distance on the path toward freedom and democracy and noted that it has a great potential to embrace all ideologies. Stating that this potential stems from the importance attached to democracy, but not secularism, Huveydi said, “Developments in our region are shaped by Turkey, Iran, and Egypt. These three countries have deep-rooted histories and exert efforts for a better future in the region. Dialogue should be continued not only between civilizations but also between cultures. Turkey acts as a bridge in this sense and has the potential to embrace all ideologies. Turkey may play an active role in the region.”

For his part, Gulerce noted that the Abant Platform assumes a significant role in dialogue between the Muslim world and the West. “We believe that Eurasia will turn into an island of peace following Turkey’s full membership to the EU,” he said.

Today’s Zaman columnist Mumtaz’er Turkone also attended the platform and said that Turkey and Egypt should stand together under the umbrella of civilization. “There is a conflict of notions between secularism and Islamophobia in Turkey,” Turkone said. Another Today’s Zaman columnist, Sahin Alpay, noted that the AK Party made it possible for secular and religious circles to live together.

Dr. Amr al-Shobaki, a researcher at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, congratulated Turkey for proceeding with straight steps on its path toward EU membership by protecting its own values. Noting that even though the AK Party had come from a similar ideology to the Welfare Party (RP), which was banned in 1998, al-Shobaki said, “Yet the AK Party did not make the same mistakes [as the Welfare Party]. It has developed a connection between secularism and democracy and has embraced moderate Islam. It has strived to find different means to eliminate conflict. This is a great success.”

AK Party deputy Yakis opined that Turkey will not be accepted as a member to the EU before 2013. He said that the AK Party has devised its plans in Turkey’s EU bid in accordance with this projection. “It is uncertain whether France’s [President Nicolas] Sarkozy and Germany’s [Chancellor Angela] Merkel will be in power. We cannot know what the situation will be by that time. …. Turkey has shaped its own road map. We have a strong democracy and will continue to take straight steps despite deficiencies. What will happen if the EU does not accept us, even if Turkey fulfills all requirements? Nothing much changes. We will continue our progress.”

Star columnist Professor Eser Karakas noted that permanent stability in the region hinges on Turkey’s EU membership and added that Turkey will be more powerful and stable in the coming years. He said, “The more powerful Turkey grows in the region, the less influential Israel will become. Our Arab brothers should see this fact.”

Political science professor and Iran specialist Pakinam el-Sharkawy of Cairo University stressed that the EU has serious social problems and does not treat Turkey justly. Noting that European countries do not want the EU to enlarge due to these social problems, el-Sharkawy said the EU is making Turkey fulfill requirements that were not imposed on Eastern European countries.

Dr. Manar el-Shorbagy from the American University in Cairo underlined that Turkey should undertake an active role in resolving the region’s problems. She said, “Apart from being a strategic balance in the region, Turkey has pursued its EU bid and acted as a mediator between Iran and Israel. All these showed that Turkey has considerable power in the region.”

Busra Erdem, Istanbul, Today’s Zaman / 17.12.2007

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