Oriental Hall, etc.

Is the Middle East entering a new Cold War? That was a question posed at a recent conference at the AUC by Fulya Atacan, a professor of political science at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul.

She observed that the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are engaged in an effort to unite Sunni Muslim societies in an informal coalition at the expense of the Shiite-majority nations of Iraq and Iran. Turkey’s decision to join the effort, notably aimed at backing Sunni rebels against the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad, entails a realignment of Istanbul’s relations with Baghdad and Tehran. Speaking in November at Regional Cooperation in a New Middle East, a conference co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, Atacan argued that the end of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy is not to its geopolitical advantage. “Turkey lost the opportunity to lead or to help other Arab states to come together and to sit at the table,” she said, “because Turkey now is a part of the conflict.” Iran, too, may regret how it has played the sectarian card in the Middle East, suggested Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs. While the Iranian regime had sought a “pan-Islamic” approach to regional politics, he said, “Iran failed to form a good relationship with opposition groups, putting the future of its relationship with Syria at risk if Assad falls.”

Over the last twenty-five years, South Korea has moved from a dictatorship to a fully-functioning modern democracy boasting the fifteenth largest economy in the world. At The Arab Spring and Korean Experiences of Political Transition, a conference held at the AUC in December, Jang Ji-Hyang, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, offered some advice for Egyptians experiencing their own transition. “In the Korean economic success model,” she said, “it was quality state institutions that were the key to determining Korea’s sudden growth.” She said that while the World Bank or International Monetary Fund would favor “reform and adjustment strategies of firing employees and shrinking the state,” the lesson from Korea’s experience is to “stick to refurbishing the existing system rather than trying to create something from scratch.” An effective reform process, she argued, should “focus on short-term steps like instituting competitive, merit-based, and transparent civil service exams.”