Today, the first-ever World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia commences in Istanbul under the theme “Bridging Regions in Transformation”. There couldn’t be a clearer indicator of how interconnected our world has become. And, the meeting constitutes the third Forum event in Turkey, which is a statement in its own right.
In recent years, Turkey has managed to re-emerge as a key regional and global player politically. Apart from its current role in trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, Turkey (a member of NATO) has always acted as a mediator in the Middle East, building on its relations with Arabs and Israelis (despite recent tensions since the 2010 Mavi Marmarra-led Gaza flotilla incident).
Speaking of the Forum, one also has to remember that in 2009, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan gained instant popularity following his angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Gaza in Davos. However, the prime minister wasn’t the only Turk winning the hearts and minds of the Arab Street at the time. He was competing with Mohannad and Nour, two famous characters from a Turkish television series by the name of “Gümüş”. This phenomenal television series literary swept the Arab World in 2008 and began an ongoing and unprecedented demand for Turkish drama across the region.
In a post-2011 Arab Spring, Turkey has become even more interesting to examine as the newly-freed Arab countries looked for models of secular states that has managed to balance being a democracy and being Muslim.
More importantly, Turkey – formerly the heart of the Ottoman Empire – hasn’t allowed its past to stand in the way of its future, and with a consistent annual economic growth of 7-10% is looking quite bright at the moment.
Although not being an oil-based economy, Turkey has managed to surpass many of its rich Middle Eastern counterparts and its debt-burdened Western neighbours, who have long denied it membership to the European Union.
As all this was happening, a staggering 31.5 million foreign tourists visited Turkey last year, mostly from Europe, the Arab World, Eastern Europe and Japan.
Turkey has certainly regained its leadership position on the world’s stage and the post-Arab Spring Middle East has a lot to learn from it.
Faisal J. Abbas is a London-based author, blogger and commentator, mostly known for his articles on Arab affairs on The Huffington Post. He can be followed @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter or on www.faisaljabbas.com.