Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

No handshake

At the OIC summit, Egypt’s foreign minister and Turkey’s president did not shake hands, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The recently held summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), from 10-15 April, failed to narrow the gap between Egypt and Turkey — as evidenced by a failure to shake hands.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, who headed the Egyptian delegation to the 13th summit of the OIC, delivered the first speech, announced the handing over of the OIC chair to Turkey, the host country, then immediately left the hall, avoiding the traditional handshake between the old and new chairs.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to the podium from the opposite side, to avoid meeting Shoukri. Erdogan did not thank Egypt for chairing the previous round or for handing the chair to his country.

“This is not the right time for Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation. Ankara’s stand is still the same and Egypt cannot accept it. Thus the summit ended without even a handshake,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

Maasoum Marzouk, former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, said that the failure to shake hands pointed to an absence of maturity on the part of all parties concerned.

The former head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, would visit the US during the Cold War and the US president would meet him, Marzouk said.

“People can differ politically, but this should not affect the way they deal with each other. What happened in the opening session of the summit was sad for everybody. The procedure could have been done in a more professional way,” Marzouk said.

The decision that Shoukri would head the Egyptian delegation in the OIC summit was officially confirmed just one day ahead of the conference. The OIC presidency should be handed over by the country’s president but strained ties between Egypt and Turkey led to Shoukri’s substitution for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hesham Badr represented Egypt during the preparatory meetings in Turkey between foreign ministers in the two days prior to the summit.

Egypt has repeatedly stated that any real thaw in relations between Cairo and Ankara will require that Turkey halt its attacks on Egypt’s leadership and stops hosting the Egyptian regime’s political opponents.

Shoukri’s visit to Istanbul marked the first high-level visit since relations between the two countries became tense. Ahead of the summit there were attempts to ease the tension between Cairo and Ankara. Saudi King Salman concluded a five-day to Cairo last week in a visit intended mainly to bolster ties and the strategic partnership between Cairo and Riyadh in ways that would help in facing regional threats and crises. Trying to push for Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation or bridge the differences was on the king’s agenda. However, his attempts apparently did not succeed.

The Turkish presidency’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, rejected reports that Saudi Arabia was playing the role of mediator in efforts to ease tension between Egypt and Turkey. When asked whether Egyptian-Turkish relations would be on the agenda of King Salman’s visit, Kalin said Turkish policy towards Egypt is well known and has not changed.

“King’s Salman’s visit to Turkey after his five-day visit to Egypt does not relate to this issue,” said Kalin. The Saudi king arrived in Turkey a couple of days ahead of the OIC summit.

The summit was held in Turkey from 14-15 April. Turkey takes over the organisation’s chair for the next two years. It was the first time for Turkey to host the two-day summit since the founding of the OIC in 1969.

The summit discussed pressing issues, including the situation in Libya, Syria, Yemen and the occupied Palestinian territories. However, discussions failed to produce any tangible outcome or plan of action to any of the hotspots.

The OIC, said Marzouk, like other regional or Third World organisations — with the exception of the African Union — is showing noticeable deterioration and a failure to resolve pressing issues.

“They are all huge organisations with minimal impact. They fail to resolve regional issues. Besides, there are some members in these organisations who launch proxy fights against each other.”

The Palestinian issue was brought to the fore in Egypt’s address at the OIC summit. “After all, one of the main aims of establishing the OIC was to resolve the Palestinian issue. Traditionally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict used to dominate the agenda of the summits,” said the diplomat, who requested anonymity. However, no tangible steps were taken regarding the issue.

Marzouk said the Palestinian issue had recently taken a back seat in most regional and international meetings. “Ever since they accepted to live under the occupation, and agreed to a two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority accepted that their issue be low on the list of priorities. Unless they fight for their cause, the whole issue will erode,” he said.

The issue of terrorism was also given prominence as a challenge facing most of the member states, if not all of them.

In his address to the summit, Shoukri emphasised counter-terrorism efforts in the region. In his address, Erdogan declared that Muslim states had agreed to establish a Turkey-based body to fight terrorism. He also called for support for a Saudi-led initiative for an Islamic alliance against terrorism and to turn it into an effective body.

Egypt’s relations with Turkey soured after the removal of Mohamed Morsi as president in July 2013. Erdogan has been openly critical of the Egyptian regime ever since. In November 2013, Cairo expelled the Turkish ambassador in Egypt, leading to a tit-for-tat response from Ankara.

In August 2014, Erdogan called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Egypt. In April, he stated that before Ankara could consider improving ties with Cairo, Egypt should free Morsi from jail and overturn its mass death sentences.

In December 2014, Egypt imposed restrictions on Egyptian travel to Turkey, requesting potential travellers to acquire security approvals from designated authorities.

The OIC is made up of 57 member states and represents the collective voice of the Islamic world. It is said to be the second-largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations. It was established at the end of a historic summit in the Moroccan capital of Rabat in the aftermath of an arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1969. Member countries have been gathering once every three years ever since, mainly to discuss overall regional politics.

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