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Turkey’s Lost Illusions

PARIS – “Day by day, Europe is moving further away from Turkey,” Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, declared last week. But the reverse is equally true: With a mixture of disillusion and defiance, Turkey has been distancing itself from Europe in recent years. “If you do not want us,” the Turks appear to be saying, “we really do not want you.”

In reality, nearly three years after the beginning of the “Arab Spring,” Turkey is more in search of itself than it is of Europe, even if it needs Europe more than Turks are willing to admit. What is Turkey today, what are its values, and what is its destiny in a highly fluid regional environment?

The Arab Spring was initially seen as a great opportunity for Turkey, an ideal setting in which to highlight the country’s economic success, democratic political model, and indispensable strategic role in the region. The inheritors of one of the world’s great empires were proving to the world that Islam and modernity were perfectly compatible – an inspiring example for Arab countries like Egypt.

Instead, Turkey’s role inspired reservations among Egyptians; after all, the Ottoman Empire had ruled over Egypt. And, on the Turkish side, there was a sense of superiority vis-à-vis the Arab world.