Turkey’s leadership was amongst the first to ask Hosni to resign in the wake of protests against his regime. Now the entire Mideast and North Africa region, formerly a part of Ottoman Empire till before the advent of modern Turkey, is up in flames raising stakes for Turkey itself, who has multiple economic and political interests in the region. Although, it is not immediately seen as next-on-the-line, its economic interests are severely being affected by the turmoil. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Turkish leaders are struggling to manage fallout from the latest outbreak of violence, in Libya, as they began sending ferries across the Mediterranean to evacuate some of Turkey’s estimated 25,000 citizens living there, most of them construction workers. Libya turned a Turkish airlines jet away early Monday, and Turkey’s government put out statements to assuage fears that Turks were in danger.
Libyan state media had earlier singled out Turks as among foreigners allegedly behind antigovernment protests, making them possible targets. Those fears represent potential blowback for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, analysts say, because he was among the first world leaders to call openly for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign, angering other Arab strongmen such as Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi, who risked becoming further dominoes if Mr. Mubarak fell. According to the report, Turkish businesses, too, are having to deal with the costs of instability, after investing heavily in the region. In the past two years, Turkish construction companies launched $7.6 billion worth of construction contracts in Libya. In Egypt, Turkish investment is longer term, with $3 billion of assets on the ground.
That tension between short-term cost and potential future benefits highlights Turkey’s sometimes conflicted position as populations across the Middle East and North Africa take to the streets against their autocratic, but until now apparently stable governments. It was only a decade ago that Turkey’s political relations in the region ranged from indifferent to hostile—the border with Syria was mined—while its companies were focused almost entirely on growing their investments in the European Union. That situation has changed drastically, even if the majority of Turkey’s foreign-investment stock remains in the EU.
The report says that Mr. Erdogan and his government team have been traveling the former Ottoman Empire incessantly in recent years, signing free-trade and visa-free travel agreements, opening up embassies and new airline routes to Istanbul. Turkish businesses followed close behind. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of Turkish affiliates in the Middle East and North Africa rose to 69 from six. The autocrats of the region are particularly unhappy with Mr. Erdogan who has become a hero and de facto leader of the Arab street—a genuinely elected Muslim leader who was delivering economic prosperity at home and taking tough public stands against Israel. That created friction with Arab leaders, and creates potential gains for Turkey if new regimes come to power. Tunis has been of particular interest for Turkey because it was from the Tunisian shores that the legendary Turk Admiral Barbarossa along with his brother started his career culminating in his elevation as the Sultan’s Admiral. Turkey’s Foreign Minister was in Tunisia the other day, where he said the two countries were similar and offered Turkey’s help “against any needs,”.
Voice of Sanity and Reason: Middle East turmoil will not spare the rich economies….