The Turkish Chimera

WASHINGTON – The dramatic revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have acted as a catalyst for a broader Arab awakening that has fundamentally shaken the Middle East’s political order, which has been in place since the late 1970’s. While it is too early to predict the final outcomes, several important regional implications are already beginning to emerge.

First, the revolts are a double-edged sword for Iran. The Iranian regime may benefit from the ouster or weakening of pro-Western Arab leaders and regimes in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, but Iran’s initial encouragement of the democratic uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt came with a sting in the tail. Iranian officials had to shift gears quickly once their own population began to call for the same democratic rights, suggesting that Iran could face stronger pressures for democracy and political change over the medium and long run.

Second, the upheavals threaten to leave Israel more isolated. With Mubarak gone, Israel has lost its most important regional partner. Indeed, given the serious deterioration in Israel’s relations with Turkey, Mubarak’s departure has deprived it of its two most demonstrable allies in the region. While Egypt’s interim military regime has pledged to adhere to the 1979 peace agreement, a new, more democratic government could adopt a different attitude.

Third, the pressures for democratic change have significantly bolstered Turkey’s regional influence. While the United States and the European Union initially hedged their bets, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sided squarely with the demonstrations for democracy in Tahrir Square – a move that enhanced Turkey’s prestige among the democratic opposition in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.