“We talked about this on the phone with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Later, he sent a special representative [to Turkey]. We also talked with him. They did change their attitude [on Syria]. Soon I will send Hakan [Fidan, undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT)]. I will most likely have talks with Ahmadinejad after the UN meeting,” Erdoğan said, speaking to journalists during a flight to Libya from Cairo, where he visited on Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking on relations with Iran, Erdoğan said he also had plans to visit the Islamic republic. He said it was possible for Iran and Turkey to work together against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq's Kandil Mountains, where the PKK is based.
The prime minister also shared his opinions on the future of Egypt. “The first test of democracy in Egypt will be the parliamentary elections due in November. If they can complete this test successfully, they might draft a new constitution and hold new elections to either elect a president or a prime minister,” he said, noting that the voters will have four different ballots to vote with in November and “they are worried they might not finish it in one day.” The prime minister added: “The important thing is holding the elections. This will show the power of Tahrir Square.” He warned that if the elections were not held properly, more protests could take place in Egypt.
Erdoğan also offered an explanation for the Muslim Brotherhood's anger at his words in Cairo, where he told Egyptians not to be “afraid of secularism.” The prime minister said: “My words were misunderstood because of a translation mistake. In Arabic, there is a word for ‘irreligiousness,' and the translator used that word for secularism. Secularism is not about being an enemy of religion. It is about the state maintaining the same distance from all religions and acting as a custodian of their beliefs. This is what we mean when we say don't be afraid of secularism.”
He also said a person who expressed anger at Erdoğan's words was going to make a new statement and offer a correction to the misunderstanding. Erdoğan also said rumors that the person who made the statement on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood was not their presidential candidate. “This person is someone who left the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, if the Muslim Brotherhood had any problems with us, they would have told us so during our contacts in Egypt. They didn't even imply any discomfort [with the secularism statement].”
Erdoğan was on a two-day visit to Cairo, where he urged Turkish and Egyptian businessmen to transform the current high-level political relations between the two countries into bilateral trade relations and economic cooperation.
Erdoğan said he came to Egypt with businessmen to contribute to economic and trade relations, while addressing businessmen at the Turkey-Egypt Business Council General Assembly in Cairo on Wednesday.
He had a number of meetings with Egyptian authorities and public figures. He also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in Cairo, where he said that it was time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations.
The meeting between Erdoğan and Abbas comes at a time when the Barack Obama administration is making a final effort to avert a diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian drive to win UN recognition as an independent state, which threatens to provoke a regional meltdown and further isolate Israel, the top US ally in the Middle East.
In addition to Abbas, Erdoğan also had talks with Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League, and Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during his visit. Moussa is a presidential candidate for elections expected to be held early next year, while ElBaradei is also cited as a potential candidate.
Erdoğan also met on Wednesday with a delegation from Egypt's most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt's Coptic Christian leader Pope Shenouda III.
Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza, the Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and under blockade by Israel.
Erdoğan's recent criticism of Israel has drawn strong support in the Arab world.