Good news in our Arab world is very scarce these days. Such good news included the visit by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Egypt, accompanied by about 200 leading Turkish businessmen, to participate in the Egyptian-Turkish Business Forum.
I wrote once and again, that the revolution in Egypt did not stop at combatting the corruption that marked the tenure of the former regime, but combatted the economy itself. I also previously went over the details of a proposed Arab-Turkish economic alliance that I had directly heard about from Prime Minister Erdogan in Istanbul, from President Bashar al-Assad and from Maj. Gen. Omar Suleiman, Rest in Peace, as well as from Gamal Mubarak.
Today, I feel that the new Egyptian leadership has quickly learned the lesson, as it tries to jumpstart the Egyptian economy, and reviving the alliance sought by the Turks is an important step in the right direction, which I hope will continue and succeed.
I read that there are 205 Turkish companies operating in Egypt, and that the trade between the two countries is worth five billion dollars. These economic ties were almost destroyed by the revolution, were it not for the fact that in the end, reason and wisdom prevailed.
Turkey has sided with Egypt, and the most recent visit culminated with the signing of 27 new agreements, with a Turkish credit line established at a value of $ 1 billion that will be increased to $ 2 billion in the near future.
As a reminder, the economic alliance – as was detailed to me by officials in Turkey, Syria and Egypt – aimed to build a regional economic power that is many times larger than Israel’s. Over the past decade, the Islamists in Turkey oversaw an economic growth of 100 percent, so perhaps the Islamists in Egypt will do the same for their country this decade.
A decade ago, the border between Turkey and Syria was planted with landmines. But only three years ago, the border was opened for trade, and Dr. Bashar al-Assad told me personally that Turkish companies were big and strong, and that in the beginning, they posed a threat to local investors. Yet, the two sides eventually found a common ground for cooperation.
Maj. Gen. Omar Suleiman also told me that there was an Egyptian decision to approve any economic project submitted by the Turks within 24 hours, and told me about Turkish factories in Egypt to produce petrochemicals, fertilizers, and textiles.
Today, Syria is out of the equation, and we are waiting for it to come back. Indeed, Syria is an essential link in the economic alliance, and observers like us can hardly believe how much things have changed. After the open borders, there is now tension, clashes and tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, with daily killing and destruction.
Syria’s return is crucial to implementing the original idea behind the economic alliance. Gamal Mubarak spoke to me many times about linking the electric grid to that of Jordan and then Saudi Arabia, and said that this would be a prelude to gas linkage among these countries. He also said that if everything went according to plan, the third linkage would be for petroleum, where Egypt can bring in Libya into the fold, and since Syria has good relations with Iraq, it might be able to convince it to join as well.
Well, the participation of Syria, Libya and Iraq is on hold now, but I hope that the Turks and the Egyptians will not neglect natural gas linkage. If this happens, it would mean that Arab gas will reach Turkey and then Europe, benefiting all the peoples of the region in the process.
The 205 companies, and the annual $ 5 billion in trade, go to the credit of Turkey and the former regime in Egypt. Now, the two sides have done well by reviving this side of the alliance, after a time when I found that revolutionary fervor was threatening Egypt's economic success.
President Mohammed Morsi and Prime Minister Hisham Qandil are to be thanked for rapidly taking notice of the need to continue prudent old policies rather than destroying them, while Turkey is to be thanked for insisting on moving forward despite the huge disappointment in Syria and its president.
All I ask now, having direct knowledge of the economic alliance, is for Egypt and Turkey not to forget the importance of a gas linkage, after electricity, because it is the most important part of the alliance.
(Jihad al-Khazen is a write for Dar al-Hayat where this article was published on Nov. 22, 2012)