Are the countries on the southern shores of the vast sea the Romans called Mare Nostrum going to rise again? For centuries those countries have stayed demoted to semicolonial status, subjected to Turkey first, to Spain France Britain Italy later. Today portents of revival are multiplying. Tunisia’s and Morocco’s economies are developing in a way resembling the Italian one in the wonder years of the ’50s, when Italy started growing at a relentless speed. The performance of the Maghreb agro-industry is seriously menacing the market positions of the southern regions of Italy, France, Spain and Greece. A few years ago, a leading exponent of the Sicilian fruit industry remarked recently, a man who owned a 4-hectare (10-acre) citrus orchard was a prosperous farmer. Today, because of the Moroccon (and Spanish) competition, he is struggling and may go bankrupt.
In the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean Sea Turkey is going back to the giant status of three centuries ago. Over a quinquennium she has been developing 6% a year. An omen of a strong future is the fact that the Ankara government opened 30 new embassies in Africa and Latin America over a dozen months.
It’s the phenomenon of a neo-Ottomanism which does not rely on military conquests but on economic, diplomatic, cultural, religious ones. A few months ago a pact was signed by Turkey, Syria and Lebanon to create a free-trade zone. The nation that was the brain, heart and powerful arm of an empire stretching from the outskirts of Vienna to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Persian Gulf is now conscious as never was in the last two centuries that the imperial heritage of the Ottomans is a large asset in modern geopolitical terms.
Possibly the lines of expansionist assertion are not predominantly oriented toward the Maghreb; rather to the East and beyond the Black Sea, toward the regions whose populations share a Turki, or Turkic, language- the Osmanlis in Europe, the Seljuks, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Tatars and Uigurs in Asia. Central Asia is the ancestral homeland of the Turks. But the southern, formerly Ottoman shores of Mare Nostrum, too have important prospects. They are nearer to and more connected with Europe, so possibly will play an increasing role in the dilatation of Ankara’s sphere, even should Turkey miss admission to the European Union.
I have mentioned the present growth of Tunisia and Morocco, but no reason exists why Algeria and Egypt should not acquire additional weight. Syria, bordering Turkey to the south, adds to her own national potential the outlook of reclaiming the vocation as the maritime component of a Mediterranean-Mesopotamian-Persian context.
Once upon a time Turkey was ‘the sick man of Europe’ and Anatolia was backward. Today the country which Kemal Ataturk modernized is a powerhouse. It’s not totally sure that the future of Turkey will look much better than today if or when she will be accepted into Europe. Other, perhaps more gratifying, options and horizons are open to the heirs of the Ottomans. The Mediterranean promises are richer than those of the comparatively irrelevant Baltic or North Seas. It’s not without significance the astonishing success of the Islamist-religious-cultural Gulen movement started a few years ago by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam. The Gulen-affiliated schools are approximately one thousand in 100 countries, offering a mix of faith, Western education and Turkish pride.
A.M.C., Daily Babel