Turkey`s new “Arab” politics officially hits Al Jazeera Forum in Qatar

Sitting yesterday at the keynotes morning session of the sixth Al Jazeera Forum would have given you a quick glimpse into the Arab world (and Qatar, of course) current foreign policy. Former Brasilian President Lula was here, applauded by the youth and social media activists that Al Jazeera has gathered from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Yemen, Morocco. Lula spoke about how Brasil has underwent a democratic process over the years, a process which didn`t stop when he left. On the contrary, he felt he should leave and don`t run for another term, he said, in order to apply the democratic principles of transparency and alternation  of power that he has been preaching over the years. Arab youth applauded and asked enthusiastic questions.

But the real “rockstar” so far has been Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Davutoğlu who focused his speech on his  Zero problem policy” , a theory according to which it is possible to leave in peace if the other political actors and neighbors respect local values and will.

He called upon the re-assessment of “abnormalities” in the Middle East Region, two of them being colonialism and cold war, both bearing devastating effects. Colonialism has impacted on local populations by cutting ties between cultures historically close one to each other, like for example Iraq and Syria, condemned to be ruled one by UK and the other by France. Same happened during the cold war, which severed ties between Turkey and Syria, one falling under the NATO umbrella and the other under the former Soviet Union one.

He pointed out how the current uprisings shaking the Arab world, particularly the Tunisian and Egyptian, have contributed to re-establish these ties and bring populations in the Region closer again one to another. Uprisings are restoring balance in the Region, since the “old” regional order was the one imposed by foreign powers and not by the will of people or by the “natural flow of history” , as Davutoğlu named the process which  bringing revolutions to the Arab homeland.

But in order to keep circulating  the “good vibes” generated by this phenomena, we should follow some principles, says the Foreign Minister.

The first one is to keep self-confidence going. “Few days ago at a meeting, I told EU members that we want dignity.. we have been humiliated for too many years, now ordinary Arab wants to get their history back proudly”.

The second one is to keep always a balance between security and freedom, as none of them can be ignored in favor of the other.

The third one is no foreign intervention, as “the guarantee for the stability of the country is its people”. “We should trust our nation…the Cold war era was when other people where mediating for us. when we could not talk to each other…Now this time is over and have to discuss more, hold more meetings, prepare common strategies”. “No foreign intervention should be allowed, we should decide for our own future, but we should show wisdom to carry this process on”, said the Minister  in front of a young crowd totally fascinated by his energetic words of hope.

He stressed on how some words -tension, violence- have always being used by Orientalists to the describe the Middle East “but we are the land of civilization”. His “feel-good” self-confident theory is perfectly matching with this new empowered Arab youth, armed by the weapons of self-expression version 2.0 (smart phones, social networks, etc). They strongly believe that the future is in their hands , not in anybody`s else.

And when he says that “we can create a new economic and cultural order based on young people”, the applause and the enthusiasm are contagious. Yes, we can! Davutoğlu is the Arabs` Obama.
Behind this legitimate enthusiasm, this speech can tell us more on what`s currently happening in the Region. Turkey is now a super-power in the Arab world, and  Davutoğlu `s Turkey is definitely looking at a young Arab world instead of looking at an old Europe.
Why should Turkey be the last EU country when it can be the first country in the Middle East? That`s in fact what it is doing, turning its back to an ungrateful European Union which has never welcomed this Muslim country to join the EU selected club; and looking at a new young promising face.
Turkey is enjoying an incredible amount of soft-power in the Arab world, a combination of shifting its foreign policy (remember Prime Minister Erdogan walking out of Davos meetings in 2009 as a protest towards Israelis attack on Gaza?) and starting a sort of “cultural colonization” to the Arab world (the Troy horse being the Turkish TV drama, which was dubbed in Syrian dialect and was so successful to push Turkey to open a dedicated channel in Arabic, where all Turkish  musalsalat are being broadcast). Recently, Turkey has waived the entry visa for many Arab countries, including Syria, and it has become one of the most famous tourists` destination for Arabs (just watch some Syrian musalsalat and pay attention at where the characters go to honeymoon).
It seems to be a new axes of alliances in the Region and Turkey is definitely there, together with Syria and Qatar, of course.
Turkey has been very clever on building a momentum on its new status vis-a-vis the Arabs, who seem totally to have forgotten that Turks were colonialists, too, and not less harsh on Arabs than Europeans, but of course Muslims, which makes the issue different.
This Turkey that speaks of “zero foreign intervention” is the same Turkey which allowed US to lead a war on Iraq from its lands, or maybe it is not. It is a new Turkey.
A Turkey which speaks a new language, and which has probably much less an EU priority now, and much more a Middle Eastern strategy to perform.
And it does it in a beautiful way, by appointing a fine academic like Davutoğlu as    Minister of Foreign Affairs, somebody who was able today to address the Arab youth in fluent Arabic without hesitation.
Where does Europe stand in all this? Where is our European Union, which has totally lost the contact with the Middle East and doesn`t know this youth at all?
And why is it not calling  upon its many scholars, its anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists who know the Arab world, its language, culture and societies?
We do have the resources, we just don`t know how to use them. Or maybe we are too lazy to use them, or not interested at all to look at this issue and invest in it. Either ways, that`s bad. Wake up Europe, and come to meet the new Region, otherwise you will become obsolete..

source: @aljazeeraforum

(Al Jazeera`s  cameraman Ali Hassan al Jaber was killed on Saturday in eastern Libya. Deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all the network employees who loved and respected him for the way he carried on his difficult work..)

“The Al Jazeera Effect: how the new global media are reshaping world politics”

The Al Jazeera Centre for Studies will launch the Arabic Edition of: “The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media are Reshaping World Politics” next Saturday in Doha, Qatar. The event is part of the upcoming Al Jazeera Forum, which has got an extensive section dedicated to social media.

The book is authored by Professor Philip Seib and translated into Arabic by Ezzeddine Abdelmoula, who works for the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.

A brief synopsis about the book: The battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East is being fought not on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, Manama or Sana’a, but on the newscasts and talk shows of Al Jazeera. The future of China and other global powers is being shaped not by governments or bureaucracies of the ruling parties, but by bloggers working quietly in cyber cafes. In these and many other instances, traditional ways of reshaping global politics have been superseded by the influence of new media—satellite television, the Internet, and other high-tech tools. Al Jazeera is a paradigm of new media’s influence, and the Al Jazeera effect phenomenon is reshaping the world. The recently published Arabic edition of this topical book that cuts right through the new media debate comes at a time while Al Jazeera’s effect is manifest more than ever before.

About the author: Philip Seib is professor of journalism and public diplomacy at the University of South California. He is the author and editor of many books, including: Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy; The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict; Beyond the Frontlines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War; Media and Conflict in the 21st Century; Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War; and New Media and the News Middle East. Professor Seib is co-editor of the journal, Media, War, and Conflict.

Wadah Khanfar`s Al Jazeera at TED: “The future has arrived in the Arab world..and it is now”

Few days ago Wadah Khanfar, general manager of Al Jazeera network, flew to TED conference and give this talk which I would like to share here.

The enthusiasm he delivers in the talk is the enthusiasm of all of us that have been witnessing, particularly after 9/11, an escalation of violence, war, foreign invasions in the Arab region and now can finally welcome -for the first time-a  change which is not coming from outside.

He speaks about a “a new generation, educated, well-connected.. that has taught us new ways to express our feelings”.He points out at he failure of the old generation (and the old regimes, and the West that has been supporting them for decades) in understanding what this generation wants and dreams about. He wisely invites the West not to think about the Arab world “as oil only”.

Rather, it should think at this youth as a new resource, as “an opportunity to see stability, security and democracy”  coming from within the Region.

When he talks about  the fact that Al Jazeera has been banned from operating in Tunisia for a while (and Egypt also has been trying many times either to shut the Cairo office down or to jam the channel TV signal) he says something very important. Prevented from working there, (Al Jazeera)

” we found that these people in the street were our reporters”. People that are armed with light cameras, mobiles, Facebook and Twitter accounts, You Tube uploads.

I remember very clearly many years Mohamed Nanahbay, now head of Online at Al jazeera English, talking at a panel where somebody asked why Al Jazeera was investing so much in new media, by giving people light cameras and mobiles to film. Nanahbay smiled and said: “we are training our future reporters! This youth at some point will go down in the streets filmming and writing and they will remember of us. They will remember that we have opened a channel for them”.

Well, I think that now this long-term strategy has finally paid back. And Khanfar,  himself young (he`s 43 and already director general of the whole Al Jazeera network), has won over  the prestigious TED conference`s audience and Chris Anderson and maybe many US viewers..

Later today Hillary Clinton declared that” Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers “real news”–something she said American media were falling far short of doing”.

Definitely a different scenario from the 10 years ago “terrorist station”..

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