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In-Focus: Pointless game

Ignorant of the lessons of history, Turkey’s Erdogan continues to threaten Egypt’s core interests. He does so at his peril

Galal Nassar , Wednesday 14 Feb 2018

Once again Erdogan’s Turkey is trying to destabilise Egypt, many years after Mohamed Ali Pacha’s success vanquished the powers of the Ottoman Empire and ended its ambitions and theft of the Egyptian state. This time, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is spearheading an expansionist Muslim Brotherhood scheme, plotting a comeback through a caliphate or historic right — as he repeatedly claims in his justifications for interfering in the affairs of Turkey’s neighbours. Turkey is on the precipice of crisis between the state Ataturk built that ended the country’s image as Europe’s sick man to become a stellar secular regime, and the ambitions of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood that swept across Arab Spring countries. This current trains militias and terrorist groups using funds from Ankara while the West remains inexplicably silent and turns a blind eye as long as this serves Western interests.

Erdogan, who cold-bloodedly declared that 5,000 terrorists from Syria and Iraq relocated to Sinai to fight the Egyptian army as the world watched silently, is the same man who years ago allowed these terrorists to enter Syria. Turkey was also a logistical base for training, taking care of the wounded, funding, arms supplies and processing oil and stolen antiquities for foreign markets. It is the same Erdogan who constantly insults Egypt as a people, its army and president after they toppled his ally and foiled his ambitions in a popular revolution on 30 June 2013. It is the same Erdogan who allied himself with Qatar and other enemies of Egypt in Tehran and Tel Aviv, in order to reverse the clock and restore the control of political Islam and achieve the proclaimed caliphate dream.

This is Erdogan, whose foreign minister last week made hostile statements that clearly threaten the Egyptian army and interests in the Mediterranean by saying he did not recognise the 2013 maritime demarcation agreement between Egypt and Cyprus. He threatened any company that prospects or searches for natural resources in the economic region east of the Mediterranean, but ignored similar agreements between Cyprus and Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon. Cairo responded by declaring it will stand up to any attempts to tamper with its sovereignty over economic regions, underlining that the legality of the demarcation deal cannot be contested since it meets international law requisites and was accepted as an international agreement by the UN.

There are two possible reasons for Turkey’s actions. First, to trigger a crisis in Egypt and terrorise foreign companies working in the region, which is what Egyptian decision makers expect since Ankara does not recognise Cyprus as a country to begin with, under the pretext that Cyprus is a divided island that does have any economic rights in the deep waters where gas fields are located. Second, Erdogan has lost it after a deal to import gas from Tehran ended, and Egypt’s Zohr gas field began producing 350 million cubic feet daily from an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet in reserves worth more than $100 billion.This bubbling crisis triggers the historic conflict between Ottoman Turkey’s ambitions and Egypt, which is always fighting for its independence throughout history. Perhaps Mohamed Ali Pacha’s actions can explain current events, their causes and future outcomes. Those following Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s rule in Egypt will see that he is inspired by Mohamed Ali’s experience, especially in building a strong army and relying on the armed forces to build a “new Egypt”, as he often references. This crisis also answers many questions on the arming and intense training of the army, while involving it in all aspects of Egyptians’ lives.

In his book Modern History: Egypt, from Mohamed Ali until Today, historian Mohamed Sabri states that the army was the primary pillar for Mohamed Ali to maintain Egypt as an independent entity. If it wasn’t for the army, a modern independent Egyptian state would not have come into existence or protected its independence for 61 years. Mohamed Ali focused on army facilities more than any other, and all else was created to serve the needs of the army.

Mohamed Ali decided to establish a School of Medicine primarily to meet the army’s need for doctors; industry and textile factories to provide soldiers with weapons, ammunition and uniforms; built compounds for the army, including barracks, camps and hospitals; established military schools to educate recruits in various fields; royal academies to educate students on how to be officers and engineers; funded studies abroad in Europe to educate faculties of professors, scientists and engineers who are directly or indirectly connected to the military. While these facilities and others also had urban development goals as well, servicing the army was the primary reason why Mohamed Ali created them.

According to him, a modern army is the tool for building a modern state and its primary goal of defending the country’s independence helped urbanisation across the country. Mohamed Ali understood that if it wasn’t for the army, Egypt’s independence under his reign would be lost and Turkey would once again exercise privileges in the country and make Egypt one of its satellite caliphates under direct Ottoman control. Or Egypt would be occupied by the British, which eventually happened in 1882 when there was no longer an army or defences to protect the country.

The current crisis indicates that Erdogan has not read the history of his country or the region, and does not understand Egypt’s moves to build a strong army and involve it in all development projects. It also shows that early on Al-Sisi read about Mohamed Ali’s experience and the need for a strong modern army ready to protect the state and its vital interests by land, sea and air, at home and abroad.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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