Turkey - Egypt Roundtable Meeting


Distinguished colleagues, academicians and ladies and gentlemen, After my several visits to Cairo and Egypt in my former capacity as Ambassador and Chairman of Strategic Research Centre of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have continued my contacts with my Egyptian counterparts and colleagues in different for a during my several visits to Egypt, as well as our hosting them in Turkey....

Distinguished colleagues, academicians and ladies and gentlemen,
After my several visits to Cairo and Egypt in my former capacity as Ambassador and Chairman of Strategic Research Centre of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have continued my contacts with my Egyptian counterparts and colleagues in different for a during my several visits to Egypt, as well as our hosting them in Turkey. I remember that SAM (Strategic Research Center) had signed cooperation protocols with its Egyptian counterpart institutions during these visits, which I believe are still in force. It is my distinct pleasure to see Ambassador Shazly, remembering him from his Ankara Days, when we had close collaboration and social contacts and Ambassador Ahmad Haggag from my days in Ethiopia, when he was serving as the Deputy Secretary General of the African Union. His elegant wife and my wife were working hand in hand for charity work and we had more than cooperation, a brotherly and sisterly social togetherness. So together with their distinguished Excellencies, the former Minister of Justice and senior ambassadors, I welcome them in my hometown Istanbul and wish them a pleasant stay and fruitful discussions in my new capacities as Retired Ambassador, Vice Chairman of TASAM and Chairman of the Foreign Policy Platform of Istanbul Kultur University, since my retirement in 2006. I wish a new beginning of a bilateral cooperation scheme of a new cooperation between TASAM and your respected institutions. This will also contribute to a ‘second track diplomacy’ between our countries and constitute a good example of public diplomacy.

Turkey and Egypt have many things in common, foremost a geopolitical location, history and cultural affinity. Both countries have contributed to the world civilization created by our ancestors in their territories for thousands of years. We are rightly proud of our civilizations, and enlightening the present and future generations towards a common world civilization. The two most powerful countries sharing the eastern Mediterranean Sea in the south and north have no doubt the most influence in the whole region. Another interesting coincidence worth mentioning here is the geographically bi-continental nature, i.e. both countries have spread their territories to two continents, namely in the Turkish case to Asia and Europe, and in the Egyptian case to Asia and Africa. Further, both countries have most strategically located international waterways under their sovereignty. Egypt has the Suez Canal and in the case of Turkey we have the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.

There have also been thousands of years of rivalry between them. We all remember from history books and archaeological surveys that the famous Kadesh battle on 1295 B.C has a great seal in world history by presenting the mankind with the first written agreement in history. So, this is a turning point in diplomacy by having inscribed the agreement of Kadesh on stone in both languages. That battle as well as the artifacts collected by archaeologists proves that the Egyptian civilization under the Pharaos and Hittite civilization blooming in Anatolia have met as rivals, but ended in sharing the domination of the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant. The above mentioned battle has introduced also another method of warfare to rival Egyptian Army by the Hittites, namely the chariot, heavy weapon like the tanks of today as a superior winning force. This is a glorious history which we should proudly present to the external world.

I would like to leave the ancient history for scholars, historians, archaeologists and philosophers and instead try to reflect some of the more recent historical development. With this I refer to the Mamluks. As we know from historical records, the early Turks of Central Asia lead a nomadic life, which was an inferior way of life compared to the settled Arabic culture. However, these early Turks were influenced by a flourished Arab culture; hence they adopted the Islamic religion and settled in Arab lands, including Egypt. These converted Turks are also known in the history books as the Kölemen (Koeleman), which means ‘enslaved people’.

The Mamluk Turks were known to be great swordsmen and masters of martial arts and were used by the Abbasid Caliphs as slave soldiers, comprising a great military asset against their enemies. Being strangers to the local populations and having no social or political affiliations, the Mamluk soldiers were loyal only to the respective Caliphs, thus were of great use in terms of providing security to the rulers. However, in year 1250 they revolted, in a manner much similar to the slave uprising lead by Spartacus in ancient Rome, but this time successfully claimed the Sultanate by overthrowing the existing power of the Fatimides to Egypt. With this historical recollection we may see that Turks and Egyptians share a very long history together and are intertwined with very strong affiliations.

Today, Turkey and Egypt are two of the most influential nations in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, and from time to time they have found themselves in opposite camps. One example of such a divergence took place during the mid 20th century, a time of peak of deep divide between the two blocks and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). However, this was also a time when Turkey broke away from the entire Arab and Islamic world, including Egypt, turning its back on the Middle East. While Egypt gained a leading role in the Arab world under the rule of great Statesman Gamal Abdul Nasser, who was a champion of Arab nationalism whose pan-Arabic thoughts acquired great influence, Turkey drew nearer to the west. We became members of NATO and other western institutions and Egypt became one of the leading powers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), aligning itself with neither the West nor the Eastern blocks, however more inclined to co-operate with the eastern block

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish foreign policy underwent a compelling transformation. This was to a great extent a result of the abolition of the Caliphate and the establishment of the secular republic. Turkish statesmen aspired to reconstruct and modernize the country in accordance with European standards, which unfortunately led to the distancing between our two countries in terms of close cooperation. The state of affairs could have been encouraged to take a different course and more amicable relations could have been sustained between Turkey and Egypt, had more tactful and foresightful policies been implemented.

In more recent times, however, Turkey has returned to showing an increasing interest to its eastern and southern neighbours and sought ways to improve relations in all fields with its Arab neighbours as well as Iran. This revived interest in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean could be perceived in a number of differing ways. As mentioned earlier, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt took up a leading role among its fellow Arab nations, replacing the Ottoman heritage. For this reason, a return of Turkish pursuits in this vicinity could be deemed as competition. However, this should not be the case. Instead of competition, cooperation between our two great countries, for the benefit of our national and regional common interests, would be possible.

Being the two most developed countries in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey and Egypt must join forces in order to secure peace in the region. As we are well aware, both Turkey and Egypt have played significant roles in mediating between conflicting parties and stimulating friendlier relations between some of our regional neighbours. In the future, it is possible to cooperate in terms of peacemaking and conciliatory efforts. Until recent history, external powers have profited from dividing and breaking us by creating situations that brought us against each other. The lack of cooperation between Egypt and Turkey, but also other neighbouring nations; have only served the interests of the non-regional powers, who have put into effect the famous “Divide and Rule“ strategy. I would like also to mention Iran here, as a third major power in the neighbourhood with ambitions. Iran seeks to expand and increase its influence by spreading the Shiah faith. The Iranian support and encouragement to the Shiahs in countries like Iraq, the Gulf States, Lebanon and ruling elite of Syria have continuously fueled enmities between the Sunnis and Shias. Such ambitions of Iran are perceived as a potential threat to regional interests. Therefore, it could be argued that a strong Turkish-Egyptian cooperation would lead to an improved political balance in the region.

Turkey and Egypt need to protect and defend their regional activities with a joint plan, with regard to diplomatic activities, but also economic, social and political developments. Political development cannot be imposed from outside by external actors who are not familiar with the local dynamics. To achieve democratization and economic development, we need to work from within, i.e. on a grass-roots level. It goes without saying that American ambitions in Iraq have been unsuccessful. This is an excellent example of how, intentions that may be good to start with could end up doing much harm. American unilateral attempts to reconstruct the political structure as well as the balances of power in the region, without consulting regional powers, were doomed to failure, because of their lack of understanding and indifference to cultural sensitivity.

Local leaderships are, for this reason, of utmost importance in terms of encouraging democracy and socio-economic modernization. A stronger collaboration between Egypt and Turkey would, for this reason, bring about fruitful results. Turkey has until recently had a strong mediating position in the Middle East, maintaining an impartial role and having a dialogue with several of the conflicting parties in the region. After the recent and unfortunate events and ascending between Turkey and Israel however, Turkish impartiality has taken a toll and Turkey’s position as a trusted mediator has lost its former credibility. Despite these inopportune developments in Turkish foreign relations, it is possible to repair the Turkish profile as an impartial actor. In the future, Turkey should keep an equal closeness to each and every disputing party but also bet on a multilateral cooperation between Turkey and Egypt; as such an undertaking is much more likely to bring positive results in building peace.

Access to water is an important phenomenon in both our regions. Under these transnational water ways, we should try to find common interests between Turkey and Egypt. Geographically, we are two countries who are home to historically three very important and productive rivers that have throughout time been the provider of means for maintenance and as we know, great Mesopotamian civilizations such as the Sumerians and Babylonians have flourished in the deltas of these rivers. In Turkey we have the Euphrates and the Tigris and in Egypt you have the Nile, which represent the life itself to all Egyptians. These rivers are not only important to Turkey and Egypt, but they bear a great importance to many of our common neighbouring fellow states. Access and control over these waters are of utmost importance to our respective countries, as they are the direct source to our wellbeing and sustainability.

Peace-building and peace-keeping efforts are not the only fields in which we could cooperate. There are many more possible partnerships that could be mutually beneficial. An economic cooperation is one very important example. As we know, Turkish investors have endorsed a large number of projects and industrial investments in Egypt and many more are expected to be ratified. It is certain that a sharing of technological expertise and an increased trade between our two states would increase the economic capacity and pave the way for further growth and development. Furthermore, joint investments in other North African and African countries could be an advantageous possibility. Being the offspring of the Ottomans and having strong historical and cultural ties to many African countries, joint Turkish-Egyptian projects would be of great success in ways that extra regional projects could not be.

A third very potential field of cooperation would be joint cultural activities. Egypt has a very long and prestigious historical heritage of 7000 thousand years, and Turkey is home to the ancient Hittite, Anatolian and Mesopotamian cultures among others. Museums in both countries could be encouraged to work together with regard to joint archeological research and on Anatolian, Mesopotamian, Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean civilizations. Exhibitions along with other cultural associations would not only allow us to get to know each other more as people, but would also strengthen our friendship ties.

Together with Istanbul University, TASAM and
The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs

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Continents ( 5 Fields )
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Africa 0 144
Asia 0 231
Europe 0 38
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North America 0 8
Regions ( 4 Fields )
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Balkans 0 93
Middle East 0 59
Black Sea and Caucasus 0 16
Mediterranean 0 5
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Islamic World 0 146
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Turkey 0 219

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