When economic realism trumps political moralizing

When economic realism trumps political moralizing

The self-righteous outpouring from Turkey on Egypt, and the moralizing over the West’s supposed indifference to the situation in that country, is shrouding a fact that can’t be too pleasing to supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Despite the government’s fiery rhetoric, Ankara is as worried as any other country about its material interests in Egypt.

It is probably even more worried since it appears to have blown its chance of being a major contributor to Western efforts at solving the Egyptian crisis, having taken sides as it has. AKP supporters will of course question what these “Western efforts” are. Reports in the international media, based on the statements of key Western officials, show that the U.S. and the EU were far more active in trying to calm the situation in Egypt, through intense contacts with the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, than Turkey ever was.

Neither the military government nor the brotherhood has denied this fact. But, as usual for Turkey, why let facts prevent urban myths that go down well politically with a domestic audience that has no chance of knowing better?

It is clear, however, that recalling its ambassador in Cairo for consultations is as far as Ankara is prepared to go at this stage for reasons explained, albeit indirectly, by Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan recently. Holding a press conference last week on Egypt, Çağlayan revealed to those who were not aware that his ministry had set up a special desk to processes questions from concerned Turkish businessmen, bankers and haulers who have large investments in that country.

Asked what his ministry was doing to protect the interests of an estimated 250 Turkish companies, Çaglayan first paid service to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s moralistic stance. Waxing on about events that are “shameful for humanity,” and taking a swipe at the U.N. Security Council for “acting as if it was on holiday” while events in Egypt were unfolding, he called on the international community “to take urgent steps” to end this situation.

Nor did he fail to jump on the bandwagon of blasting the international media for supposedly being indifferent to what is happening in Egypt. As an aside here, one cannot help wonder what planet AKP officials and supporters live in when claiming this.

It is nevertheless clear that this urban legend is working well at home, since most AKP followers have no notion of how the Western media in particular is covering these events.

After his moralizing was over, Çaglayan dwelled extensively on what really matters for his ministry. Pointing out that there are around 260 Turkish investors in Egypt, he said that of the $25 billion Turks have invested internationally $5 billion to 6 billion is in Africa, a third of which is in Egypt. Underscoring Egypt’s importance for Turkey, Çaglayan said bilateral trade stood at $4.3 billion in 2011, with a trade surplus of $1.3 billion to Turkey’s advantage.

He added that due to the situation in Syria, Egypt has also become a vital transit country for Turkey’s trade with the region as a whole, and indicated that he did not see any problems at the moment, either in terms of bilateral or transit trade with Egypt. Trying to turn the tables on Egypt, he suggested that Cairo should not lose this advantage, although he admitted the importance of this economic interaction for Turkey, too.

The bottom line is that having lost its political influence in the region, Ankara is trying to contain the damage to its economic interests, and is walking a thin line between self-righteous moralizing and pragmatism. How long it can sustain this will be seen.

Meanwhile, Turkish businessmen, including many “Anatolian Tigers,” who have been encouraged by the government to invest in the Middle East, are no doubt wondering why the same government is burning so many bridges with regional powers it will have to work with for the foreseeable future.