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An eastern triangle 30 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Central Asia / Asie Centrale, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.

Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), Issue No. 838, 29 March – 4 April 2007

Anouar Abdel-Malek

While some charge that Egypt has conceded its regional role, indicators point to the opposite conclusion, writes Anouar Abdel-Malek

Everyone is too busy with regional turbulence and domestic tensions to take note of developments that may end up changing the shape of the current world order. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Russian-Chinese-Indian affair, has been going strong since the beginning of the year. It has forged closer links with several key nations in our vicinity. Once advocated by Yevgeny Primakov, the former Soviet prime minister and intelligence chief, the Russia-India-China triangle is finally a reality.

Some people have been focussing too much on Egypt’s declining tendency to mediate in regional matters. Often, this has been seen as a sign of isolation or apathy. In Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, richer Arab countries have been taking the lead. But this view may be too simplistic. President Mubarak has been travelling quite a bit in the East of late. He visited China, Russia and Kazakhstan. He talked to all three of the key participants in the SCO. Egypt is seeking economic opportunities, technological help, and strategic cooperation all over Asia. Mubarak’s tour went almost unnoticed in Egypt, where domestic turbulence often distracts the public from foreign affairs. But it is a fact that Egypt, having been burned by America’s appetite for foreign intervention, is seeking solace in Asian waters.

Déjà vu? It certainly looks so. Back in 1919, the Wafd Party followed similar tactics while trying to rid the country of British occupation. In the 1950s, Egypt’s young revolutionary leaders made friends with African and Asian countries as well as most of the Eastern bloc. Bandung and the Non- Aligned Movement were the result of this quest for independence. Now, Egypt and Iran are sending each other repeated reassurances, hoping to reignite the cordiality of the past. Egypt and Turkey are also getting closer. Visits are becoming more regular and the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministries have stayed in touch at the height of US and Israeli threats to Iran.

Sonar Cagaptay, senior fellow and director of the Turkish research programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been monitoring the change in US-Turkish relations. He says that the popularity of the US in Turkey has declined from 52 per cent in 2002 to between seven and 12 per cent today. The change, he adds, is a result of the policies of Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. The party has not only made Turkey a less secular society, but has also changed Turkish foreign policies accordingly. For example, the popularity of Iran in Turkey is now at 43 per cent. Not only that; the Turks are less enthusiastic about EU membership than they were. Support for EU membership in Turkey has dropped from 80-90 per cent to 30-40 per cent. The US war on Iraq, the increasing likelihood of an independent Kurdish state, and the revival of Islamic pride are among the reasons for this change of attitude.

When he met President Mubarak, Turkish President Ahmed Necdet Cezer said that Turkey and Egypt were major countries in the region, not new or transient entities. Many Turks, disappointed with Western support for an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, would agree. Turkey is forging close links with Russia, Iran and central Asian countries, as well as with Syria and Egypt. Turkey participated in the seven Islamic states meeting in Pakistan a few weeks ago, as well as the Arab summit in Riyadh. In both occasions, it was Egypt that arranged for Turkey to be present. The SCO is thinking of accepting Turkey as a new member.

Is there a pattern here? Egypt has been actively engaging China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey in dialogue. Egypt and Turkey are keeping in constant touch. Egypt and Iran are mending fences. What next? Will these three countries form an eastern triangle soon ?


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