Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

From Turkish model to Turkish enemy?

Identifying Turkey with its current government could prompt many Egyptians to forgo the pleasures of Turkish literature
and the glories of Istanbul,
writes Dina Ezzat

Mohamed Ali Pasha
Mohamed Ali Pasha
Al-Ahram Weekly

 Egyptian officials say that Cairo is “keeping a close eye” on the political and diplomatic posture of the Turkish government regarding developments in Egypt. The intention, as one official candidly put it, “is to avoid any further escalation” of what has recently been a deteriorating relationship between the two countries.
Cairo is not yet ready to decide a date for the return of its ambassador to Ankara after he was summoned back to Egypt in mid-August, despite the fact that Ankara has sent back the Turkish ambassador to Cairo, who was similarly summoned back in mid-August.
For some weeks, there had been an intensive exchange of accusations between Egypt and Turkey, which started with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi “a coup d’état”.
Erdogan, himself an Islamist who has never masked his enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood and has acted to support its rule, went further when he made what Cairo perceived to be statements that interfered in Egypt’s internal affairs and insulted public figures ranging from the nation’s top brass to the grand imam of Al-Azhar.
The statements against public officials were not the worst part of Erdogan’s reaction to Morsi’s ouster and beyond, from Cairo’s perspective. What really offended were the harsh statements he made about the dispersal of the two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo, which had lasted for over a month earlier this summer.
“What was really unacceptable was the attempt of Erdogan to use the dispersal, which he knows through his close contacts with the Europeans and the Americans could have been avoided had somebody talked sense to the leadership of the Brotherhood, to start an international momentum against Egypt. It was in this that he crossed the line,” said a senior Egyptian government official.
The images of the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in were certainly shocking to the world, but as Turkish officials in Ankara accept Erdogan acted to use them to force international action against Cairo. He successfully managed to get the situation in Egypt to be the subject of an informal session of the UN Security Council, for example.
This offended Egyptian officials who were hoping that the prime minister of Turkey would fail to make this happen. It was followed by an extraordinary mid-August meeting of European Union foreign ministers on the same subject.
European diplomats who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly at the time said that Turkey had lobbied for and supported the EU action. However, they insisted that the position of the EU was inevitable “given the bloodshed and the body-bags”.
However, for Cairo, Erdogan is to blame and he cannot be forgiven.
“It is clear to anyone that things are not about a political disagreement or a political fight now. They are now more a matter of a personal vendetta. It might be possible to contain the damage at the official level, but it is hard to see how the bad chemistry could ever be worked around,” said Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, former director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

ERDOGAN AS A NEO-OTTOMAN SULTAN: Erdogan had been subject to many forms of criticism in the Egyptian media, which has been sensitive about anyone and anything that attempts to question political developments in the country since the ouster of Morsi on 3 July, including the dispersal of the sit-ins.
Government officials had angry reactions to Erdogan’s criticisms of Egyptian public figures, especially the grand imam of Al-Azhar. Commentators also spared no effort in reminding the prime minister of Turkey that Egypt was no longer an Ottoman province and that he was no longer the sultan of Egypt.
In a typical contribution, former minister of planning and international cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga last month wrote a full-page article in which she criticised Erdogan for looking down upon Egypt “as an Ottoman Sultan would have done”.
Abul-Naga, otherwise tight-lipped, shared remarks on what she qualified as the aggressive security entourage that had escorted Erdogan on his visit to Egypt months after the 25 January Revolution, the insensitive remarks of his spouse regarding the Egyptian way of life, and the condescending approach of the government of Turkey with regard to Egypt’s economic hiccups.
A poised and well-versed commentator on Egyptian-Turkish relations, Amr Al-Shobaki, also criticised the positions of Erdogan on Egypt, which reflected a failure to grasp the true nature of things in the country and a miscalculation of a prime minister who has chosen to allow his ideological affiliation to take precedence over his political reasoning, Al-Shobaki said.
The close interest that Erdogan has been taking in the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt has prompted many in Cairo to forget the earlier anti-Erdogan sentiments that the Muslim Brotherhood itself demonstrated against the Turkish prime minister during his post-25 January Revolution visit to Cairo, when he had reminded his hosts that he was committed to the secular principles behind his country’s constitution.
Informed officials in Cairo and Ankara offer an identical assessment of why Erdogan has been taking the stance that he has, saying that this has been essentially about internal Turkish politics. In 2011, Erdogan had an interest in underscoring his commitment to secular principles, as he was then faced with scepticism from within secular and military quarters in Turkey.
Today, things are different because Erdogan is in need of the support of the radical Islamists within his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) to allow for the amendment of the constitution to change Turkey into a presidential system, with Erdogan planning on running for the post.
“Erdogan is an Islamist, and he has a close affinity with the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no doubt about it: he is ultimately a politician who is playing with the cards he has in his hands. We had advised him against going the extra mile in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and we insisted that at the end of the day what counts most is Egyptian-Turkish relations, but he chose otherwise as a result of his own agenda,” said a Turkish diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.
Erdogan’s term in office ends next year, and according to the regulations of his party he cannot run for a third term for parliament and thus cannot once again be prime minister. His only chance to stay in power is to become head of the executive by becoming Turkey’s next president.

TURKEY’S REGIONAL GAME: According to Mohamed Abdel-Kader, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, for Erdogan’s Turkey the Muslim Brotherhood was just a part of a wider regional scheme that aimed to position Turkey, “a NATO member that is desperately pursuing membership of the European Union”, as the leading Middle Eastern power that can represent and decide for the entire region.
Abdel-Kader, like Abul-Naga in her article on Erdogan, argued that for Ankara the Muslim Brotherhood, like Qatar and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was a possible collaborator to organise the Middle East in such a way as to make Turkey the most influential state in the region.
Turkey under Erdogan, Abdel-Kader argued, has gone “far too far in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, not just through its statements but also through other forms of support. We should recall that the security services in Egypt have confiscated shipments of arms coming to Egypt from Turkey,” he added.
Erdogan, Abdel-Kader argued, was confident that Morsi could not have survived early presidential elections or even a referendum on his presidency. Because the prime minister of Turkey did not want to lose Morsi in Cairo, he had encouraged him to decline to bow to the Egyptian public’s demands.
According to the assessment of intelligence sources in Cairo, Erdogan had anticipated a civil war in Egypt in which the Islamists would ultimately win, and this was precisely the reason he had chosen to side with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdel-Kader argued that since the Justice and Development Party had come to power in November 2002 Turkey had been pursuing a new status in the Middle East, with it playing a key role in major regional crises, including the Iraq war in 2003 and the attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.  
He added that while Turkey was expanding its regional status, especially through its mediation efforts and the so-called “zero problems” approach designed by its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, it had seen the Arab Spring as an opportunity to further solidify Turkish regional supremacy.
The rise of the Islamists to power in Egypt, Abdel-Kader stressed, was convenient from this point of view, especially against the backdrop of similar developments in Tunisia and a possible replay, actually not the case, of the same scenario in Libya.
Erdogan’s Turkey, Abdel-Kader suggested, had counted far too much on the victories of the Islamists and it was now losing. It had lost Syria, he said, and it had also now lost Egypt.

EGYPTIAN-TURKISH RELATIONS: Earlier this month, Minister of Trade and Commerce Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour received a delegation of Turkish entrepreneurs, and during the meeting he stressed Egypt’s keenness to pursue a pragmatic approach on relations between the two countries and to avoid subjecting trade and economic interests to political hiccups.
A similar show of realism had earlier been demonstrated by Ankara when it decided to re-dispatch its ambassador to Egypt at a time when Cairo was receiving a delegation of Turkish opposition figures and hosting diplomatic delegations from Turkey’s arch-enemies Greece and Southern Cyprus.
Other signs of realism have been demonstrated in the continued operation of vast Turkish factories in Egypt and a slowed-down, but sustained process of private-sector exports and imports.  
However, the elements of tension are still too visible to overlook. Military cooperation with and imports from Turkey have been suspended. The volume of tourism to and from Turkey has declined. The once popular Turkish soap operas that during the past few years — well before the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — had dominated the prime time of private Egyptian channels are still suspended. And the Turkish cinema that was finding its way in 2010 to Egyptian theatres through the Cairo International Film Festival is now clearly unwelcome.
Moreover, official cultural cooperation has been almost put on hold, and fewer Egyptians are demonstrating an interest in attending Turkish language classes or enrolling their children in the Turkish schools that since 2009 have been operating in Egypt as part of the international education system approved by the ministry of education.
However, the books of Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk are still selling well, even if not as they used to, according to leading Cairo bookstores. Turkish author Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love is still in high demand in English and Arabic translation.
The grand imam of Al-Azhar has received the around 1,000 Turkish students at the university, following Erdogan’s criticism of his stance on the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in, personally assuring them that they would not be affected by the matter and that he was looking after their interests.
Turkey has also not suspended the $1 billion in aid that it had marked for development projects in Egypt since the 25 January Revolution and which had not been used due to the failure of successive governments in Cairo to come up with projects to spend the money.
Fewer than ten days following the announced ouster of Morsi, said Abdel-Rahman Salah, Egypt’s ambassador to Turkey, Turkish President Abdullah Gul had told him that for Turkey relations with Egypt were a key matter that could not be compromised and that Turkey was carefully following the implementation of the roadmap for reform announced by the interim government.
“We had not wanted things to reach that point, and we have been very patient. Today, we would like matters to resume their positive momentum,” Salah said.
In the wake of the fall of the Mubarak regime, there was considerable positive sentiment towards Turkey, which had already been reaching out to Egypt. With the 2012 presidential candidature of Mohamed Morsi and former Muslim Brotherhood figure, now leader of the Strong Egypt Party, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, many commentators had also started to promote the adoption of the “Turkish model” in Egypt.
Some years later, it is the “Turkish enemy” that is being talked about in many Egyptian quarters instead, which have been praising the decision of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates to suspend mega-investments in Turkey in order to reprimand Erdogan’s position-taking.
Zekeriya Kushun, a professor of international relations at the University of Marmara, insisted that good Turkish-Egyptian relations were crucial for both countries. “They have been and they remain crucial for both countries due to the many joint strategic interests the two countries share, especially with a view to the regional stability that they have both been working for,” Kushun said.
He added that current political differences could not and would not undermine long-term interests. “If we look beyond the press statements and examine the recent history of cooperation, we can be confident that it is only a matter of time before the dust settles. But as we say in one of our proverbs, two quarrelling sides have to finish throwing stones at each other before they can start talking.”
Ultimately, Kushun insisted, “Erdogan’s association with the Muslim Brotherhood is not bigger than Turkey’s association with Egypt.”  
In press statements late September, the Turkish Consul in Egypt Mohamed Akef said that whatever views Ankara had they were not designed to amount to internal interference in Egyptian affairs. For his part, Abdel-Rahman Salah also said that the first free-trade agreement that Turkey had signed was with Egypt and that the trade balance of around $4 billion was in favour of Turkey — another reason for Ankara to want to retain good relations.
The current state of apprehension is also not the first in the recent history of Egypt and Turkey. During the last years of the three decades of Mubarak’s rule there was also considerable sensitivity in Cairo about Turkey’s ambitions for the Arab world and Africa. At the time the catchphrase was “Egyptian-Turkish competition”.
This came after a decade of close cooperation in which Egypt helped Turkey and Syria to avoid what could have been a war over disputed territory. Following this diplomatic breakthrough, Egypt joined Turkey and six other developing countries in initiating the D8 mechanism for economic and developmental cooperation.
During the months of great expectations for Turkish-Egyptian relations in the wake of the ouster of Mubarak, Ankara was angered by the choice of US President Barack Obama to make his historic speech to the Muslim World from Cairo and not from Istanbul.
In Cairo, diplomats gloated over the diplomatic coup that, in the words of one, “reminded the Turks that the Ottoman caliphate is not being re-established, contrary to the aspirations of Erdogan.”

ONCE AN OTTOMAN PROVINCE: During his visits to Cairo in the winter of 2011, Davutoglu said that what Ankara wanted was the widest possible cooperation with the Arab world and that it was not interested in neo-Ottomanism.
Prior to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ankara was not trying to re-establish the Ottoman Empire that had ended with World War I and the subsequent establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Egypt had escaped Ottoman influence twice, once when Mohamed Ali, in theory the Ottoman viceroy in Cairo, established the modern Egyptian state in the early 19th century following three centuries of Egypt’s being an Ottoman province, and again in 1914 when the occupying British forces made Egypt a British protectorate.
The 1952 Revolution ended the dynastic rule of Mohamed Ali and allowed Egyptians to be ruled by “a member of the Egyptian people and not a Turkish ruler,” as former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser said.   
In the several academic works that he has written on the history of Egypt and the Turks, prominent Turkish diplomat Ekmaluddin Ihsanoglu, has said that the Ottomans never really “occupied” Egypt, since the idea of a Muslim national state would not have made sense at the time.
Today, Ihsanoglu said, there are many cultural influences the two countries share, along with many shared interests.

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