CUMALİ ÖNAL

Does the Erdoğan government want Mursi to win?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first world leader to take the side of »»

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first world leader to take the side of protestors who stood up against the Mubarak regime in Egypt.

On February 1, 2011, Erdoğan made a public statement addressing Mubarak, saying: “We are all humans. We are all eventually going to die, and we will all be subject to account for what we have left behind us. We are all headed for the same sort of two-meter-square hole in the ground. We are here for our people. It will be only a shroud that accompanies you out of this life. Let us listen to the voice of not only our consciences, but also the people of our nations.” With this statement, Erdoğan called on Mubarak to resign from his post.

In speaking the above words, Erdoğan elicited a very negative reaction from the Egyptian regime, but great sympathy from the Egyptian people.

In the wake of the overthrow of Mubarak, Turkey staked out its position alongside the people of Egypt. In fact, after the overthrow the first world leader to visit Egypt was Turkish President Abdullah Gül. On March 3, 2011, Gül met in Cairo not only with military officials but also representatives of the youth that helped carry out the revolution. Following this, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also paid a few visits to Egypt, each time bringing with him messages of support for the people of Egypt from Turkey.

In the meantime, much energy was expended encouraging Turkish and Egyptian societies to better understand one another's language, with multiple conferences taking place and many of the revolutionary youths of Tahrir Square being brought to Turkey to meet with leaders here. 

In the run-up to both parliamentary and presidential elections in Egypt, the Turkish government relayed tips to some Egyptian political parties -- first and foremost the Muslim Brotherhood -- based on its own experiences of how a successful election campaign ought to be carried out.

In recent days in Turkey, however, criticism has become louder regarding the government's development of certain policies in the light of the victory in Egypt of Muhammed Mursi.

At the heart of these criticisms and allegations lies the fact that top-level officials from Turkey heading to Egypt -- most notably the prime minister's own consultants -- tend to meet frequently with figures at the helm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The fact that youth wings of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have brought some youth members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to Turkey for training is used by those voicing criticisms to support their allegations.

It could be considered quite normal that a political party such as the AK Party -- which does have roots in Islam -- would have close relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, or its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

But is it really beneficial to relations between these two countries that Turkey, which follows a multi-dimensional set of foreign policies, works to see one political party or movement in particular come to the leadership of Egypt?

With Mursi as president of Egypt, would relations between Egypt and Turkey really become closer that much faster? Conversely, were Ahmet Şefik in the leadership seat, would the two counties enter into a period of cooler relations?

Yesterday can never be a factor in international relations. The essential element is always “today.” At the same time, religion, culture and language can never be the top priorities. These days, countries that share the same language, religion or culture could be each other's sworn enemy, or even go to war against one another. The best example of this can be found in relations between North and South Korea.

So it may in fact be a great act of foolishness to believe that relations between Egypt and Turkey would experience great and positive change just because the Muslim Brotherhood was in the leadership seat. At the same time, it could be equally wrong-headed to imagine that Şefik as president of Egypt would somehow ruin relations between the two countries.

When it comes to the basis of international relations, national interests are the defining element. Two countries at each other's throats today could tomorrow become best friends as the result of national interests. A fitting example of this can be seen with the Germans and the French, who despite having fought endlessly with one another throughout history are today the two leading countries in what is accepted to be the world's strongest economic union, the EU.

So ideologies cannot be allowed to shape the basic relations between Turkey and Egypt. In order for these two countries to form strong and sustainable relations they must be formed on the basis of the interests of both countries.

Thus hypothetical scenarios suggesting that if the Muslim Brotherhood does in fact take control of Egypt this could affect relations between the two countries negatively may in fact enter the agenda. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the National View Movement, which forms the basis of the AK Party, are religious and nationalistic movements, and both of these movements believe that the countries from whence they originate should be leaders in the Islamic world.

Turkey, which has added to its various economic successes political stances towards the West and Israel that have garnered it support and sympathy from the rest of the world, is these days the brightest shining star of the Islamic world. How much longer can a country like Egypt, which is used to playing a leadership role, tolerate Turkey's current situation?

We also have to consider that as a result of its 80-year struggle for democracy Turkey has proven that Islam and democracy can in fact co-exist. This, it affirms, has been achieved through a “new definition brought to secularity.”

During his visit to Egypt last year, Prime Minister Erdoğan elicited some negative reactions not only from the Muslim Brotherhood but also other religious groups when he talked about the “Turkish style of secularism.” So any sort of pressure placed on the Muslim Brotherhood to carry out a “Turkish style of leadership” might in fact wind up pushing the movement into an anti-Turkish stance.

 

Another point to ponder here is that in democracies no single religious view or ideology ever dominates for a very long time. If the AK Party were to lose the next round of general elections, what course would Turkish-Egyptian relations then follow? What would relations be like between a Turkey with a CHP government at its helm and a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt? It is impossible to tell.

 

In the end, as we saw in the most recent elections, 75% of the Egyptian people are still casting their votes for other parties and leaders. In Ankara, policies should be shaped accordingly.

2012-06-10

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Columnist:: CUMALİ ÖNAL