The Future of Turkish-Egyptian Relations

Published by Today's Zaman, 20 July 2011

When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly urged Hosni Mubarak to give up power, I was one of those who expressed concern. At that moment, none of us knew what would happen next. From a Turkish perspective, countless efforts to develop stronger economic relations with Egypt were now in jeopardy. Not to mention, an unstable Egypt could create serious challenges for Turkey. But I was also glad that Erdoğan followed his conscience and took the risk. Eventually, it turned out that the Turkish government was betting on the right side.

However, in the months following Mubarak’s departure, the old regime stood fast with only minor cosmetic changes. Would Turkish siding with the protesting masses backfire when the dust settled and revolutionary zeal gave way to disappointment with the realities of a crumbling country?

After countless conversations with activists, lawyers, diplomats, bankers, businessmen and journalists in Egypt, I became convinced that far from damaging Turkish-Egyptian relations, there was a growing space for them to advance. In every interview I conducted about the future of Egypt, my respondents showed immense interest in Turkey. They wanted to know about Turkey, but not merely to see how the model could be copied to fit the Egyptian context. They were curious to learn how the Turkish economy had recovered from the disaster of 2001. They wanted to understand how democracy, human rights, army-civilian relations and civil society had evolved in Turkey.
This gives Turkey a genuine connection with the future of Egypt. For this reason the Turkish government should urgently invest in more official, civil society and academic exchanges with Egypt, and create funds to bolster ties through education and grassroots projects.

While the Egyptian economy is facing haunting structural challenges, the country’s political instability is scaring away many investors. However, Turkish businesses are steadily breaking into the barren and vast lands of the country. Take the Polaris Group, for example, led by the visionary Tunç Özkan. Özkan has opened the first industrial park in the country, built on 2 million square meters of land. His ethical stance and investment in corporate responsibility projects have not only spared him from the recent arrests of corrupt business persons, but also won him deep respect in Egypt.

Another Turk rocking the Cairo scene is the general manager of hotel Kempinski. In less than a year, Fuat Köroğlu has made his relatively small hotel a major hub for diplomats and the high-flying elite. In fact, during the uprisings, he remained in the hotel during the long nights of ambiguity and arbitrary violence raging outside. His staff adores him for being there for them.

Turkish business persons in Egypt rightfully think that the Egyptian army and the new government will do nothing to harm businesses and will only seek to attract more foreign investment from countries with a good rapport. Thus, we should see a speedy increase in the number of Turkish firms and talents in Egypt’s chaotic but potential market.

Turkey has the right ambassador in place for shifting gears in Egypt. In a recent reception at the Turkish House in Cairo, His Excellency Hüseyin Botsalı dazzled Egyptian officials and elites by joining the music group with his saz -- a traditional Turkish instrument. His reputation in Egypt makes him the envy of other foreign ambassadors. His diplomatic experience in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq make him the perfect man for the job.

As American and European officials are given the cold shoulder and Western businesses keep their distance, Turkish officials and investors find open doors. Turkey must seize this opportunity. It is a win-win scenario for both Egypt and Turkey.