Egypt and Turkey seek common ground through media cooperation

Samar Al-Gamal , Wednesday 22 May 2024

After a decade of severed diplomatic ties, a new wave of warmth is washing over Egyptian-Turkish relations, with signs of openness and collaboration emerging on multiple fronts, including the media landscape.

Egyptian-Turkish relations
Renowned members from Egyptian and Turkish Media pose for an image during Egyptian-Turkish Media Forum.

 

In a hotel overlooking the iconic Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Yunus Emre Institute, a bastion of Turkish culture, hosted the Egyptian-Turkish Media Forum.

The event, held against a city buzzing with renewed hope, brought together prominent media personalities from both countries. 

Emin Boyraz, Director of the Cairo branch, reaffirmed the institute's commitment to strengthening Egyptian-Turkish bonds. Boyraz highlighted that the previous six media forums, this being the seventh, have aimed to foster direct cultural communication.

The forum welcomed a renowned figure from Turkish journalism, Yavuz Donat, the writer behind a popular daily column in Sabah newspaper who has been active since Turkey had its first president -- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk -- until the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Other notable Turkish participants included Ahmet Yeşiltepe, the Foreign News Director of NTV Haber, Funda Karayel from Sabah Daily News, and Yaprak Mutlu from İhlas News Agency.

On the other hand, the forum saw the participation of several prominent Egyptian journalists and media experts, including Ezzat Ibrahim Editor-in-chief of Ahram Weekly and Ahram Online, Ahmed Naji Qamha, Editor-in-Chief of International Politics Magazine, and Hussein El-Zannati, Editor-in-Chief of Aladdin Magazine and member of the Journalists' Syndicate Council.

Setting the agenda, Melih Barut, Cultural Diplomacy Coordinator for Yunus Emre in Ankara, emphasized the importance of media cooperation. "We aim to form a joint media body to exchange information and strengthen bilateral relations," Barut said. 

“We believe that there are deep-rooted relations between our two countries, and we strive to spread common values through the media,” he added.

And yet, the road to this gathering wasn't without its bumps.

For ten long years, diplomatic ties between Egypt and Turkey remained severed. Political tensions ran high, and the discord spilt over into the media, with news outlets on both sides often reflecting the official dissonance of their respective regimes.

The tide began to turn in 2022 when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, shook hands for the first time on the sidelines of the World Cup in Qatar.

This gesture signalled a willingness to move forward. Shortly thereafter President Erdoğan embarked on an official visit to Cairo, a few months after the two countries resumed ambassadorial-level relations, which marked a significant step towards reconciliation.

The Egyptian-Turkish Media Forum, held amidst newfound optimism and ahead of a scheduled visit of El-Sisi to Ankara, was not without its debates. A crucial question emerged: does the media merely follow the lead of politicians, or does it have a responsibility to act as a critical observer and a force for good?

“Journalists were involved in smear campaigns, and this is not their real role. They represent the people, not the authorities,” said Mohamed Saad Abdel-Hafiz from the Egyptian syndicate.

“There were people who were confident that the page of differences would be turned quickly, and now the regional situation imposes cooperation,” Abdel-Hafiz added. Bashir Abdel-Fattah, a Researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, seconded Abdel-Hafiz's opinion by stressing that we need "media diplomacy."

For his part, Ahmed Yesiltabipe advocated for cooperation, suggesting exchange programs where journalists could train in each other's newsrooms. "The media has the power to bring viewpoints closer together,” Yesiltabipe said.

However, he emphasized that the most important thing now is to open a new page in relations and extend a hand for media cooperation. 

Ezzat Ibrahim, on the other hand, took the discussion further by proposing collaboration between research centres in Egypt and Turkey to study bilateral relations and develop advancement strategies.

On a different note, the participants in the forum delved into the two countries' rich and shared history, art, and cuisine. They acknowledged that the decade of diplomatic estrangement had taken its toll on these connections and hoped that renewed cooperation could revive these media ties and be inspired from commercial ones.

Despite the icy political climate, the economic and commercial ties between the two countries remained surprisingly strong.

The forum also touched upon the enduring appeal of Turkish soap operas to Egyptians.

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