Turkey & Egypt seek alliance amid upheaval of Arab Spring
ISTANBUL — With war on Turkey’s borders, and political and economic troubles in Egypt, the two countries have turned to each other for support, looking to build an alliance that could represent a significant geopolitical shift in the Middle East prompted by the Arab Spring, uniting two countries with regional ambitions each headed by parties with roots in political Islam.
Egypt and Turkey are considering plans to lift visa restrictions and recently completed joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey has offered a host of measures to bolster Egypt’s economy, including a $2 billion aid package. There is even talk of Turkey’s helping Egypt to restore its Ottoman-era buildings. A wider-ranging partnership is expected to be announced in the coming weeks when the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party shares an Islamist pedigree with Egypt’s leadership, goes to Cairo.
The emerging alliance springs from the earthquake that shook the regional order when Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted and from the civil war in Syria.
Although Egypt’s position had long been compromised by its economic frailty and failing diplomatic might, it remained an anchor of the region in an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Egypt often tangled with Turkey as both vied for the hearts and minds of the Arab street, with Turkey increasingly presenting itself as the champion of the Palestinians, often to Mubarak’s embarrassment.
And Turkey’s close ties with Syria have been severed, undermining its political and economic links to the Arab world.
As a result, each country seems to need the other in an alliance that could shape the region for decades to come and help it emerge from the tumult of Arab revolutions.
“Apparently now Egypt is Turkey’s closest partner in the Middle East,” said Gamal Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, who added that one impetus for the partnership that is taking shape between the two countries was Turkey’s loss of “a major partner in Syria.”
Turkey is trying to firm up its influence in the region at a time of war and revolution by taking with Egypt some of the same measures it used in its opening with Syria just a few years ago, which became the cornerstone of a foreign policy oriented toward the Middle East, rather than Europe.