A Year after the Egyptian Revolution Egyptian -- Turkish Relations are Booming by Abderahman Salaheldin*
Jan. 25 will mark the day when hundreds of outraged young protesters took to the streets of Cairo, as well as other Egyptian cities, calling for what the revolution later espoused as its motto “Bread, Liberty and Social Justice.”
By Feb. 11 what was once a trickle of Egyptian protesters had turned into an unstoppable flood. The leadership had to heed the call of millions of Egyptians. President Hosni Mubarak stepped down and handed over power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which declared its unwavering support for the demands of the Egyptian people and their revolution. In a span of just a few mindboggling 18 days, the Arab world’s strongest and most populous nation rid itself of the shackles that had held it back for so long. Thanks to the courage of its youngsters, some of whom lost their lives during the uprising, Egypt began to smell a whiff of freedom and has been brimming with its newfound confidence and respect.
The peaceful Egyptian revolution was followed by admiration from the whole world. Tahrir Square has become a universal icon of freedom and liberty. Ankara has decided to name one of the most beautiful parks in Çankaya Tahrir Meydanı Parkı to commemorate the Turkish support of the Egyptian people’s revolution.
In less than one year, Egyptians made significant progress toward creating a full-fledged democracy in their homeland. Last March, a solid majority voted in a referendum in favor of amending and abolishing a number of constitutional articles that were widely seen as hindering the process of democratic transformation in Egypt. The new provisional constitutional declaration included substantial reform provisions covering a wide array of issues that range from judicial supervision of elections to limiting the powers and the tenure of the president. It also stipulates that a new Constitution to be drafted by a constituent assembly made up of 100 members, elected by Parliament. An elected president should assume office by the first of July of this year, marking the end of the period of transition.
A second milestone in Egypt’s democratic transition process was holding parliamentary elections. These elections were widely regarded by local and international monitors alike as the most free and fair elections in Egypt’s history, with few minor irregularities reported. Former US President Jimmy Carter, who heads the Carter Center, one of many international nongovernmental organizations that observed the election process, reported “enthusiastic participation in the election and a largely peaceful process, for which the Egyptian people should be proud.”
Free and fair elections
There was an unprecedented turnout by Egyptian voters that exceeded 30 million people, or over 60 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters. Their participation in free and fair elections can be regarded as a resurrection in its own right. Muslims and Christians, young and old, men and women, people from all walks of life waited in queues for as long as eight hours to cast their votes, many of whom were doing so for the first time in their lives.
The transition has not been free of turbulence. There was polarization and non-reconciliatory rhetoric expressed by some political parties during the election campaign. All winning parties, however, are now preaching reconciliation rather than confrontation and emphasizing moderation, cooperation, consensus-building and inclusion. The revolutionary change in Egypt has in fact served as the strongest guarantee that no dissenting opinion will be ignored, and no voice will go unheard.
The two leading winners in the elections were Islamic coalitions. One was led by the Freedom and Justice Party (The Muslim Brotherhood), which garnered 46 percent of the seats in Parliament, and the second was led by the Al Nour Party, a Salafi party with 25 percent of the seats. They both hurried to assure everyone that their utmost priority would be creating jobs and improving education and other public services. There is also a consensus among all winning political parties to continue to honor Egypt’s existing international commitments and obligations, in accordance with bilateral and multilateral agreements to which Egypt is a party.
There are many signs that Egypt is now moving in the right direction, towards political stability, democracy and the rule of law, which will lead to a more prosperous economic environment. Egypt’s vast domestic market and diversified resources will also buttress its position as a key emerging market economy on the global scene. The government’s latest attempts at fighting corruption and promoting transparency will also improve the investment climate in the country.
The democratically elected government will undoubtedly work to achieve the social justice objectives of the revolution, thereby contributing to a more sustainable economic trajectory. Democratic oversight of local institutions would also provide for a greater level of investment confidence and credibility in the Egyptian market.
On the political front, a democratic Egypt would formulate its foreign policy objectives based on a national consensus rather than the dictates and the whims of a few, making them more sustainable and effective. A democratic government in Egypt would be bolder and more active in promoting peace, fighting terrorism, combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and projecting religious moderation and tolerance. Combining its enormous political and cultural influence in the Arab and the Muslim world and other elements of Egyptian soft power, Egypt would firmly strengthen its role which will inevitably contribute to safeguarding regional and global peace and security.
With regards to Egypt’s relations with Turkey, the revolution has led to a very logical development, namely Egyptian-Turkish relations have boomed in the aftermath of the revolution. President Abdullah Gül arrived in Cairo in March 2011, making him the first head of state to visit Egypt after the revolution. The main aim of Gül’s visit was to demonstrate solidarity with Egypt during that time of critical transition.
Erdoğan’s historic visit to Egypt
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also made a historic visit to Egypt in September of last year, which gave a further boost to bilateral relations and displayed the strong will of the two regional powers to enhance their cooperation in a wide array of fields. The two sides signed more than a dozen cooperative agreements in technology, communications, tourism, energy and electricity in addition to signing an agreement that established a Cooperation Council between the two sides. They also agreed to increase the level of Turkish investments in Egypt to $5 billion, while agreeing to boost the level of trade between the two countries to $5 billion, up from $3.2 billion last year.
Last month the Turkish and Egyptian navies took part in joint exercises called “Sea of Friendship.” This third round of annual exercises was hosted by Turkey. The aim of the exercise is to develop mutual cooperation and interoperability between the navies of the largest two countries in the eastern Mediterranean. Their cooperation has always been intended for the protection of their people and interests. It has never been directed against any third party.
Many pivotal projects of cooperation have also been launched between the two countries, not least of which has been RO-RO (roll-on roll-off) maritime transportation, which will soon begin operating between the Turkish port of Mersin and the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Accordingly, Egypt has the potential of acting as a land-bridge linking Turkey with the Gulf and Africa. Turkish and European products may be exported to these markets via Egypt at a fraction of the prior transportation cost and time incurred. Turkish businesses setting up factories in Egypt have the added advantage of exporting to a substantial portion of the African continent without having to incur additional tariffs, thereby receiving all the export benefits that their Egyptian counterparts enjoy. In this regard, Egypt can act as the golden gate for Turkish exports to Africa.
Numerous Egyptian delegations have visited Turkey in the last few months to explore new areas of cooperation and benefit from Turkish experience in a wide range of fields, from establishing techno and industrial parks by partnering universities with local businesses to managing problems of big cities such as İstanbul, which resembles its twin city of Cairo in many aspects.
The countries of the Middle East are witnessing rapid and unpredictable changes and are faced with serious challenges and threats. Having identical foreign policy goals, Egypt and Turkey are expected to join hands to promote peace in this volatile region. Together, the two countries’ population of 160 million constitutes about half of the Middle East’s populace. With the current upsurge in their cooperation after the Egyptian revolution, the sky is the limit for what these two countries can achieve together for the good of their peoples, their region and the whole world.
*Abderahman Salaheldin is the ambassador of Egypt to Turkey.