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Road Map of an Ambassador: How to discover the Orient

“Orient” is a word of the 19th century. Today, it has been replaced by “Middle East”, particularly in political and economic contexts. But “Orient” has kept its magic. Turkey, Iran and India belong to different strategic, political and economic worlds, but stand for the magic of the “Orient”. What do they have in common and what is it that separates them? There are many ways to discover this. One of them is an ambassador’s road map.


Professional experiences made me discover Turkey’s unique strategic position from which derive history, economics and politics. Is it Europe or Orient? Is it European NATO or regional power in Islamic Middle East? Is it economically stagnating or emerging? While reading and writing about Ottoman Constantinopel, I learned that the Sultan’s court language was Farsi, the Persians’ language. When, later, posted to Tehran, I learned some Farsi myself, and when, finally, moving on to New Delhi, the capital of today’s India, I discovered that under the Mughals here, too, Farsi had been the court language. Turkey, Iran and India had Farsi in common when the Orient was run by the Ottoman Sultan, the Persian Shah and the Indian Mughal. How much, since those days, has survived of common Farsi, common miniature painting, common Sufi music and mysticism? For today’s Orientalist, those traits are alive. For globalising society and economy, there is no longer any common ground in old Orient.


Turkey is more than a bridge between Europe and the Middle East; it is a stake-holder in both worlds, playing smartly its assets as an unavoidable partner for many in its neighbourhood and beyond, its corporate world betting on globalising economy and its government redefining a constructive and profitable role for political Islam in office. Turkey has accepted the challenge of globalisation.


Old Persia has turned modern Iran, but does not seem to have kept its cultural dominance in the Orient. Iran, too, has redefined political Islam, but does not seem to be appealing to the rest of its Islamic neighbourhood. By the size of its energy resources, and the talents of its people, however, it stands for an immense potential, potential meaning “not yet”. Iran is isolated, both politically and economically. No direct relations with the USA! US interests are being looked after by Switzerland and its ambassador in Iran! But Iran has still all the assets for a future emergence, both politically and economically, providing they adapt to global rules.


India, my last posting, chose independence and secular politics 65 years ago, and abandoned socialist planned economy some 20 years ago. It is heading for liberal market economy and globalisation. India is a giant of over one billion human beings, producers and consumers, who want their share in world affairs. Their huge domestic market lives on its own rules, unfit for globalised economy, but those who travel bring back home the message of how to adapt to global rules in order to succeed globally. And they are on their way! While the Indian Government negotiated a revised treaty to better cooperate with Switzerland on tax fraud and tax evasion, I confronted the free Indian media on the same topics. That was globalising society aspiring at its share in world affairs. An emerging society and economy with all its dynamics and set-backs!


Three different stories of how to confront globalisation. Which one is on the right track? Having seen the three from close, the guess is nevertheless open. When opening up to the world, every nation does it on its own rules and preferences. Surprises are in for all of us. That is why, when getting engaged with any of them: be smart, find the specific rules of their games before matching them with our rules of an inevitable eventual global society and economy. The old Orient will not come back, but memories of its magic will survive, despite globalisation.


Philippe Welti

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