Ankara’s recent role in the Gaza flotilla affair has propelled Turkey as the newest hero of Arab politics, surpassing Iran as the region’s rising star. Meanwhile, it seems that some non-traditional players in Arab politics have become more visible players in regional politics and society. For example, small states such as Qatar and the UAE, backed by significant financial resources, have become major centers of diplomacy and trade. What explains these changes and how have these states affected regional politics?
The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of soft power in Middle East politics by laying out a basic typology, identifying the sources of soft power, and illustrating its importance for regional politics. I present three related arguments. First, the decline of two major Arab powers, Egypt and Iraq, has created political opportunities for the non-Arab states of Turkey and Iran to appeal to Arab domestic audiences; Iran’s and Turkey’s hard power has enabled these states to pursue policies that enhance their soft power. Second, this shift in regional structures, combined with dramatic changes in information technology, transportation and trade has enabled smaller states to play a larger role in regional politics than they had in the past. Third, although these descriptions of soft power illustrate its diversity as a concept and currency, the paper highlights the darker side of soft power; namely, how soft power has been used as coercive foreign policy tool and how it triggers threat perception.
This paper will proceed as follows. The first section will define soft power and identify various types of soft power in modern Middle Eastern history by country. The second section follows a similar format to discuss the role of soft power in the current regional context. The concluding section proposes some new avenues for future research.