Country Report Turkey April 2011

The political scene: The government responds carefully to Arab uprisings

In practical terms, the government's response to the spread of popular protests in the Arab world focused on ensuring all Turkish citizens at risk were evacuated hastily and safely. In political terms, its response has differed from country to country. On February 25th after the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt had been toppled and the forces of the Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi, had started the violent repression of the opposition, Mr Erdogan pointed out that many of the countries in upheaval had been ruled for over 30 years with no "popular mandate and no account for the people's wishes" and the uprisings were the clearest signal of "mass frustration". The president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, visited Egypt on March 3rd, after the fall of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and was hosted by the interim military ruler, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. Mr Gul expressed Turkey's desire to see a swift transition to a popularly elected and democratic government.

The AKP's reaction to events in Libya was more cautious. Mr Erdogan talked to Colonel Qadhafi several times by telephone, mainly to facilitate the safe evacuation of over 30,000 Turkish citizens who have business dealings with Libya, predominantly in the construction sector. The Turkish government has expressed strong opposition to sanctions, a no-fly zone or NATO military intervention, arguing that outside interference in the domestic affairs of Libya might exacerbate the violence. The Turkish government also seems acutely aware that Colonel Qadhafi might not be toppled, in which case it would be in Turkey's interests to maintain good relations with his regime, given the important trade ties between the two countries. Under the AKP, Turkish foreign policy has been much more assertive than under previous governments, leading critics at home and abroad to accuse it of turning Turkey away from its traditional Western allies. However, its assertiveness on issues such as Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been popular in Turkey and the Arab world.

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