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A matter of destiny 3 septembre 2009

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), 3 – 9 September 2009, Issue No. 963

Ahmet Davutoglu *

A deep history of cultural and material ties unites Egypt and Turkey in a common purpose, writes Ahmet Davutoglu.

Five years into his reign, Sultan Selim had long been contemplating a campaign for Egypt. Even for a visionary warrior of his standing this one was difficult to pull off. The defining moment came in 1517 nevertheless. Having secured peace to the east of the fledgling Ottoman state, his grand march to the south started. Henceforth the beginning of the era of common statehood for the Turks and the Egyptians.

But what the Ottomans came to realise with their advent in Egypt was not confined to the glory of its people and land. Ottomans were predated by other Turks, who made Egypt their homeland during the preceding seven centuries.

Fast forward to modern times. Historical trajectory has made our two great nations independent pillars of the eastern Mediterranean. The 20th century was harsh as well as promising. Both of us were so dominated by transformation, upheavals and sheer devastation that our nascent nation-states had little time to look at the broader picture emerging beyond their daily struggles. The good news is that this transitory era is over too.

A glance at the last two millennia of the region’s history — not a very long time by Egyptian standards — reveals an undeniable fact. Whenever our two countries acted in tandem, moved on a common purpose, or coordinated well, the entire region was much better off. Simply remember that there was not a single bloody nose in Palestine or in the entire Levant for centuries until the Great War.

Imperial days are long over. We now have the full benefit of drawing our strength and legitimacy from our proud nations. Both Turkey and Egypt are doing increasingly well in tapping their national assets. The enormous progress they have made in the recent decades testifies to this fact. And their individual successes are now pulling them together. It is natural. For with growth and sophistication comes the widening of the scope of interests. As their interests intersect more thoroughly, the two nations’ common space of livelihood and security becomes ever more discernible. This is precisely what we are witnessing today.

Summit meetings between the two countries have become frequent events. In 2009 alone, three presidential level visits have taken place. Since 2007, Turkey and Egypt have elevated their political contacts to the level of an all-encompassing strategic dialogue. Virtually every issue of direct or indirect interest to both parties is being discussed and commonalties drawn. There is rarely a week without official delegations exchanged, utilising the air bridge of four daily flights by the two flag carriers between Istanbul and Cairo.

High level military visits and port-calls have also become commonplace. In the last two years, the Turkish general chief of staff and commanders of the air force and the navy have visited Egypt. Their visits are being reciprocated. These military contacts have also become more institutionalised. A high-level military consultation mechanism is now fully in place.

Economic transactions are acquiring a life of their own. In the four years ending 2008, there has been a more than threefold increase in bilateral trade volume. The figure for 2008 stood at $2.5 billion — this despite the global economic downturn. The bilateral free trade agreement, which came into force in March 2007, is increasingly instrumental in this expansion. By all indications, these numbers are expected to be quickly dwarfed in the years ahead.

A yet more significant trend is observed in the investment area. Direct Turkish investments in Egypt have risen to over $1.2 billion from the meagre figure of $60 million three years ago. Initially an effort largely driven by textile and apparel manufacturers, it has now included sectors as diverse as automotives and chemicals.

We need to pause for a moment and reflect on this promising trend. This trend is not simply about numbers. It portends a deeper evolution. Turkey and Egypt are the two economies of scale in the eastern Mediterranean. Their combined population is 150 million people. Comparative advantages of the two countries only partly explain their increasing cooperation. It has more to do with the structural and market complementarities of the two. Egypt has embarked on an ambitious economic transformation programme in the past five years. Among its priorities are attracting foreign direct investment and technology, creating employment, and diversifying and boosting exports. Turkish investments address all these requirements. A brief tour of Turkish factories in the industrial zones outside Cairo and Alexandria allows the visitor to appreciate their state-of-the-art technology, streamlining and organisation. These factories have already become the livelihood of 40,000 Egyptian technicians and workers.

Probably the most natural and evident aspects of Turkish- Egyptian relations are the human and cultural bonds between the two nations. We may have to blame ourselves to a certain point for having been a little complacent in this respect. We have taken for granted, and for too long, our shared history, beliefs and culture. These values are the underlying ingredients of the quality and meaning of our lives. A fresher look at our joint past will, I am sure, have a tremendous effect in bringing us even closer.

As we make strides in our relations, we are haunted by the precarious stalemate in the Middle East. The passing of time has only exacerbated the situation. Here, too, Turkey and Egypt stand together. We are gratified to see that our bilateral discussions are gradually resulting in closer coordination and a division of labour, as was recently the case during the Gaza crisis. We are on the right track. Both of us have a direct stake in durable peace and stability in our wider region. Closer cooperation between our pioneering countries will produce immeasurable dividends both for the region and beyond.

* The writer is minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Turkey.

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