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November 21, 2012, Wednesday

Turkey, Egypt and the new Middle East

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Egypt on Nov. 17-18 turns a new page in the modern history of Turkish-Egyptian relations.

The region’s two pivotal countries are committed to improving bilateral relations, as borne out of the 27 agreements signed during Erdoğan’s visit. The strategic vision shared by Turkey and Egypt on regional and global issues also heralds the emergence of a new dynamic in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Erdoğan traveled to Egypt with 10 government ministers, over 50 bureaucrats, 200 businessmen and journalists. A total of 27 agreements were signed in the fields of trade, investment, customs, security and cultural cooperation. Turkey has agreed to give Egypt a $2 billion finance and credit package, which will play a crucial role in the revitalization of the Egyptian economy.

In a major speech at the historic hall of the University of Cairo where Gamal Abdel Nasser once spoke and Umm Kolthom sang, Prime Minister Erdoğan addressed a cheerful crowd of 5,000 people inside and outside of the conference hall. In the same hall where US President Barack Obama spoke in 2009, Prime Minister Erdoğan reiterated his commitment to improving relations with Egypt, presented a common vision for the nations of the Middle East and told Egyptians, in their own words, to “raise your head, because you are Egyptian.”

Erdoğan spoke about the global injustices caused by the current international order and called for a reform of the United Nations. Erdoğan criticized the UN Security Council for failing to stop the carnage in Syria due to the Russian and Chinese veto. The same Security Council has failed to make any progress on the Palestinian issue because of the American veto.

As it happened, while the Turkish delegation was in Egypt, Israel intensified its attacks on Gaza. After a week of indiscriminate aerial bombardment of homes, office buildings, civilians and international media, more than 140 people have died and close to 1,000 people have been injured. While the negotiations for a cease-fire were under way with the support of Turkey and the Turkish team in Cairo, Israel continued its attacks.

This is yet another example of the Israeli diplomacy of shameless evasiveness: While Israel kept the diplomatic channels busy and declared to the public that it had negotiated a cease-fire, it continued to attack its premeditated targets unabated. At the time this piece was being written, Gaza was still under attack. Even the visit of Arab League foreign ministers joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in an act of support for the people of Gaza did not move Israel one bit. Thanks to the unconditional support of the US and European countries, Israel attacks Palestinian lands, which are under Israeli occupation and control, claims to exercise its right to defend itself, kills and injures hundreds of civilians and then turns to the Palestinians and tells them that they are not partners for peace!

Turkey and Egypt took a common stance against the Israeli aggression in Gaza. President Mohammed Morsi said that today’s Egypt is not the Egypt of the past. Prime Minister Erdoğan strongly condemned Israel’s act and reminded everyone that today’s Middle East is different from that of the past. Will Israel heed these warnings coming from the two key countries of the region?

While improving bilateral relations, Turkey and Egypt are set to develop a common strategic vision for regional and global issues. Both work towards finding a solution to the Palestinian issue based on equality and dignity. Both support the struggle of the Syrian people for a free, democratic and dignified life and no longer see the Bashar al-Assad regime as legitimate. Both believe in joint diplomatic efforts and full economic cooperation for the countries in the region. Egypt considers Turkey a key ally and Turkey sees hope and opportunity in Egypt’s comeback as a pivotal country in Arab politics.

Erdoğan’s Cairo visit, coming under the shadow of the deepening Syrian crisis and the Israeli attacks on Gaza, marks an important moment in the modern history of the Middle East. Stronger relations between Turkey and Egypt will make the region stronger.

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