Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2012
Issue No. 1117
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Turkish delight

Sayed Abdel-Maguid was on hand to see President Mursi receive a rapturous welcome in Ankara

Click to view caption
Erdogan, right, greets Mursi in Turkey

The main hall of the Turkish Stock Exchange Federation was packed with Turkish and Egyptian businessmen and businesswomen. At one point they stood to greet Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Ankara to attend part of the Justice and Development Party's national convention. There, too, Mursi received an enthusiastic welcome. His visit to the heart of Anatolia may only have lasted half a day but the media was happy to join Turkish presidential advisor Ersat Hurmuzlu in hailing it as a "turning point" for the Middle and Far East.

The attention accorded President Mursi's visit and the hearty reception he received were undoubtedly a reflection of the Turkish people's admiration for the 25 January Revolution. Until this event Turks had regarded Egypt as a form of hereditary monarchy.

President Mursi was quick to seize the opportunity to voice hopes for closer ties between Egypt and Turkey. In view of the spirit of brotherhood between them, and their historical and geographical bonds, the two countries should work towards becoming as close as twins.

He said he looked forward to a time when there would no longer be any barriers between the two countries or any entry visas required by the peoples of the same nation. He heralded the beginning of a period when the two countries would work together, ceaselessly and indefatigably, to build on what they have in order to promote the prosperity of their two great peoples whose countries are already unrivalled leaders in their own regions and merit a place among the ranks of the leading nations of the world.

President Mursi did not only address Turkey's ruling AKP but also praised the opposition which he described as a partner in building their country. He met with a number of key opposition figures, most notably the leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Frankness was the order of the day. Mursi observed that cultural and scientific relations between Egypt and Turkey were at best modest. He urged the elites of both countries to come up with plans to generate a qualitative shift in cooperation in fields such as scientific research. Investment projects, he said, should focus on more than consumer goods. Now is the time to channel money and effort into strategic industries, in which regard Mursi shared his dream of developing an aircraft building industry in Egypt, as well as automobile and naval manufacturing industries.

Some Turkish media outlets complained that during his address to the AKP convention Mursi spoke too long and introduced too many convoluted details, in contrast to the more succinct speeches of other dignitaries. These included Hamas Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal whose speech to the convention made the front pages of many Turkish papers. The Hamas leader knew how to play his audience. His praise for the AKP leader was unreserved and when he said that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had become a leader of the Islamic world the crowd erupted into wild applause.

Mursi returned to Cairo after just 12 hours in the Turkish capital. Hardly had he, and other visiting dignitaries, left than the celebratory atmosphere of the convention centre dimmed. Contrary to Erdogan's wishes delegates allowed their attention to stray from the AKP's ceremonies. Some began to ask questions the party leadership would rather not hear, not least why the AKP's charter still allows the party's chief to serve three terms while Turkey's new constitution restricts the country's leaders to two terms. More stingingly, some asked how party officials could claim Erdogan won the presidency of his party with a sweeping majority when there was no competition.

Erdogan, in turn, provided even more for delegates to think about. After letting his supporters do the PR work that ensured his reelection as party chairman, he informed participants at the convention -- and its television audience -- that he was prepared to take on other responsibilities "should the Turkish people so desire".

Political analysts immediately interpreted the statement as a sign Erdogan intends to stand in Turkey's 2014 presidential elections. If this is true, he will most likely be standing against the current president of Turkey, Abdullah Gl, whom the Constitutional Court has ruled eligible to run for a second term in accordance with amendments that were introduced into the constitution in 2007 and provide for direct presidential elections and a maximum of two five-year terms. Gl recently hinted that he intends to field himself as a candidate.

Erdogan's announcement, say commentators, is evidence of a rift between Turkey's prime minister and president that has so far been kept under wraps. Some observers have put this together with reports, appearing in some of Turkey's dailies, that the AKP has drawn up a roadmap for Turkey's progress until 2023. That year coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Although nothing has been stated explicitly, it looks like Erdogan wants to preside over the implementation of the roadmap and be standing at the helm of the country during the centennial.

If, in spite of some glitches, the atmosphere inside the AKP convention was convivial, outside the conference halls was a different story. Opposition parties lashed out at the AKP and what CHP leader Kilicdaroglu described as the "black page that has marred the history of Turkish democracy".

"The AKP leader banned the correspondents of six newspapers that oppose his policies from attending the conference, even as he boasts of defending freedom and democracy," Kilicdaroglu said, adding, "a person who discriminates between newspapers should not be the prime minister of this country."

Another criticism was delivered by Oktay Vural, leader of the National Movement Party's parliamentary bloc.

"Masoud Al-Barazani, the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan who dreams of creating a Kurdish state, was a guest at the convention paid for by the money of the Turkish people. Probably Abdullah ñcalan [the founder of the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party who is currently serving a life sentence in Imral prison] will be on hand at the next AKP convention."

The general consensus was that Erdogan's address to the AKP convention was disappointing. Many expected the prime minister to focus on the future but instead he dwelt in the past and criticised the opposition CHP.

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