Ayşe Yarar: Mr. Ferez, thank you very much for accepting our interview proposal. Could you please give some information about your academic life and studies?
Manuel Ferez: I am a Professor on Middle Eastern Studies at Anahuac University and at University of Iberoamericana in Mexico City. I studied a degree in sociology at National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and graduated with a thesis on Zionism and Mexican society; I have a specialty on Middle East Studies from Galille College of Israel and a specialty on European Integration Studies from Autonomous University of Barcelona; Master in European integration from Autonomous University of Barcelona with a thesis titled “Negotiations Between Turkey and European Union and the Impact of Kurdish Diaspora”. I have specialized in Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the formation of modern Turkey. I have compiled two academic works; one on the conflict in Gaza and Israel 2008-2009 and the other on social movements in the Middle East and North Africa 2011. I coordinate a diploma for specialization on the Middle Eastern and the Caucasus Studies at University of Iberoamericana. Currently I am working with Ariel González on the first book about Turkey written by Latin American academicians.
Ayşe Yarar: What do you think about the reasons of civil war in Syria beginning in 2011? How can you evaluate the future of Syria?
Manuel Ferez: Professor Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow at International Institute for Strategic Studies, in his book Syria Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant writes the tensions in the area with the top 5 issues:
1. The failure between the Government and their society (delegitimization);
2. The confrontation for the regional leadership between Iran, some Arab countries of the Gulf (especially Saudi Arabia) and Turkey;
3. The deepening of the Sunni/Shiite division;
4. The role of political Islam in the identity of the Arab and Muslim and non-Muslim groups construction;
5. Finally, breakdown of the balance of different ethnic groups in traditionally multi-ethnic societies (the Kurdish case is most obvious).
The regional impact of this conflict is already unquestionable, on the one hand, the flight of Kurds to the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq will have demographic, political and economic implications. The large number of refugees in Jordan is threatening the precarious stability of a regime that historically survives barely in a ruthless region. Turkey, which for too long has called on the international community to intervene to its neighbor, receives the impact of refugees seeking asylum in the south of the country. Israel distributed gas masks among its population and prepares militarily for conflict on their border North and finally, Iran becomes witness of how its main ally in the Middle East pound an existential battle while the Gulf countries are committed to which groups Sunni fundamentalists are the final winners.
Internationally, the picture is more complex with a Security Council paralyzed by the fundamental disagreement between Russia and the United States on the construction of the law (ius ad bellum), ius in bello and legitimacy of any operation. Similarly, little is debated on the consequences of the post conflict in the short and medium term (reconstruction of the State, social cohesion and the Syrian identity preservation) central questions that have inhibited rapid participation in the conflict by actors such as USA, EU and Britain due to the previous sitting in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).
Ayşe Yarar: As an expert on Middle Eastern Politics, what do you say about the current political order in Egypt? How can be built democracy in Egytp?
Manuel Ferez: In my opinion the situation in Egypt is disastrous because I do not see a national reconciliation in the short term. The problem of Egypt, as in other countries of the Middle East is the lack of a national consensus on the identity of the country and the place that Islam has in this identity. Missed the empowerment of civil society so that social conflicts are resolved in a reliable democratic environment. The position of the army in Egypt is the key to the future of the country, while the army keep control of the economy and the country’s institutions is very difficult to move forward on the road of reconciliation and democracy. Many conflicts and current tensions experienced by countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Lybia) stem from a lack of common identity which constitutes nation states from ethnic, religious and national groups.
Ayşe Yarar: How is the perception of Latin American people, especially Mexican people related to Middle East? Do you think that Iran is a growing threat for the world in terms of nuclear technology or nuclear programme? What do you think about US involvement in the region and American approach to Iran?
Manuel Ferez: The perception that Mexico has towards the countries of the Middle East is conditioned by the decisions of government, academic studies and coverage of the media of the dynamics of the region. In this regard the Arab countries like Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, are better studied and analyzed than countries such as Turkey, Iran and even Israel. Other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile and Brazil have succeeded in establishing better relations with Turkey, Iran allowing them to have better information about the dynamics of these countries.
It seems to me that Iran has developed nuclear capabilities in a way that has raised many suspicions in the international community. Statements by Ahmadinejad did much damage in this regard since they put the country in a difficult international situation. A change has appeared in the discourse since the arrival of Rouhani to the government, but Ayatollah Khamenei has the last word. Iran is shown as an important actor in the dynamics of the Middle East and the Caucasus and thus has to be considered in international negotiations. Several countries (Israel, Egypt, Syria and Iran) in the Middle East have lacked clarity in the nuclear developments.
The policy followed by the United States in the Middle East was conditioned by the dynamics of the Cold War. From the 1990s United States policy has been erratic, and without long term vision. The US has supported authoritarian governments and this situation has caused disappointment in the Middle Eastern societies. We currently see how retracts gradually the presence of United States in this region leaving the area at the mercy of aggressive dynamics and negative influences that have deeply damaged the process of democratization and openness of the countries that make up the Middle East.
Ayşe Yarar: Do you think there are similarities in terms of economic, social and democratic development levels between Turkey and Latin American countries; especially, could you please compare Turkey and Mexico considering their modernization periods since 1920s?
Manuel Ferez: Mexico and Turkey share many common geographical, historical, economic and cultural characteristics. They are two countries whose geographical situations are similar (Mexico between North America and South America and Turkey between Europe and Asia). There are also similarities (processes of substitution of imports, strong nationalism, a process of denial of indigenous cultures and European influence in the aspirations of both countries) in their national construction processes. The migrations of nearby countries have also conditioned the dynamics of both countries. The modernization process that both countries have experienced since the 1920s have been carried by the government control in economic, political and social dynamics. Mexico and Turkey entered to the 20th century with reforms and structural changes which have inserted them in greater or lesser degree, in economics, international politics and diplomacy. It is a pity that the relations between Turkey and Mexico have been at a secondary level so far.
Ayşe Yarar: What can you say about foreign relations of Turkey with Latin American countries? How do you analyze Turkish Foreign Policy towards Latin America?
Manuel Ferez: In my opinion foreign relations of Turkey towards Latin America have improved in last ten years. There are Latin American countries which Turkey has very deep and fruitful relationships such as Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela. Also I perceive an effort to improve the relations in the countries such as Mexico, Panama and Colombia where Ankara is sending diplomats. For example, current Turkish Ambassador in Mexico, Ahmet Acet worked hard to provide the first official visit of a Mexican President (Enrique Peña Nieto) to Turkey and the signed a free trade agreement between Mexico and Turkey. In the academic area, Turkey and Latin American countries have much work to do. If the institutions of higher education in Turkey and Latin American countries provide opportunity, academicians can use the advantages of similarities and potentialities of these countries to study at a maximum level. Ankara University has a Research Center on Latin America but in Latin America we still have lack of research centres and publications on Turkey that allow a better understanding of Turkey and its current dynamics.
Ayşe Yarar: Mr. Ferez, as a last question, could you give us the names of Turkish academists, journalists or writers that you follow closely their studies, writings or views?
Manuel Ferez: Mustafa Akyol, Orhan Pamuk, Yusuf Kanlı, Tuğrul Keskin, Serkan Demirtaş and Murat Yetkin.
Ayşe Yarar: Mr. Ferez, thank you very much for sharing your opinions with UPA. Good luck in your studies.
Interview: Ayşe YARAR