by Prof. Dr. Zekeriya Kurşun
In order to revitalize Turkish-Egyptian relations after a decade-long hiatus, the two countries’ mutual upgrade of their missions to the level of embassies would have positive contributions to regional developments. Despite the relations that were cut off in 2013, or rather reduced to a very low level, the parties have never broken off from each other. At least, the continuation of relations in many areas, especially in foreign trade, regardless of political relations, has made important contributions to the preparation of the process today.
Turkey-Egypt relations, which have zigzagged from time to time in our recent history, showed continuous improvement until 2013, especially after Turgut Özal’s visit to Egypt as prime minister, which I personally observed and witnessed some of the meetings. The ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak also attached special importance to his relations with Turkey and adopted the principle of balancing these relations. At that time, there was a process of harmonization between Turkey and Egypt on regional issues, and especially after the Soviet collapse, this harmonization allowed for more cooperation. In the pre-2013 period, the fact that Turkish language was being taught in more than ten Egyptian Universities or that there were Turkology departments is a good example to show the extent of the relationship of that period. In fact, during the same period, Egypt itself took the initiative to correct the old negative narratives about Ottoman History in textbooks. Unfortunately, with the process that started after the Arab Spring, Turkey-Egypt relations have gone backwards in the last decade.
Two Partners in Regional and Global Governance
Today, both the new shape of world governance and the regional developments of the last decade have made Turkey-Egypt relations even more important. The two countries should quickly restructure their relations, motivated by the positive relations of the past, while shedding their negative records. In the past, when the Cold War was dominant, both countries put limits on their relations for reasons stemming from the international system. Even if this pressure from the international system has not completely disappeared, today the two countries have the opportunity to act more independently and improve their relations. Thanks to the political, economic and cultural relations that will develop between the two countries in the new era, Egypt will be Turkey’s bridge to the Middle East and North Africa, while Turkey will be able to carry Egypt to the Turkic world and Central-Asia. The relations, which will be based on realism rather than sentimentality, and which already have the groundwork in place (with the win-win principle), will benefit both sides and the results will allow for the diversification of relations. First and foremost, Turkey and Egypt are necessary partners in Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics. Neither side will be able to sacrifice its interests in the region with some current political games or international pressures, nor will it be able to achieve results alone. Egypt’s relations with Greece, which have been reshaped in the last decade due to the vacuum that has emerged – and to Egypt’s detriment – and Turkey’s relations with Libya can be turned into an advantage through dialogue, cooperation and fair sharing instead of regional conflict. Here, it would be enough for the two sides to take the initiative, independent of the interventions of third actors. There is also no doubt that the positive relations between the two sides will bring a new perspective to the Syrian issue.
Our Expectations from the New Period
There are great similarities between Turkish and Egyptian societies due to historical commonality and being in the same religious and cultural circle. However, while individualism has developed in Turkey in the last hundred years, Egypt has not experienced the same development. Since society is used to acting together, it is generally open to manipulation. In this context, the relations initiated by the two countries will contribute greatly to positively affecting individuals and societies.
The meeting of Turkish entrepreneurs and Egyptian society will create a new synergy. Aside from the figures presented in various fields, the juxtaposition of Egypt’s population of over 100 million and Turkey’s population of 200 million will have an impact on both regional relations and global governance. The advantage of young and dynamic populations of the two countries has the potential to influence not only the economic relations between the two sides, but also the international system. If managed well, we will be able to see these effects on various international platforms in the new era. Turkey and Egypt are complementary parts and actors. When they stand close to each other, both of them rise, and when they move away from each other, both of them suffer. In this respect, it is essential that the following issues are quickly realized in the new period:
-In the process that has recently started at the level of foreign ministers, mutual visits should take place at the highest level. This visit will send positive signals not only to Egypt but also to the Arab League members.
– The commissions recently established to improve relations between the two sides should be developed with experts in the field and turned into permanent commissions. The parties should not change interlocutors frequently. Egypt’s sensitivity in this regard and its ability to employ experts in the same field for many years seems to be more advanced than Turkey. This should be taken into consideration.
-The existing Free Trade Agreement between the two countries should be rapidly developed, the rough edges in its implementation should be removed and opportunities should be created to encourage investors from Turkey to Egypt as in the past. While maintaining the current situation, mutual trade should be shifted to areas with higher strategic and economic value. New cooperation, especially in the field of energy, should be paved the way.
– The Egyptian economy has its own characteristics and management. Turkish entrepreneurs should be guided in this direction. The Ministry of Trade, DEIK special commissions, and organizations such as TÜSİAD and MÜSİAD should establish active representative offices in Egypt. Joint investments in strategic areas should be opened and information and experience should be shared.
-Both countries are important tourism destinations. Cooperation in the field of tourism will not only contribute to the economy of both countries, but will also allow societies to get closer and cooperate in other areas. Especially THY should take on new responsibilities in this field and perhaps organize promotional flights.
-Inter-university relations should be developed rapidly. Joint programs should be made by taking into account the strengths of both sides. Some pilot universities and programs should be selected and a system should be developed to ensure student exchange, accreditation and mutual course counting. Special opportunities should be provided for young people who want to be trained as Egyptologists from ancient times to the present day. It should be ensured that students at all levels take courses from the selected branches and universities. Educational and cultural attaché offices should be activated, scientific organizations such as TUBITAK and TUBA should provide positive discrimination to studies on Turkey-Egypt Relations and develop cooperation with equivalent Egyptian organizations.
-Media, press and NGO cooperation, which has declined in the last decade, should be revisited and improved. Especially in the development of the cinema and television sector, the experiences of the two countries should be brought together, joint projects should be produced and joint platforms should be established instead of competing with each other. Partnership will bring more benefits to these sectors than competition, and will also eliminate the negative images that may be given through visual media, cinema and television.
While expressing these demands, I would like to remind you of a historical fact that should not be forgotten and that I have expressed on various occasions before. This is the fact that Turkish-Egyptian relations go beyond inter-state relations. Throughout history, the presence of Turks in Egypt and the Egyptians’ reaching as far as Anatolia developed kinship relations between the two sides, making them inseparable parts of each other regardless of politics. The Ottoman Empire was able to become a world state when it integrated with Egypt, and during the years of the National Struggle, Anatolia first made its voice heard to the world through Egypt. In this respect, the restructuring of the relations between the two countries will not only add great strength to both sides, but will also create a great synergy in the solution of regional problems and the development of the countries.
Auto translated followed by a revision