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MIDDLE EAST: Turkey's arms exports not affected by unrest, report says

March 7, 2011 |  8:06 am

Turkey-libya-air
Is Turkey's role in the Middle East centrist, or just plain cynical?

Ankara's arms trade with Middle Eastern and North African countries is thriving, according to local reports, despite popular uprisings across the region against governments described by the protest movement and others as repressive and corrupt.

One senior procurement official with knowledge of defense contracts described the current industry climate as "business as usual" to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

"Egypt is a market and partner with previously signed contracts," he said.

"Tunisia and Libya were prospective markets. They still are for the longer term," he added. "As the dust settles we will roll up our sleeves to help the [Turkish] industry for new contracts...future contracts will come up as soon as stability has been restored."

Turkey's total arms exports are expected to reach $1.5 billion this year, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for a significant chunk.

Hurriyet Daily News' report coincides with calls from the Libyan rebels for stronger Turkish support.

Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, deputy leader of the opposition Libyan National Council, was quoted by the Anatolia News Agency asking Turkey to condemn Libyan leader Muammar Kadafi and officially recognize the revolutionary movement.

In the past, Turkey has sought to position itself as a moderate in the region, maintaining close ties with its Arab neighbors as well as Israel, Iran, and the United States. This has made it reluctant to take strong positions that may harm relations with the leaders of those countries.

Turkey is certainly not alone when it comes to arming Arab states with less than stellar records on human rights and democracy. In fact, Hurriyet Daily News noted that at least one of the contracts is for upgrades to American-made vehicles and equipment.

The U.S. has been criticized for forking over billions of dollars in mostly military aid to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his 30-year rule. Appearing to respond to mounting public pressure, the Obama administration finally announced it was reviewing that aid package just weeks before Mubarak stepped down.

The U.S. also gave millions of dollars in military aid to Tunisia under President Zine al Abadine Ben Ali, who was driven into exile by a popular uprising that erupted late last year and sparked similar protests across the region in Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere.

The U.S. recently made its largest arms sale ever, worth some $60 billion, to Saudi Arabia, which banned protests on Saturday following unrest in largely Shia areas of the oil-rich Sunni-dominated kingdom.

--Meris Lutz

Photo: Turkish citizens evacuated from Libya return home. Credit: Reuters

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