Three countries are emerging with the power to have an impact on the region: Turkey, Iran and Egypt. Changing conjuncture in the international arena is forcing these three countries to introduce reforms and to come together to develop a new regional vision.
The post-1989 multi-polar, unbalanced world is changing. It has become evident that it will be impossible to maintain a new world order under the patronage of the US. The drive to promote regionalization in line with globalization is becoming stronger.
Nation-states are growing more dependent on each other in economy, trade, communication, transportation, education, science, health and technology. Those nation-states with social structures, human and natural resources and economic interests that are closer to one another can come together to more deeply integrate if they also have strong historical and cultural ties. It is only the Muslim world where a serious, realistic and consistent idea of integration is not discussed in this combination. However, the Muslim world is today more prepared than ever for such integration.
In every integration attempt, there are actors who play the leading roles. These actors serve as catalysts in calling potential candidates to gather around a well-defined ideal. The thing is to find the actors that will take the first realistic, well-thought-out steps if the Muslim world is to effect regional integration. In my opinion, no country in the region can play this role alone. This applies not only to Turkey, but also to Iran and Egypt. Yet, the three together may be able to do it through cooperation and solidarity and with their visions for the future.
Egypt can play the leading role in driving change in the Middle East. With minimal damage, a new political era will start with the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm. It has remarkable influence over the Arab world and Africa. Islamic sciences and intellectual life are quite vivid in Egypt. The country has a dynamic and young population.
Iran has been confronting the US-led system since 1979. It has an old, established political and cultural past. Despite wars and embargoes, it is among the world’s top 20 economies. It has the ability to eliminate the sectarian divide.
Turkey sits atop its Ottoman heritage. It has historically rich reflexes. It can easily remember the political experiences it has chosen to forget. But it should be used not for neo-Ottomanism, the modern version of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) mentality, but for the sake of Muslim unity and regional integration. Of course, historical reflexes and experiences are not enough. There should be channels of communication with Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey enjoys a certain clout and prestige over these regions and has the ability to play a more active role. Thanks to its historical experiences, geographical location and geostrategic characteristics, only Turkey can be expected to ensure continued dialogue and cooperation between Muslims and these regions. It should be noted that Eastern Europe is considered an Ottoman cultural basin.
The greatest challenge to regional integration is the insistence of politicians on the nation-state and nationalism, the risk of sectarian or ethnic clashes and an unduly reliance on foreign powers.
Today, the foregoing assertions may sound only like nice wishes, as Turkey and its neighbor, Syria, are on the brink of war over a Turkish reconnaissance plane that was shot down off the coast of Latakia. This serious crisis can be considered an accident given the fact that our relations with Syria have been on very friendly terms since 2003. Wisdom tells us that Turkey, Iran and Egypt cannot survive in the region by disagreeing with each other or by relying solely on foreign powers. The three major countries in our region can play a similar role to that played by Germany, France and the US for the European Union.