Specific Areas of cooperationConference in Egypt10-13 May 2000


Egyptian Foreign Service Academy, Cairo 13-15 May 2000

Distinguished colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Turkish-Egyptian relations offer a variety of areas for cooperation.  I will try to elaborate on these areas under the following headlines:

–   Political

–   Economic

–   Military

–   Cultural

1.    Cooperation in the Political Field

Unlike the economic and cultural fields, the cooperation in the political field between two countries is an indication of good relations in general between them. Turkey and Egypt are, at present, cooperating satisfactorily in the political field, but since there is almost no limit for the scale of cooperation in this field, there is ample room for even closer cooperation between them, because they have a multitude of common features which bring them close to each other and which make them potential partners for cooperation. I would like to mention only a few of the parameters which may be instrumental in shaping their relations:

Both countries are inseparable parts of the Middle East which is one of the hottest spots in the world and because of their size, if not for other reasons, they are two main pillars of stability in the region. Peace   in   the Middle East is a major foreign policy issue for   both countries   and it may constitute an additional area of cooperation for both   countries,   because,   for historical reasons, Turkey is a staunch supporter of the rights of Palestinian   people. Since one cannot expect Egypt to withdraw its support from the Palestinian cause, it is only natural to expect that both countries will remain on the same side on this subject and most probably they will cooperate as the two major powers of the region. Both countries are spanning geographically on two continents: Turkey on Asia and Europe; Egypt on Asia and Africa. Both countries control vital sea routes which link important geographical regions. Turkey controls the Turkish Straits which link Black Sea to the Mediterranean; Egypt controls Suez Canal which links Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

The geo-strategic positions of both countries make them indispensable for the formulation of any security strategy for the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean regions. A strategy which will ignore either of these two countries would simply not work. Both countries are the biggest countries of the region. Turkey with 65 million, Egypt with 62 million inhabitants are, not only the biggest but “by far the biggest” countries of the region. They are leading members of organizations such as Organization Islamic Conference and D-8. Turkey’s secular constitutional order and Egypt’s ejection of religious fundamentalism are again important factors which contribute positively in bringing the foreign policies of both countries closer to each other. There is continuous cooperation between the delegations of the two countries in various international fora, because the positions of Turkey and Egypt on most of the international issues are either identical or similar or very close to each other.

There is no political conflict between Turkey and Egypt, no territorial claim, no divergent economic interests. Governments and leaders of both countries are aware   of these assets and are trying to seat the present and future relations on these solid grounds.

The Presidents of the Republic of both countries are personal friends of each other; they meet regularly once or twice a year. Their talks take place in most cordial atmosphere.

The present relations between Turkey and Egypt could only be described as “very good” in the political field. When there is a background full of positive elements, I don’t see why these two countries would not use them to their common benefit.

2. Economic Cooperation

Economic cooperation may pave the way to closer political relations; however it may also become sometimes a hostage of poor political relations. This second correlation is more widespread in the Middle-East. In the specific case of Turkish-Egyptian relations, I would not go as far as to say that the economic relations were the hostage of political relations, but if the two countries were able to develop the present satisfactory political relations at an earlier date, one may speculate that the dynamics created by the spiral of interaction between economic and political relations would have brought the entire relations between the two countries to a point above the place where it stands at present.

There are several areas of cooperation in the economic field between Turkey and Egypt:

a)      Construction/Contracting

Turkish construction companies have a fairly good reputation in the world construction market. They control roughly 7-8 % of this market.

If the Turkish and Egyptian companies could cooperate instead of competing with each other both for national and international tenders they are likely to get bigger share from the market of the construction services, because there are several complementarities between Turkey and Egypt in this field. For instance, the consultancy services and certain categories of skilled labour are better quality and less expensive in Egypt, while in Turkey management and other categories of skilled labour are better quality and less expensive. Therefore, if the construction companies of both countries could establish joint ventures and bid together for international tenders, they can beat more easily other contenders.

b)      Manufacturing  industries

Turkey has a customs union with the European Union (EU) since 1996. As a result of this, a commodity manufactured in Turkey may enter any EU country without customs duties.

Again, because of complementarities between the two countries several components of a manufactured commodity are less expensive in Egypt while other   components are less expensive in Turkey.

An Egyptian or Turkish Company or a joint company composed of one of each country may organize the manufacture of a finished commodity in such a way that it may capitalize on the advantages of both side. For instance, it may manufacture a semi-finished good in Egypt with less expensive raw material and finish it in a factory in Turkey and supply it to the huge EU market. Or manufacture semi-finished goods in Turkey with raw material that could be obtained duty-free in Turkey from the EU countries and finish it in Egypt.

I know that the private companies of both countries are becoming more and more aware of these complementary advantages, but I believe that their number should increase more quickly.

The cooperation I referred to under the present chapter is also valid irrespective of Turkey’s customs union with the EU, because Turkey and Egypt are the biggest markets in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, even if the finished commodities manufactured in either of these countries were not destined to third countries, the markets of these two countries are big enough to make profitable such joint initiatives.

c)  Cooperation in the Field of Energy

The field of energy is another promising area, because of huge energy demand in Turkey and huge energy resources in Egypt.

There are two projects in this field. One is the interconnection of power grids between 5 countries in the Middle-East namely Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The project is complete except some construction works to be carried out in Syria. This project is the brain-child of the late President Ozal of Turkey and H.E. Mahir Abaza, former Minister of Energy of Egypt. It will enlarge considerably the energy market in the Middle-East and will constitute the first step of a wider interconnection which will include all North African, Balkan, European and eventually Caucasian countries. This will contribute to a great extent to the stabilization of the power generation in a wide geography.

The second project is the purchase of Egyptian natural gas by Turkey. Turkey is prepared to buy the gas both in the liquefied form (LNG) and in the form of gas. A memorandum of understanding for the purchase of LNG was signed in 1996 and provides the supply of 10 billion cubic meter of LNG to a re-gasification plant in Izmir. This corresponds to an additional figure above 1 billion dollar in the trade volume. Since there may be an offset agreement attached to this purchase, one may expect an additional increase of about 2 billion dollars per year in the trade volume between the two countries.

Several countries are competing to offer lowest price for delivery of LNG in the Izmir plant. The competing countries are Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Qatar. Since the freight is one of the important components of the market price of the LNG, I don’t see any reason why Egypt will not be able to offer the best price.

As to the purchase of gas in its natural form, several routes are under consideration to transport it to Turkey. One of them is an 850 km long pipeline to be laid on the sea bed of the Mediterranean. Because of the fact that the Mediterranean Sea is very deep in this area, it makes this option of the project very costly (around 1.6 billion US dollars). The second option is to lay a pipeline under the sea from Alexandria to Lebanon and continue overland from there to Turkey. This option is less costly (1, 2 billion US dollars).

The third option is a pipeline of 1 250 km which will cross Jordan and Syria. The Egyptian company GASCO completed the pre-feasibility study for the Egyptian leg of the project while the company TRACTEBEL carried out a pre-feasibility study for the Jordanian leg. The pre-feasibility study for the Syrian leg in not yet carried out.

There is a different draft pipe-line project of a total length of 1 112 km which will run 302 km in the Egyptian territory, then cross Israel (250 km), Lebanon (200 km), Syria (150 km) and enter Turkey and run 210 km there before reaching the Turkish town of Ceyhan. This is a project designed to consolidate peace in the region, but it is not likely to be implemented before a comprehensive and lasting solution is found for the Middle-Eastern conflict.

No matter which route is selected for the pipeline, it will constitute the first phase of a longer pipeline which will carry the Egyptian gas to Europe through the Balkans.

d) Cooperation in the field of tourism

Tourism is another area of cooperation between Turkey and Egypt, because both countries are major tourist destinations in the region.

Turkey attracts around 9 million tourists per year. This figure corresponds roughly to double as much tourists visiting Egypt and is slightly higher than the    number    of    tourists visiting Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iran combined.

There are two subjects for cooperation in this field. One of them is the promotion of combined tours especially from distant countries such as Far-East and American continent. While it may not be attractive enough for a tourist from distant countries to come all the way to the Middle East to visit either Turkey or Egypt alone, it may be more attractive for him to travel when a trip to the region includes both Turkey and Egypt. Such cooperation will provide benefits to both sides and is not detrimental to either side.

Second subject for cooperation is the exchange of service personnel working in the field of tourism. The high season for tourism in Turkey is summer months whereas in Egypt, especially in Upper Egypt, it is winter months. Since the service personnel in the field of tourism can work in a foreign country without a major difficulty, the managements of touristic installations in either country may cooperate to employ the service personnel wherever is the high season at a given period of the year. This may contribute to bring down the cost of the service personnel and will provide fuller employment to them.

3. Military cooperation

The cooperation in the military field is in general a sensitive issue that cannot be assessed only in terms of economic returns. It materializes more smoothly between countries which cooperate already in various fields. Can such cooperation flourish between Turkey and Egypt? Yes, but it may need some effort to be made by both sides, especially to do away with unnecessary sensitivities stemming from past decades. Some modest steps are already made in the right direction in this field. These steps include exchange of officers for training in the military academies and the possibility of attending the military maneuvers of the other side. These are the standard type of contacts between the military authorities of friendly countries. It is a good beginning, but it is far from being satisfactory between two friendly countries like Turkey and Egypt. This type of cooperation will be worth the effort if it contributes to the creation of a more suitable atmosphere for the cooperation in other fields. I will dwell here on only one of such other areas of cooperation in the military field. It is the cooperation in the area of defense industry. This type of cooperation fits actually better under the title of economic cooperation, but I elaborate on this subject under this title in order to give more prominence to the military dimension of such cooperation.

Turkish and Egyptian armies are both the biggest armies in the world in terms of the number of soldiers, after the armies of the superpowers. If the requirements of these two huge armies could be put together in one single pool it will create a huge market. These requirements could be met by companies of the two countries which offer the best conditions for supply. The armies will benefit from it, because their requirements will be met at a lower cost. The companies of both countries will benefit from it, because they will be serving a bigger market. The military requirements are regarded sometimes as a sensitive issue. If there are such sensitivities on either side, the cooperation may start in non-sensitive areas such as the manufacturing of military material which is already being purchased anyhow from a foreign country. So it should not make a difference if this foreign country is Egypt, Turkey or any third country.

This may help save considerable funds that could be utilized to further strengthen the military forces of both countries.

Another by-product of such cooperation will be to help melt unnecessary sensitivities in the mind of military decision makers.

4. Cultural Cooperation

Culture is an area where Turkish-Egyptian relations offer immense opportunities for cooperation. It may be appropriate to look a little at the historical background to better understand why Turkish-Egyptian peoples are so close to each other.

a)  History

There is a widespread tendency to believe that Turkish-Egyptian relations started as late as 1517 when Egypt became part of the Ottoman State, whereas the relations between the peoples of these two countries go back to the early part of the 9th century, when Abbassi caliphs started to bring several thousand Turks every year from Central Asia and deployed them in every part of the then Islamic Empire including Egypt.

An Abbassi historian of the 9th century, by the name of Yakubi, wrote this in his book, “Geography”:

Ja’far Al-Khushshaki related to me the following: “Al-Mu’tasim used to send me, in the reign of Al-Ma’mun (813-833), to Null Ibn Assad at Samarkand to purchase Turks, and each year I would bring him a number, so that during the reign of Al-Ma’mun, he (Mu’tasim) accumulated upwards of 3 000 youth. When he succeeded the caliphate, he maintained his search for them [1]

Under Abbassi caliph Mu’tasim (833-842) the number of Turkish soldiers in Baghdad alone was about 35 000.[2]

First Turks who came to Egypt are, therefore, soldiers who were purchased by the Abbassi caliphs in Central Asia and deployed in Egypt.

Some of these soldiers climbed up quickly the Abbassi hierarchy and became generals and governors. When Mu’tasim was succeeded in 842 by his son Wathique, Turkish generals had already consolidated their power in Baghdad.[3]

The names of first Turkish general appointed by the Abbassi caliphs as governor are as follows:

–   Eshnas el-Turki: 834-845

–   Inak (Itah) 845-849

–   Yazeed Ibn Abdallah bin Dinar el-Turki:

–   856-861 to represent Fath Ibn Hakem

–   861-867: on his own behalf

–   Muzahim Ibn Hakem: 867-868

–   Ahmed Ibn Muzahim el-Turki: 868

The appointment of these Turkish governors cannot be considered as the starting date of the relations between Turkish and Egyptian peoples, because, the mixing of two peoples did not start during this very early period except for a few families that the Turkish governors may have brought together with them when they were posted to Egypt.

The two peoples actually started to mix only after the appointment of Ahmed Ibn Touloun, as an Abbassi Governor of Egypt on 22 Ramadan 254   Hegira   Year   (15 September 868)[4]September 868)4.

Ahmed’s father, Touloun, is a Turk from Boukhara in the present Uzbekistan in Central Asia. There are two different versions on the subject of the family background of Touloun. One says that he is the son of a noble family of Boukhara and was sent to Baghdad to serve in caliph’s palace. The second one says that he is a mamlouk purchased in Boukhara in 816. No matter which version is correct, once in Baghdad, he quickly gained favour of Abbassi Caliph Ma’moun and later became governor of the town of Samarra at north of Baghdad.

Ahmed Ibn Touloun was born in Samarra when his father Touloun was governor there and at the age of 32 he became Abbassi governor of Egypt. In Egypt he established an army composed of Turks that he brought from his ancestral lands in Central Asia. After these soldiers served in the army for a number of years, he authorized them to retire, gave them agricultural land and authorized them to marry Egyptian girls. And he brought new Turks from Central Asia. This is how Turks started to come to Egypt in big waves, by tens of thousands, and mixed with Egyptian people.

When we take into consideration that the arrival of Turks in the present day Turkey in big waves of comparable scale started only after 1071, we notice that Turkish presence in Egypt is 200 years older than the Turkish presence in Turkey itself.

The Toulounid dynasty in Egypt was followed in 905 by other Turkish governors that were appointed by Abbassi caliphs and it was later followed by another Turkish dynasty, the “Ikhshid”s, which ruled between 935 and 969.

The arrival of Turks in the form of Mamlouk continued in increasing numbers during the subsequent period, when Egypt was governed by Ayyoubies and Fatimids.

These Mamlouk have become so strong during the subsequent centuries that, from 1250 onwards, they established their own dynasty and ruled Egypt on their own behalf rather than on behalf of a ruler living in a distant town such as Baghdad or Damascus.

The Arab historians who wrote about this period refer to the State established by the Mamlouk as “Dawlet Al-Atrak (The State of the Turks)” or “Mulk Al- Atrak (The Territory of the Turks)”. One of them, Al-Hassan Ibn Omar Ibn Habib, wrote a book under the title of “Dorat Al Eslak fi Dawlat Al Atrak”[5]

It is worth noting that, among 20 States that Turks have established throughout the history, (Huns, Golden Hordes (Altin Ordu), Seljuks, Ottomans, etc.) they used the adjective ‘Turkish” in the official name of the State only in Egypt. In the present-day Turkey itself, the State was referred to as “Turkish” Republic only in 1923, that is to say 650 years after this adjective was used in Egypt in the official name of a State. We may therefore conclude that the first state which was called “Turkish” was not established in Turkey but in Egypt.

Since Turkish and Egyptian peoples have such a long common history (1 130 years), it is only  natural for them to have strong interaction in the fields of traditions, architecture, music, language and many other fields.

b)      Architecture

The Architecture is one of the areas where the interaction of the Turkish and Egyptian cultures offers the best examples.

The originality of Mamlouk architecture, for instance, lies in the successful combination of Central Asian and Egyptian tastes.

At the beautiful complex of the Mosque and Medressa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo, one can see very strong interaction with Registan Medressa in Samarkand.

Hundreds of Mamlouk buildings that have survived in Cairo are unfailing witnesses of the architectural interaction between Egyptian and pre-Ottoman Turkish architecture of Central Asian origin.

This interaction continued during the Ottoman period. Egyptian officials who climbed up the Ottoman hierarchy to become Wazeer or Sadrazam, that is to say Ministers or Prime Minister, made valuable contributions to the embellishment of Istanbul. The palace of Walida Pasha, the mother of Khedive Ismail, which is used today as the premises of the Egyptian Consulate in Istanbul, the summer residence of Khedive Abbas Helmi II in the Çubuklu district of Istanbul, the waterfront palace of Prince Said Halim Pasha are only a few examples of innumerable contributions that the Egyptians made to Ottoman cultural heritage with their extremely refined architectural taste. Similarly, Ottoman officials who were appointed to Egypt brought their taste from then-city of origin. There are doctorate theses examining in detail the extent of this interaction.[6]

According to a cataloguing exercise carried out in 1951, the number of Ottoman architectural structures which were found worth being catalogued was over 600 only in Cairo. It was found out later on that there were hundreds of omissions in this catalogue. Together with Ottoman architectural structures in several other Egyptian towns, more prominently in the Ra’s-el-teen Street in Alexandria and in the town at El-Rasheed (Rosetta), the number of the Ottoman architectural structures worth being included in a catalogue is believed to be 2 00 in Egypt.

c)      Archives

The Turkish and Egyptian archives are so rich and contain so many documents concerning the other country that it will be difficult to write the history of Turkey and that of Egypt without properly studying the documents that are preserved in these archives.

The number of manuscripts written in Turkish language and preserved only in one of the archives in Cairo, namely in Dar El-Kutub, amounts to approximately 10 thousand.

As to the books printed in Egypt in Turkish language and preserved in the Egyptian archives, their number amounts to scores of thousands.

The number of documents in the Turkish archives pertaining to Egypt is counted by millions. The copy of one document out of these millions of documents is attached herewith. It is a document signed in 1854 between Said Pasha, son of Mohamed Ali Al Kabir and Ferdinand de Lesseps and sent to the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul for approval. The document authorizes Ferdinand de Lesseps to establish a company to put together funds in order to dig a canal in Suez.

The very first translations into Turkish of western classical literary work were not published in Istanbul, but in Cairo and almost all of them were printed at Boulaq Printing House.

Furthermore, the first newspaper in Turkish language, “Vaka-i Misriya”. was published in Cairo in 1828 and not in Istanbul. The copy of one page of the Newspaper is also attached herewith.

These are only a few examples which indicate what Egypt means to Turkey, and vice-versa, in the field of cultural relations.


The past and the present of Turkish-Egyptian relations offer a multitude of areas for cooperation. The highest authorities of both countries have done their best in order to surface these areas. The ground is fertile for further cooperation. The economic cooperation is promising attractive profits. Therefore if the decision makers at the technical levels and the agents in the business communities of both countries make effort to mobilize these potentialities both countries may benefit from it.

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