Egyptian Ambassador to Turkey Abderahman Salaheldin on Monday delivered a letter from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The content of the letter was not disclosed, as officials only said that it is about developments in Egypt. But news reports said on Tuesday that the letter “in diplomatic language” warned against interference.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Salaheldin said Davutoğlu was “very supportive and positive” during their meeting, adding that both sides agreed on the importance of a stable and strong Egypt as a partner of Turkey.
He was cautious when responding to a question on whether Egypt considers statements from Turkish leaders, most notably Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who told Mubarak to listen to his people and called for a temporary government to oversee transition to democracy, as interference in its internal affairs. “We understand Turkish interest in Egypt’s stability and development, but of course only Egyptians can decide what is good for them, how and when they can do it. Turkish officials agreed on this,” Abdurrahman said.
The Egyptian ambassador also said that the Turkish ambassador in Cairo, Avni Botsalı, was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Egyptian officials conveyed the government’s reaction to the Turkish leaders’ statements.
Turkey has been an ardent supporter of stability in the Middle East and was mostly silent when Egyptian protests first broke out in late January, apparently out of concern that it could harm stability there. Breaking that silence in an address last week to his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies, Erdoğan said Mubarak should listen to his people’s demands. “Mr. Hosni Mubarak, I want to make a very sincere recommendation, a very candid warning. ... All of us will die and will be questioned over what we left behind,” he said in the speech, broadcast live by some Arabic-language channels. “Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change.”
President Abdullah Gül also urged Egypt to speed up transition to ensure the country’s stability. “It’s very important that this period of transition is short. Egypt’s stability, peace and strength matter to us,” he told a news conference in Ankara.
Turkey is viewed in the West as a model for democracy in Muslim nations and has seen its influence in the Middle East rise in recent years. Erdoğan’s condemnation of Israel for its policies towards Palestinians over the past two years has also turned the Turkish prime minister into a hero in Arab societies, and analysts say non-Arab Turkey has become a rival to Egypt’s once economic, political and cultural primacy in the Middle East. Mass protests in Egypt, which followed the toppling of Tunisia’s long-time president following similar street demonstrations, have also raised prospects for Turkey emerging as a model and source of inspiration for reforms in the Middle East.
But Salaheldin was cautious when asked whether Turkey could be a model for Egypt and other Arab countries. “We share many features, people have similarities, but the Egyptian nation has its unique circumstances and characteristics. Egypt is not Turkey and Turkey is not Egypt. This is why only the people of each country know what is good for them,” said Salaheldin. “However, because of interaction we see a lot of good experiences that can be shared with other Muslim countries and developing counties. Uniqueness does not mean that we cannot learn from each other.”
Despite apparent tensions over the protests, both Turkey and Egypt are committed to maintaining good ties. Salaheldin said there were several protests against foreign interference in the country and pointed to the sharp Egyptian response to Iran after its top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the Egyptian uprising as an appropriate response to “dictatorial rule.” Gheit told Iran to mind its own business after Khamenei’s statement, saying he should be more attentive to calls for freedom in Iran rather than “distracting the Iranian people’s attention by hiding behind what is happening in Egypt.”
Asked whether Turkish-Egyptian ties will be affected by Turkish statements, Salaheldin said the Turkish-Egyptian partnership will continue in the long run because it is in the interest of both countries to maintain good ties. The Egyptian ambassador, who also met with Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan on Monday, said banks were being reopened in Egypt and that life was returning to normal, calling on Turkish businessmen operating in Egypt to return to work
Salaheldin also said Mubarak’s promises for a transfer of power will be upheld, emphasizing that “it will be done without violation of public order and will be conducted by our constitutional institutions by courts of law and parliament in a peaceful way.”
On Tuesday, Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman said the country has a plan and timetable for the peaceful transfer of power and promised no reprisals against the protesters for their two-week campaign to eject Mubarak after 30 years in office. Negotiations that brought together the government and opposition factions took place this week, but opposition figures have reported little progress in talks.
Salaheldin said the talks produced agreements that more reform should be done in a peaceful and orderly manner and that only Egyptians have the right to determine what is best for them.