CUMALİ ÖNAL

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CUMALİ ÖNAL
September 23, 2012, Sunday

Can Turkey and Egypt rebuild the Middle East?

During his visit to Egypt earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a very ambitious remark: “Together with Egypt, we will rebuild the Middle East.”

In the past, including the Mubarak era, Davutoğlu had exerted great efforts to make sure that Egypt participates in the initiatives for the solution of various issues in the region.

In particular, during its efforts to stop the Gaza war in 2008, Turkey tried hard to make Egypt get involved in the process.

Similarly, Turkey wanted to cooperate with Egypt to take steps for stopping the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

But, under the circumstances of the time, Egypt couldn’t play an active role.

Today, on the contrary, Egypt is headed by Mohamed Morsi, who aims to make Egypt an active regional player just like Turkey.

And experts on the region have been tossing around the idea that if Turkey, Egypt and Iran, being the region’s three most influential countries and cultures, can act together and sit around the same table, it may be possible to solve many regional issues quickly.

At the current juncture, it is very unlikely for these countries to pursue the same policy as regards any specific regional issue.

Today, Iran is doing everything to support the bloody Assad regime in Syria. And it does this with a complete disregard for religious and ethical values.

It is also the biggest political and military supporter of the Hezbollah regime in Lebanon. Iran is perhaps the primary actor behind the lack of solutions for the problems between Palestinian groups. Iran is also threatening the Gulf countries. In Yemen, Iran is openly supporting certain groups. Iran sees Iraq as a “liberated” zone.

Given these factors, it is not an easy task to discuss regional issues with Iran.

Yet, there are no such problems between Turkey and Egypt. Both countries share the very same perspective concerning all regional issues including those related to Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

This naturally necessitates a collaboration between Turkey and Egypt.

The rebuilding of the region is a colossal project that may span several decades. Shaped at will by the British and the French with the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the Middle East has come to be known as a land of bloodshed, tears, dictatorships and instability.

The region is rife with major differences in religions, cultures, income level and social structure. As long as these differences remain unchanged, it is very unlikely that we can proceed to talking about stability and rebuilding in the region.

Yet, the region’s two major forces, Turkey and Egypt, may cooperate with each other in a balancing act in many respects, curbing many radical movements.

Muslim clerics played a definitive role in putting an end to the riots concerning a recent film insulting the Prophet of Islam. Moderate and active clerics may play roles in extinguishing similar provocations, and they may also take the lead in reinforcing the brotherly relations among peoples in the region.

In particular, the remarks from Turkish and Egyptian clerics played a significant role in containing the reactions to the film, “Innocence of Muslims.” They called on Muslims to show their reactions in a way that befits Muslims, that is without doing any harm to anyone’s life or property.

The political leaders of both countries exerted great efforts to calm their respective nations.

Turkish and Egyptian societies enjoy great similarities in political, cultural, military, demographic, social and other respects. The two countries do not have any historic hatred or animosity; on the contrary, they even have close kinship ties.

All these similarities and shared sentiments indicate that Davutoğlu’s intention to rebuild the Middle East in cooperation with Egypt is not unfounded.

But aren’t there roadblocks as well? Of course, there are many. The continued presence of big powers, the two countries’ having an undervalued say in international matters, various social and cultural weaknesses, and the fact certain regional countries such Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia are nurturing different policies and targets.

Nevertheless, the rapprochement that started between the two countries in the political field in the last years of the Mubarak regime is making good progress in the economic field. Indeed, Turkey announced that it will provide Egypt with finances amounting to $2 billion, and the bilateral trade between the two countries did not decrease, but rose to about $5 billion despite the Arab Spring riots. Furthermore, the mutual touristic visits are sharply increasing each year giving an opportunity for two nations to know each other more closely. And this is perhaps the most significant investment in the future.

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