A breath of fresh air
Amid mounting challenges to the Egypt Revolution, the scene was interrupted with the three-day visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his accompanying party. It was a breath of fresh air that diverted attention to more regional and international affairs and strategic alliances.
Egypt was struggling to cope with the aftermath of the mob attacks on the Israeli Embassy on Friday night into Saturday, leaving more than a thousand injured and creating a diplomatic incident. The unexpected reactivation of the infamous emergency laws and the announced restrictions on media together with the continuing security void were completely engulfing the scene. Simultaneously, undisclosed trials of the old guard were underway. Demonstrations and strikes by teachers and university professors were almost bringing traffic to a standstill. Egyptians were totally immersed in the pertinent affairs of their ongoing revolution.
On that scene, enters Mr. Erdoğan with a substantial part of his Cabinet, and 200 Turkish businessmen in addition to his family. Although the news of his visit did not seem to be given much preparatory hype, that changed dramatically the next morning as the morning papers highlighted his reception by an organized receiving party mainly consisting of the Muslim Brotherhood and its newly created arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Their enthusiasm and reported warm welcome was soon to change.
As Mr. Erdoğan slowly but surely took center stage, he struck many chords and masterfully managed to play and even sing the right tune. It won him much attention and appreciation albeit with some remarks highlighting differences in both countries’ political models. “Why now?” was the main question. However cautious and low key the initial public media reports, the ice seemed to have melted as reporting of the loaded schedule for Erdoğan’s Tuesday in Cairo impressed all. His address the Arab League, his audience with General H. Tantawy, his meeting with the Egyptian prime minister and inauguration of the Egyptian-Turkish strategic council, were but a few among many of his engagements. He also met with the Sheikh of Al Azhar, and the Coptic pope.
The one that probably presented him most to the Egyptian public had to be his hour-long live appearance with one of Egypt’s much viewed talk show anchors on the television program “10pm.” His firm and repeated remarks on the Turkish political model and its fight against corruption were clear routes to economic development. Turkey is a secular country, he said. He was a Muslim but he represented a civil secular nation were all denominations and even non-believers were treated equally. To the dismay and subsequent fallout of most of the religious political groups who had initially greeted his arrival, Erdoğan hailed secularism of the state and the individuality of faith and religious believes. His remarks rekindled the hopes of the many liberal and moderate faithful Egyptians opposing them. To top it all off, he unexpectedly ended with singing a song in Turkish, a song of love and friendship and being together.
At a time where the winds of change are blowing in the whole region, Erdoğan boldly took to the helm. He didn’t mince his words and painted a bright and great picture of future relations and assured Egypt it had a strategic and economic ally in Turkey. Whatever the outcome, the visit of Mr. Erdoğan brought issues of strategic regional relations to the forefront and briefly gave Egyptians fresh hope and energy and an added perspective.