Indispensable relationship with Egypt back on track: Turkish ambassador

Amr Yahia, Friday 19 Apr 2024

Ambassador of Turkey to Egypt Salih Mutlu Sen emphasized the significant strides in bilateral relations between the two countries, highlighting their full recovery and the importance of multifaceted cooperation between the two "brotherly nations" in this pivotal region.

Salih Mutlu Sen
Turkish Ambassador Salih Mutlu Sen to Egypt with AO Journalist Amr Yehia during the interview.


He expressed anticipation for the upcoming visit of Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Saturday, expressing his expectation that the two countries’ respective foreign ministers would carry out high-level consultations addressing a wide range of issues, including regional matters.

Ahram Online (AO): Bilateral relations between Egypt and Turkey are historically been strong and have recently witnessed a noticeable positive development. How do you see this progress?

Ambassador Salih Mutlu Sen: The bilateral relations have completely gone back to where they should be, as two brotherly nations. It is imperative, as well as indispensable, that the two big nations of this critical region have multifaceted, multidimensional, and comprehensive cooperation. Solidarity is to the benefit of the two countries, and the first thing one must consider is the need for the development and welfare of the two peoples.

The two countries' commercial and economic relations have largely been intact. Although some issues remain, such as the RORO lines once in place between Alexandria and Mersin, they constitute the strongest dimension of cooperation. This is the main focus of the two governments in view of their common ground and shared endowment for development.

We clearly see a noticeable trend by Turkish investors towards exploring investment opportunities in Egypt.

The progress in terms of political relations has gone extremely well, and in all areas of cooperation, both between the governmental sectors and private sectors and people-to-people, we are doing our best, on both sides, to fulfil this potential. Advancement is in the right direction, but we have not reached the full potential of our cooperation.

AO: What are the goals of your diplomatic agenda in Egypt?

SMS: As a diplomat, my foremost duty is to represent my country's interests, values, and ideals. Regarding Egypt, my overarching goal is to establish, remember, remind, and then bring back the historical, cultural, and sentimental ties that sometimes might have been overlooked.

I approach Egyptian people as cousins and relatives, not as some third-country people. It is impossible for me to consider or treat them as foreigners. In fact, it would be a mistake on my part if I adopt an attitude of a diplomat or a foreigner towards them, and they will not accept that.

So, my goal is not a preset one, as I have always felt that I should adapt myself to really speak and connect with the people of Egypt and have a genuine, sincere relationship. Another goal is to have an agenda of culture and arts, because we have so much in common when it comes to our way of life and our intangible cultural heritage, our traditions, our daily practices, our families, and our music, our arts, our cinema. So, it was not that difficult for me to find out that culture and arts are like a treasure.

AO: Could you elaborate on the mutual cooperation in political and diplomatic relations, particularly regarding international and regional issues?

SMS: Consultations are critical in addressing regional and bilateral issues. We prioritize the exchange of views, striving as much as possible to understand each other's perspectives and coordinate our actions. We employ formal frameworks for consultations and coordination, such as political consultations. We will have political consultations this year at a high level between our ministers of foreign affairs, and this will cover all issues, including regional ones.

As we anticipate President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's upcoming visit to Turkey, ministers from both sides will meet to review cooperation efforts, presenting proposals for endorsement. This visit presents another opportunity for high-level discussions on bilateral and regional matters. We are now expecting very soon the visit of His Excellency Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Minister of Egypt on 20 April 2024.

AO: As the conflict in Gaza escalates, what is your country's strategy for resolving it and ensuring the Palestinians obtain their legitimate rights?

SMS: Unfortunately, the Israeli assault on Gaza persists, and despite the efforts of Egypt, Qatar, and the USA, a permanent ceasefire failed.

The international community is unequivocal in its consensus to end this bloodshed, as evidenced by the United Nations Security Council's resolution demanding a ceasefire.

Hence, Israel must heed this call and commit to a ceasefire. Turkey's stance is resolute: we have consistently advocated for an immediate cessation of hostilities and supported all efforts within the Arab League and the OIC. Our foreign minister, alongside his Egyptian counterpart, is actively engaged in diplomatic outreach, which has contributed to the international community's consensus on the imperative of a ceasefire, as part of the Arab-Islamic contact group.

Moreover, there's been significant momentum at the UN towards recognizing Palestine as a full member, a long-overdue step. With 140 countries already extending recognition, including Western nations like Spain, Belgium, and Australia. We cannot and we should not delay recognition of the state of Palestine.

The two-state solution is the only solution which would enable Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side in peace and security.

As long as the problem of Palestine remains, as long as this conflict persists, there cannot be real, genuine, sustainable, permanent peace in the Middle East. 

Hence, it is imperative to honour all legitimate Palestinian rights, including the establishment of an independent state based on the 1967 borders, ensuring justice, freedom, and dignity for all Palestinians.

The suffering endured by Palestinians, spanning over a century since 1917, must cease. It has been over a century by now.

Since 1917, Palestinians have been suffering, this must come to an end for the region's peace, development, and global security.

AO: What about economic and trade cooperation between Turkey and Egypt, and what measures are being taken to enhance trade and investment flows between the two countries?

SMS: Trade and economy are the strongest ties between the two countries, and these are the most important ties and interests. We have set a target in five years of reaching $15 billion in foreign trade volume.

Turkey is and will continue to be the number one export market of Egypt, so the trade balance between the two countries looks very balanced.

Egypt has now successfully negotiated the IMF deal, the EU deal, and also the megaproject Ras El-Hekma has helped the economy a lot. I think that the future of trade and economic relations looks bright on both sides.

For example, just on top of my head, I can tell you that Jade Textile, one of the largest textile exporters of the Egyptian-Turkish company Yesim has laid the groundwork for their next factory; they have several already, in the Suez Canal economic zone.

Another company, Eroglu Textile, has just purchased land, signed an agreement, and then started their new investment.

Our glass factory Pasabahce has increased its capacity by introducing another oven and Hayat last year opened a new factory in hygiene in Ain Sokhna, also Beko has started its test production, after successfully establishing their factory.

They are in the test phase and now they are manufacturing ovens customized for the Egyptian market.

And now they are going to start very soon manufacturing refrigerators, so it is a strategic investment by one of our global brands. This strategic decision to make such an investment in Egypt will be a benchmark and model for many other Turkish companies.

I can clearly see a growing trend in Turkey, especially in textiles, to expand into Egypt and set up shop there. Egypt offers very reasonable labour costs, energy costs, a strategic location, good shipping lines, and highly developed infrastructure, including ports, airports, roads, and railways. Egyptian companies are also exploring investments in Turkey, particularly in tourism and petrochemicals.

This is a win-win situation. We are happy that our companies provide employment and training to our Egyptian brothers and sisters. With its growing population, abundant labour force, and good advantages, I believe that Turkish investments in Egypt and vice versa will continue to grow.

The volume of Turkish investments in Egypt will continue to steadily grow to reach $5 billion worth of fixed investment. The annual added value of their production is likely around $1 billion. They have already employed 100,000 Egyptians. President Sisi commended the professionalism, dedication, and competence of the Turkish companies and their management, and we were very pleased to hear that.

AO: Is there cooperation between the two countries in areas such as agriculture, technology, renewable energy, and education?

SMS: Yes of course, especially in technology. Our companies show an open attitude towards technology and renewable energy, and I have been receiving inquiries from them, about producing renewable energy and electricity power by solar energy.

We are also extremely interested in enhancing our cooperation in education. We are already providing annual governmental scholarships to over 100 Egyptian students and in the future, we would like to send Turkish teachers and professors to Egypt, you might know that in fact in terms of Turkology departments Egypt ranks first in the World.

This can also be seen in the number of students enrolled in the Turkish language education in Yunus Emre Institute in Cairo.

Yunus Emre Institute in Cairo has the highest number of students learning Turkish, so therefore we are ready, and we're very interested in sending Turkish teachers to Turkology departments of native speakers to in fact help with learning Turkish.

So hopefully in the future we can also, we are talking about it, mention setting up a university for example. I know that one private university is interested and then the private counterparts in Egypt are talking between themselves, so we support all these initiatives. I also know that many private universities have their representations here and they are also eager to have talented Egyptian students have their undergraduate and graduate studies in Turkey

AO: Both countries have a great cultural and civilizational heritage and tourism industry. What about cooperation in these fields?

SMS: In culture and arts, the possibilities for cooperation are vast. There are so many things we could do together, such as the restoration of cultural heritage buildings, Ottoman buildings, and any Islamic building, of course.

We are hoping that in the near future, with our institutions and experts, we can initiate projects to identify areas where there are gaps in terms of our common cultural heritage and determine how to maintain, protect, and restore them.

Tourism is the main source of revenue, both in Turkey and Egypt, so and I know that the advances that we have made in Turkey are being followed. Egyptian companies, hotels, institutions are interested in benefiting from the Turkish experience and the capacity and we are extremely happy to know that and we are ready to share our experience and to really cooperate, support in the further progress of the Egyptian tourism.

But already the private companies are benefiting from the Turkish expertise, as you know we have Rixos hotel groups, it’s a Turkish brand and operating successfully. In fact, 25 percent of the Rixos hotel group are Turkish tourists and the managers are professionals, they are here working and providing services.

Many Turkish tour operators are bringing to Egypt tourists from Kazakhstan, and Russia and they are very experienced and then help with Egyptian tourism. I know that many hotel brands are also interested in coming and setting up hotels, various types of hotels in Turkey, I know that the talks are ongoing so, therefore, tourism is an area where I believe by sharing expertise and experience we could do so much more to fully realize the potential especially on the Egyptian part because Egypt has set a goal of 30 million tourists a year.

I think it’s about 14 million so we are ready to share our experience and I believe that the Ras El-Hekma project will greatly contribute and other projects on the North Coast to achieve this goal in addition of course the need to establish further hotels.

One other aspect of tourism cooperation is mutual tourist visits, We need more flights, for example to Cairo, and although Ajet Anadolu Jet has just recently started flights to Sphinx Airport it is not enough. We need five, 10 flights daily between Cairo, Istanbul and Ankara. If we do not have flights and we do not have hotels the treasures of Egypt will remain vacant while Cairo has this great potential for cultural tourism for Turkish people, Al Azhar, Imam Al Shafie, Mohamed Ali Pasha, Khadem Soliman Pasha, Sultan Hassan, Sinan Pasha, Silahdar, Ibrahim mosques, Imam Shafie cemetery, the Ayoubi Castle, Citadel. There is a huge potential which should be explored.

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