Turkey, with its influential role in the Middle East, should not solely limit its policies to the Muslim brotherhood (ikhwan) in Egypt, which emerged as the most powerful force after the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime, but rather needs to deepen its relations with all the parties in Egypt, experts agree.
“I think Turkey is making a mistake by insisting on good relations with only the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It seems like Turkey only considers one party in Egypt, which is the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP], the political wing of Ikhwan,” Mohamed Abdel Kader, a political researcher at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said in remarks to Sunday’s Zaman. The FJP is an Islamist political party in Egypt that has strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the largest and most well-organized political group in Egypt. Egypt, which plays a crucial role in the Arab world, experienced a revolution which took place following a popular uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011, resulting in the fall of a dictatorship.
Following the fall of the Mubarak regime, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by six ministers, made a three-day official visit to Egypt in September 2011 -- his first official visit to Egypt following the revolution and one that was considered a diplomatic success and was met with much enthusiasm by the Egyptian public.
According to experts, Ankara has focused its Egypt policy on its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood movement -- a policy that could harm Turkey’s long-term policies in the region, according to experts.
“Turkey has to see the whole picture in Egypt. If it aims to have good relations with Egypt for a long period of time rather than a short one, it should not only focus on one part of the picture,” said Kader.
Agreeing with Kader, Cahit Tuz, Middle East adviser in the Turkish Parliament, stated that Turkey’s foreign policy was not a short-term policy but rather a long-term one. “If Turkey wants to pursue a long-lasting foreign policy in Egypt, then it should be in cooperation and contact with various groups in Egyptian politics,” said Tuz.
Erdoğan is scheduled to pay a two-day official visit to Egypt on Nov.17-18 for talks on boosting ties between the two Muslim countries. Erdoğan is to be accompanied by a delegation of 12 ministers -- a visit considered to be the largest in the history of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Turkey’s relations with Egypt are not very close or deep-seated, said Associate Professor Ahmet Uysal from Eskişehir Osmangazi University’s department of international relations to Sunday’s Zaman. “Turkey is newly recognizing Egypt as well as the dynamics in this country. Turkey has just started to invest in Egypt. For this reason, it looks like Turkey is siding with Ikhwan. Turkey should not develop its policies on ideology. Turkey should work and can work with all the parties in Egypt,” said Uysal.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, one of several foreign dignitaries who attended Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) congress in Ankara in late September, said Turkey’s involvement in developments in Egypt and other regional countries was essential to economic and social rehabilitation following the Arab Spring revolutions in those countries.
Yasin Aktay, a Turkish sociologist at Selçuk University in Konya, told Sunday’s Zaman that just as Ikhwan doesn’t represent the whole of Egypt, the AK Party doesn’t represent whole of Turkey. “Indeed, Ikhwan is the most powerful force in Egypt currently, but this doesn’t guarantee that it will stay in power forever,” said Aktay.
Experts argue that Turkey’s relations with Egypt are of great importance if Turkey aims to be a regional actor. Tuz maintained that it would be in Turkey’s interest when Egypt regains its position as a powerful regional actor in the Arab world.
“The AK Party has a plan B for Egypt. Turkey is not only in close contact with Ikhwan, but also with the other parties in Egypt, including the Al-Wasat Party and the Al-Nour Party. The reason behind this is because the AK Party wants to pursue an integrated policy in Egypt,” said Tuz.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Abul Ela Madi, the head of the Al-Wasat Party, likened his party’s ideology to that of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which has roots in political Islam but appeals to a wider electorate, including the secular middle class and religious conservatives. “The Al-Wasat Party and the AK Party are like twins. Both parties have a similar background,” said Madi.
Founded in 1996 as a moderate offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Al-Wasat Party has often been portrayed to be a moderate Islamist alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Agreeing with Madi, Tuz also stated that Al-Wasat and the AK Party share a similar background compared to that of Ikhwan and AK Party. “The AK Party and Ikhwan do not share common roots,” said Tuz.
According to many, the partnership between Turkey and Egypt is also rooted in the Islamist politics of the leaders of the two countries and their respective movements: Erdogan’s AK Party and Morsi’s Ikhwan, despite each country’s differing understanding of Islam and democracy, can cooperate.
When asked about the similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the AK Party and statements by senior Muslim Brotherhood figures who supported the idea of founding a political party with the same program as the AK Party, Dr. Mahmoud Hussein, secretary-general of Ikhwan in Egypt, said, “The AK Party’s policies are not similar to Ikhwan’s policies; there are big differences,”
This includes Morsi himself, who wrote in 2007 that “the Brotherhood did not and will never change its principles. A complete Islamic method is our hope … and the AK Party accepts Westernized secularism, which is very different from our main principle, which is to have an Islamic state.”
In brief, experts believe that it would be in Turkey’s interest to deepen relations with all the parties in Egypt, not with the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.