In April 2012, I received an invitation from the Turkish government to attend the opening ceremony of the Turkish Arab language television (Al-Turkiya). I and my colleague and friend Fahmi Howeidi interviewed the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the new station.
The Turkish prime minister took me aside after the interview, and we talked about a Turkish-Arab economic alliance that was supposed to include in the beginning Turkey, Syria and Egypt, while being open to the rest of the Arab countries.
Maj. Gen. Omar Suleiman told me in Cairo that there was an Egyptian political decision to approve any request by Turkish companies within 24 hours, and also said that Turkey was involved in projects for petrochemicals, fertilizers and textiles in Egypt and in other sectors.
Gamal Mubarak told me that the electric interconnection with Jordan was followed by a survey of the Red Sea for an undersea linkage with Saudi Arabia.
He said that they started with electricity first because that was uncontroversial, but added that the next linkage would be for natural gas and then for oil, and that Egypt would be able to persuade Libya to join the project, and Syria would bring Iraq to join as well, given their good relations with Iranian support.
The revolution in Egypt brought the economic alliance that was the brainchild of Erdogan to a standstill, and then the uprising in Syria destroyed what was left of it.
The new regime in Egypt was supposed to start combating corruption, and to safeguard the huge economic achievements of the government of Ahmed Nazif, which had once prompted the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to say that Egypt will be one of the economic Tigers of the Middle East.
The Islamist leader can keep pace with the times, without having to relinquish tradition or religion. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a shining example of that. Indeed, since the AKP took power in Turkey in 2002, the country’s economy grew by 100 percent, in less than one decade. Turkey even achieved this while supporting the Palestinians every day, and sent the first ship to break the siege on Gaza, causing it many enmities in the West.
All the above is well-documented facts, which I will rely on to argue that Turkey is now attempting to restore the Turkish-Arab alliance with Egypt, after it has been devoured by the Arab uprisings. Recep Tayyip Erdogan will soon visit Cairo, to work on a new start.
The previous economic alliance came out of conviction, but the new one will come out of need. The Syrian regime is now out of the equation, and Syria will not rejoin the group any time soon. I wish President Mohamed Mursi did not attack the Syrian regime in Iran. While what he said was true, my objection is because President Mursi’s position ended any chance for Egypt to play the role of mediator and arbitrator, and became instead a party to the conflict with Syria.
Today, the relations between Turkey and Syria are severed, and there are tensions and violence at their border. Egypt, however, cannot intervene in Syria, and Turkey does not want to, as every public opinion poll there shows that the majority of Turks are clearly against any military intervention.
I believe that Turkey and Egypt will be able to overcome any difficulties that stand in the way of the new alliance, or the second alliance. To be sure, the secularists in Turkey – a power to be reckoned with – do not want an alliance with a religious regime, while in Egypt, there is a faction in the Muslim Brotherhood that does not trust Turkey, and does not see the regime there to be truly Islamic. Furthermore, there is a segment in both countries that believes the right to leading the Muslim world belongs to their respective countries.
Yet these are all details. What is more important is the fact that the new Turkish-Arab alliance will mend what the Arab uprisings have broken, inadvertently, and benefit all sides involved. Indeed, together, they are bigger and stronger than Israel, and what is left for us is to see it put into effect.
(Jihad al-Khazen is a writer for Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on Oct. 25, 2012)