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1 November 2018

Turkey and Jordan: An alliance that needs attention

By: Daoud Kuttab
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Turkey celebrated, on October 29, the 95th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey. The Turkish Ambassador in Amman Murat Karagöz spoke to friends of Turkey at the celebration, reminding them of the basic tenants of the modern republic and how Turkey and Jordan have much in common. Ambassador Karagöz paid tribute to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as “a historical figure”, who led the foundation of the new state, and his words: “No country is free unless it is democratic.” Turkey, today, is a "democratic, secular, social state governed by rule of law," the ambassador told Jordanians, Turks, diplomats and other friends.

On the Syrian front, Turkey hosts around 4 million asylum-seekers, including more than 3.5 million Syrians, who had to flee from their homelands. Turkey has spent around $33 billion so far for the well-being of Syrians. The ambassador praised the "deep rooted cultural and human ties" between Jordan and Turkey; reminding all that during this year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and His Majesty King Abdullah met three times.

The Turkish ambassador speaks with passion when it comes to the potential of lifting the relationship between the two countries to much higher levels. The ambassador worked hard to restart the Istanbul-Aqaba direct flights by Turkish Airlines and would love to see more done on the tourism level as well as in the economic and cultural fields.

But despite all the above, all is not well in the relationship between Turkey and Jordan, especially on the economic front, where the free trade agreement has been suspended and attempts are ongoing to find a “win-win” formula, while taking fully into account Jordan’s concerns. For around six months, Turkey was often left alone as the previous Jordanian government, apparently under pressure from its Gulf allies, abruptly suspended the agreement which was allowing moderately-priced Turkish products into the Jordanian market. Jordan has complained that Turkey has not invested in Jordan as per that agreement and this issue has been a focus of many bilateral talks over the past months.

Even the return of the Istanbul-Aqaba flights has not produced much response from Jordanian officials, according to Turkish embassy staff. While this important air route has proved to be a bonanza for Petra tourism, that has been on the increase, yet few Jordanian officials have taken time to credit Turkey or help promote Jordanian tourism in Turkey, even though 280,000 Jordanians travelled to Turkey last year for pleasure, shopping and real estate purchases.

Even a simple idea of cultural exchange has been difficult to materialise. The ambassador would love to initiate an entire year of multicultural exchanges, but his efforts to meet the new minister of culture Mohammad Abu Rumman have yet to materialise and the idea of having this effort in 2019 is fading and now it is hoped that 2020 will be the year for this needed idea to bring Arab and Turkish people to exchange ideas, lectures, books, poetry and much more.

There is much that Jordan can learn from Turkey. Under the new presidential system, Turkey has reduced its ministries from 26 to 16, removed the position of undersecretary and increased parliament members from 550 to 600 members. Turkey, which had similar transportation problems, has found a way to vastly improve its public transportation; a fact any traveller to major Turkish cities can attest to.

Perhaps the best area from which Jordan can learn from its Turkish ally is how to handle the issue of religion. A country with a population of 99 per cent Muslims insists that it should not declare a state religion and prides itself in the fact that it is a secular country that practices the rule of law. Many attack Turkey and include it in conspiracy theories, but the fact remains that it is a country that has succeeded in keeping religion out of the corridors of power and politics; a decision that is part of the new Turkey which was inaugurated by Atatürk and adhered to by all administrations since the beginning of the 20th century.

This does not mean that Turkey does not have its own problems. Despite the well-credited efforts in the Jamal Khashoggi case, the country still has a problem with independent journalism and many journalists are in prison under dubious charges.

Turkey might be 10 times bigger than Jordan and it is a G-20 country, but that does not make the potential of improving the relations between the two countries any less possible. As the ambassador said in his speech at the Hyatt Hotel, there is no reason why the economic relations between the two countries cannot follow the concept of a win-win direction. Obviously, to reach that goal the leaders and administrations of both countries, as well as the people, must redouble their efforts towards a better understanding of what is common and binding the two people and avoid the idea of playing into the destructive regional axis argument. Jordan needs all the friends it can find to work out its economic woes and to use the huge advantage it has with its young, educated and wired population to reach much better results on all fronts.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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