Patrick Cockburn: Is Turkey's economic miracle about to fade away?

While its neighbours stumble, the country that is a role model for Islamic democracy could become a victim of overconfidence

Are the Turks seeing the Ottoman Empire reborn or are they going to be the next victims of economic chaos in Europe and political turmoil in the Middle East? Is Turkey about to pay a price for the overconfidence bred by a decade that brought it triumphant success while its neighbours suffered decline or disaster?

The mood is buoyant. Turkey's successes are recent and quite real. In a country used to covert or open military tutelage since its foundation, a democratically elected government is at last dominant; its economy has surged spectacularly, making it the 15th largest economic power in the world; it is lauded worldwide as a moderate Islamic state which ought to be the role model for Arab Spring countries.

Turkish optimism has ominous parallels with the self-regarding opinions once heard in Ireland and Greece. As with Turkey, both these countries had histories of poverty and emigration which made them psychologically receptive to the self-deceiving idea that they had at last attained the prosperity so long and so unfairly denied them. Excessive belief in their own booms produced disastrous economic bubbles.

Will Turkey be similarly damaged by myths about its own recent success? Some experts there fear so. Atilla Yesilada, an economic consultant at Istanbul Analytics, part of Globalsource, says: "It is as if the entire nation is hypnotised and drugged into believing we are unique and we have created our own successful economic model." He suspects that Turkey is about to be hit by a devastating credit crunch. "Our belief in our own invulnerability means that the ultimate crash will be all the worse when it comes," he says.

The Turkish economic miracle depended on the inflow of foreign capital, and this may soon stop. European banks are beset by problems of their own and Turkey may not look such a rosy prospect to them as it once did. Sumru Altug, a professor of economics at Koc University in Istanbul, says that everybody accepts that Turkey is going to have a much lower level of economic growth this year. She warns: "Turkey is playing a risky game."

In foreign policy Turkey may likewise have seen the high tide and the turn. Twenty years ago it was ringed by hostile countries, but by 2009 these had largely become friends. Turkey was becoming an important influence in Iraq and Syria and other parts of the Middle East. It was a close ally of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and friendly with Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Trade followed the flag. "Turkish companies are even collecting the garbage in Baghdad and Basra," an Iraqi friend said last year.

The sort of moderately Islamic democracy the Arab Spring protesters were demanding sounded very like what Turkey had already achieved. The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, received an ecstatic reception in Egypt where he astonished many Turks – and dismayed Egyptian Islamists – by praising the virtues of the secular state even for committed Muslims such as himself.

Mr Erdogan's government likes to bet on winners. Turkey adeptly if cynically broke ties with Gaddafi and adopted the rebel cause. Soon Turkish hospital ships were sent to succour the besieged Libyan insurgents in Misrata and Libyan state money deposited in Turkey was channelled to the rebel government in Benghazi.

With Syria, Turkey has been much less successful. Indeed, Soli Ozel, a lecturer in international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, says flatly that "Turkey's Syria policy is an abject failure". He argues that it has ended up with having no leverage in Damascus and took excessive offence over being misled by the Syrian government over the latter's willingness to compromise. "Not to have a decent dialogue with the regime puts you at a disadvantage," he says.

As with the economy, overconfidence led to serious mistakes. At first, Turkey wrongly imagined it had enough influence in Damascus to get President Assad to implement serious reforms, share power with his opponents, or even step down. It then became clear that the Syrian leadership had no intention of doing this and was simply muddying the waters and stringing the Turks along.

In Iraq, Turkey has a significant but still limited presence. It has, rather remarkably given their past hostility, good relations with the Iraqi Kurdish leaders, more fearful these days of Baghdad than of Ankara. But in Iraq as a whole, Turkey has expended a lot diplomatic energy without getting great benefits. Its main success has been commercial: Iraq is its biggest export market after Germany.

Turkey helped to set up the opposition party to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, during the last parliamentary election. Not surprisingly he was not pleased and criticised Turkey for meddling. "What have the Turks gained in Iraq for all their efforts?" a senior Iraqi official asked me last year. "They have a few politicians in their pocket, but nothing else."

Not all the news is bad. Turkey has truly become a regional power. Its idea of its own strength may be exaggerated, but states that once had some strength – Egypt, Syria, Iraq and even Libya – are today divided and unstable. Iran is less powerful than it once was and Greece will take years to recover. Turkey also benefits from good relations with the US, which needs Turkey as a reliable ally.

Could Turkey's moment as a coming power be passing at the very moment when it is still being lauded as one of the world's few success stories? Expectations that it would enter the European Union gave momentum to reform in Turkey, ending the predominant role of the military. EU accession talks gave confidence to investors and underscored Turkey's development into a liberal democracy. The failure of these talks with the EU to get anywhere has undercut legal reform, the dismantling of the security state, the search for a settlement of the Kurdish insurgency and progress towards a deal over Cyprus.

The EU's relationship with Turkey remains crucial. It is by far Turkey's largest trading partner and the main source of its foreign investment. Turkish options in the Middle East are deceptively alluring, but not necessarily very rewarding.

Turkey still has a self-confident feel, but it is at the heart of an unstable region. In speaking of the economy – though it might also be true of Turkey's future – Mr Yesilada says: "We may see the 'Turkish miracle' turn into the 'Turkish disappointment'."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam