Two days before the presidential elections, I had a dinner in my place with some revolutionaries and bloggers. One of them suddenly asked the question: “What are we going to do if it’s a run-off between Morsi and Shafiq?” A moment of silence followed. Nobody had really thought this could have been a possibility. Voting for Morsi would give the Muslim Brotherhood all the power in Egypt, a secular’s worst nightmare. Voting for Shafiq, the last Prime Minister of Mubarak, would turn the revolution back to square one, a revolutionary’s worst nightmare.
But here we are. The worst case scenario for the secular revolutionaries is today’s reality. How could that happen? The answer is quite obvious: fragmentation. It was fragmentation that led to the defeat in the Parliamentary elections, earlier this year, and it is fragmentation that blocked revolutionary candidates to make it to the second round of the presidential elections. If they would have combined forces, they would have easily made it. But for some reason, every revolutionary wants to become the next President of Egypt.
So what to do now? Boycotting the run-off is useless. If you don’t participate in the election you have no right to speak afterwards. Counting on a new revolution, in case there has been no electoral fraud, is strange. You cannot demand for democratic elections and refuse to recognize the results if you don’t like them. Even not if you profoundly dislike the results. Doing nothing at all, finally, and giving everybody the freedom to vote for the candidate he dislikes the least, is the worst strategy as it throws away the power of all revolutionary votes combined and it leaves the revolution with empty hands.
In my opinion, there is only one way to safeguard the revolution: think strategically and negotiate! Neither Morsi, nor Shafiq are sure about winning the presidency. So no doubt both of them are desperate for any proposal that could lead them to victory. With some 40% of the votes, the revolutionary power and thus leverage is much bigger, than most might imagine. Here lies the opportunity. For once, the other candidates should stick together. As one block they should offer their support in exchange for non-negotiable conditions. The secular/revolutionaries must be guaranteed on paper 1) the vice-president, 2) the prime minister, 3) half of the government ministries, 4) half plus one of the Constitutional Committee 5) all decisions will be signed by both the president and the vice-president. This is politics. This is democracy.
Public statements will not safeguard the revolution, but tough negotiations can. I would first go to Mohamed Morsi with this package. If he agrees, the power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the new President of Egypt will be seriously reduced. But he will realise, this is the only way to unite the country again and make it move forward. If he refuses, it means that not Egypt but the Muslim Brotherhood is on top of his agenda. In that case, go with the same package to Shafiq.
Is this package the ultimate guarantee that the voice of the revolution will always be heard? Perhaps not, but if one of the candidates agrees, signs the paper and announces this publicly during the campaign, he cannot act as it doesn’t exist, once he is elected. It will give the revolutionary forces the opportunity to safeguard what millions of Egyptians have been fighting for. If the next President of Egypt breaks his promises, then and only then a second revolution can start again.
Today, just as yesterday, millions of Egyptians are casting their vote in the first democratic presidential elections ever. Already since 5 am men and women are waiting in line in front of the polling stations. Around 8 am I have seen thousands of people quietly standing in lines of hundreds of meters, hoping to seal the change Egypt is going through since the revolution of beginning 2011. Since many weeks and even months Egyptians discuss these elections all the time and everywhere. The first question people asking each other in metro, taxi or teahouse was always: who are you going to vote for? Without doubt the most remarkable moment of the presidential campaign, was the debate, live on two commercial televisions, between the two top contenders, Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh. The actual debate lasted not less then four and a half hours. Until two o’clock at night. All pubs were packed with people cheering the debate as if it was the finale of the Champions League. It is very clear: Egyptians adore free elections and no-one is going to take this away from them anymore.
Although today is only the beginning of the presidential process – on 16-17 June there is the second round and on 30 June the transfer of power – some conclusions can already be drawn.
1. These elections are democratic because the outcome is totally unpredictable. Where three weeks ago everybody would have said that Moussa and Abul Fotouh would go to the second round, today it is impossible to make a prediction. There are five top candidates and every single one of them has the possibility to win.
(1) Amr Moussa (former foreign minister of Mubarak and former secretary-general of the Arab League) has started his campaign almost the day after Mubarak was ousted from office. Moussa is popular because he talks like the people in the street do. Some call him even populist. His advantage is his experience, his disadvantage his links to the old regime.
(2) Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh (former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, left to become presidential candidate) is also one of the first candidates. He promotes himself as someone who unifies people. Despite his conservative past, he is a progressive Muslim and an early supporter of the revolution. That’s the reason why many young revolutionaries are campaigning for him. Strange enough he also has the support of the Salafis, as they didn’t want to support the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, many Egyptians distrust Abul Futouh as they believe that ‘once MB always MB’.
(3) Mohamed Morsi (president of the Freedom and Justice Party from the MB) entered very late in the race. The candidate of the MB was initially Khairat Al Shater. But as he was kicked out of the race because of ‘legal reasons’, Morsi came in as the ‘reserve-candidate’. Morsi has no charisma at all. But he is backed by a formidable machine: the Muslim Brotherhood. I have seen towns change overnight from no Morsi into all Morsi.
(4) Ahmed Shafiq (last Prime Minister under Mubarak, general) had to wait long before getting the permission to run. The parliament voted a law that barred former ministers of Mubarak (last ten years) to run for president, but the Election Committee overruled that. He is the candidate of the Army and did an huge campaign in a short period of time. Because of the deteriorated security situation in Egypt, many people like his image of law and order.
(5) Hamdeen Sabahi (long time Nasserist and revolutionary) might become the biggest surprise of the elections. Until three weeks ago, one could hardly hear his name mentioned. Now half of the taxidrivers say they are going to vote for him. Most of all candidates, Sabahi embodies the revolution and secularism at the same time.
2. It is surprising but clear that three months after their huge victory in the parliamentary elections the Muslim Brotherhood is loosing ground. Many people who voted for the MB are now despising them. Why? First of all, there is disappointment. Egyptians voted for the MB because they were the most organised and stable factor after the revolution and thus the best guarantee to make Egypt moving forward again. Egyptians were that enthusiastic about the new parliament that they watched the live broadcasted plenary sessions every day. There they saw MB not doing what they had hoped for. Secondly, Egyptians are angry about one specific broken promise: that MB would never issue a presidential candidate. The moment Khairat Al-Shater announced his candidacy, the reaction of many people was very harsh: MB wants all the power and we will not let this happen. A Gallup poll confirms this tendency, saying that MB has lost one third of their support since February : http://www.gallup.com/poll/154706/Support-Islamists-Declines-Egypt-Election-Nears.aspx
3. In general, this campaign proved that the role of Islam in people’s life and convictions is much more complex than assumed. One could say that Egyptians are very religious, but don’t like someone to impose on them how to be religious. Moreover, the debate on how to combine Islam and democracy is far from ended, and is likely never to end. A great majority of Egyptians do support the article 2 of the constitution saying that ‘Islamic law (sharia) is the main source of legislation. At the same time they fiercely disagree on what the sharia exactly is and how to interpret it. For many this article 2 is what the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ was for the European Constitution. Nathan Brown, from Carnegie, has written a very good article about this : http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/05/15/egypt-and-islamic-sharia-guide-for-perplexed/argb
4. Not one candidate likes Israel, but the fiercest opponent is not an Islamist but the socialist-Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi. He openly said many times the peace-treaty should be thrown in the dustbin. One should also not forget that Amr Moussa became popular as foreign minister by being tough on Israel. If we can believe a study of Brookings, a huge majority see Israel and the United States as biggest threats. (http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2012/5/21%20egyptian%20elections%20poll%20telhami/egypt_poll_results.pdf) Obama has lost a lot of popularity, while Erdogan remains a hero. An old opinion poll of the BBC shows that only 10% of the Egyptians see the EU as a positive force. It is hard to say what the current perception of the EU is. But in general people have no idea what the EU is doing in Egypt; they even don’t know the EU is giving money to the country. Europe does have huge opportunities in the region, but a lot of work still needs to be done.
Whatever the results will be of this historic election, it is clear that from today on we can put Egypt on the list of the world’s democracies. And this is thanks and only thanks to all those brave revolutionaries who risked their life time and again on and around Tahrir Square. As Europe failed to support the revolution, it should use this new key moment and make sure the EU is finally the neighbour that Egypt deserves.
One year after the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to become the driving force in Middle Eastern politics. Many people in the West are convinced this is the worst possible outcome of the Arab spring – which some commentators have already nicknamed the “Arab winter”. Living in Cairo I follow the Tunisian and Egyptian elections during the day. At night I watch debates and results from the GOP primaries. And frankly, I wonder: is the rhetoric of the MB all that different from the one I can witness in the primaries?
On their website the Muslim Brotherhood call themselves “a group established to promote development, progress and advancement based on Islamic references”. They remain very much unclear on what these Islamic references exactly are, and how they will base their politics on them. The Brothers insist that they will not impose anything on anyone. At most they want to convince their compatriots that living along Islamic principles is preferable. It’s noteworthy that this stance is actually less far reaching than the thirty year old part of article two of the Egyptian constitution – introduced by Hosni Mubarak – which says that “sharia is a principal source of legislation”.
When I talk to leading figures of the Brotherhood in Tunisia or Egypt, they seem to agree on a few principles. They want to fix the economy and fight against corruption. I have not heard one of them utter the words ‘islam’ or ‘muslim’. In fact, the Brotherhood vision as written down by Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (the Egyptian political wing of the Brotherhood), could have been the program of almost any centrist party in the world. Of course, this is precisely what makes the West suspicious. Is what we see what we will get?
We seem almost relieved to hear that at least one Brotherhood candidate lives up to the caricature of extremism: she was campaigning on a platform of ‘sin-free holidays’ in Egypt. Westerners, she posits, are already drinking enough at home and will enjoy two weeks of alcohol – and bikini-free vacations. In the same vein, it’s almost reassuring that Hamas is referring to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as their “mother movement”, because it provides proof for an international conspiracy against Israel. And didn’t the movement officially declare that it wants to ‘discourage less ethical movies’, because ‘experts suggest that pornography desensitizes men sexually’?
But then the word ‘desensitize’ suddenly rings a bell. Didn’t Michelle Bachmann warn for The Lion King as “normalization of gayness through desensitization? Didn’t Rick Santorum talk about a conscious effort on the part of the left to influence the curriculum to desensitize America to what American values are? It’s not the only strange opinion the GOP primaries have telecast. What about Rick Perry saying that Turkey is ruled by Muslim fundamentalists and should be kicked out of NATO? Newt Gingrich went on record saying the Palestinians are an invented people. I wonder how the world would react if an Arab politician called the Israelis an invented people?
And then I remember that day in 2005 when I followed the campaign of House Representative Robert Aderholt in the North of Alabama. I was surprised when, in those dry counties of the Bible belt, I heard the sentence that I hear so often in Egypt today: sorry, but we serve no alcohol, sir. Alderholt’s main fight was trying to display the Ten Commandments in every public building. When quizzed about it, he quoted Reagan who apparently once said that “we might come closer to balancing the budget if all of us live closer to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule”.
For a European, it’s almost incomprehensible how politics and religion intermingle in US elections. The Republican aversion against the very essence of the European social welfare state puzzles me. Also, the consensus between GOP candidates that the US needs to bomb Iran seemed to confirm the European cliché that American politicians are addicted to the drumbeat of war.
But although I can’t understand the GOP on an emotional level, I’m not afraid of them. It’s clear to me that however unfathomable their politics are, they believe in the process of democracy. Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood is just like the Republican Party in that regard. They might be hard to understand, but still be democrats. I hope that if once in power the Republicans will deliver less of what they say. And I hope the Brotherhood will not deliver more than what they promise. But I do think that, just like the United States, Egypt should have the right to have a democratic, religious conservative party.
Last week I saw on Twitter and Facebook what must have been a repetition of the Egyptian revolution last year. On Twitter there was a massive flow of practical information. Almost every minute one could follow where exactly which march would be in a couple of minutes. @Tareqramadan: “Mostafa Mahmoud march now heading towards Dokki Square”. So if you want to join the march heading for Tahrir, you know exactly where to go to. Or @Askarkazeboon: “Kazeboon 20 January Helwan, facebook.com/events/…” signalling a film event showing that the military leaders are liars (kazeboon). For more information the tweet refers to a calendar with all details on Facebook.
That was exactly the way it worked during the eighteen days of revolution in Egypt in 2011. Facebook was used for general appeals and overviews of information, while the minute to minute organisation happened via Twitter. It was on Facebook that Wael Ghonim called for a demonstration on the 25th of January and that Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video saying that only cowards would not go to Tahrir on that day. It was on Twitter, however, that the field hospitals and its supplies were organised and were people were warned about snipers on certain buildings or attacks of thugs in certain parts of the square. One year after Hosni Mubarak was toppled, we see again a million people on Tahrir. Not only to celebrate this huge accomplishment of the Egyptian people, but also to demand for more. The Egyptian revolutionaries are convinced that the revolution has not ended. The vast turn-out day after day proves social media still works as tools to continue the revolution.
Since a few months, however, Egyptians are writing a new chapter of the Twitter-history. Twitter is now not only used to organise a revolution, but also to control the result of that revolution: democracy. During the elections for the People’s Assembly Twitter was used all over the country to report violations and fraud. As real electoral observation was refused by the government, these tweets counted as the most reliable information. After the elections there started a perhaps even more fascinating story. Since 23 January, tens of thousands Egyptians are watching the sessions of the newly elected parliament. Whenever a Member of Parliament says something good or bad, it is all around on Twitter. Or as @Mostafa wrote: “The public has the right to know what each MP says about each and every bit”. Is one MP sleeping for a minute? The next minute a picture of his little moment of weakness is all over the internet.
In a parliamentary democracy the people are asked once every four years to give their opinion. In a Twitter-democracy citizens applaud and criticise whenever they decide to do so. And as almost all Egyptian politicians are on Twitter themselves, they feel the pressure of the citizens every single moment. They realize that walking of the path to a real Egyptian democracy, would immediately lead to a new revolution on Tahrir. The Athenian politician Pericles could never have expected that his famous phrase “the citizens are well capable of judging public affairs” would become reality through Twitter in Egypt.
The Muslim Brothers and the Salafis have three things in common. First, both are in favour of political Islam. Secondly, both Muslim Brothers and Salafis were surprised to win the first elections in Egypt that big. And the two first are the reasons why – thirdly – they deeply hate each other.
The Egyptian elections are organised in three phases. In each phase nine governorates vote for party-lists and for independent candidates in a majority system. The independent candidates need to have an absolute majority in order to be elected, which means a second round in most of the cases. On the elections of 28 November the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood had forty percent of the votes, the Salafis a surprising twenty four percent. And this in the most liberal governorates of Egypt.
Now (14-15 December) Egyptians have to vote in nine other – more conservative – governorates. The political battle is not anymore about a Islamic or a liberal state. Now it is clearly a brutal confrontation between the Muslim Brothers and the more extreme Salafis. That would be no problem, at least not a democratic one, if both parties would not use all possible means to gain votes. And if I say all, it means literally all means. I give you some examples of seen and reported frauds.
In Suez a judge (who is controlling the elections) is seen to sign ballot papers for voters, voting for El-Nour, the Salafi-party.
Also in Suez, Salafis were convincing people waiting in long rows to vote for them. Activists who were filming this forbidden campaigning have been arrested.
In another polling station in Suez voters were not allowed to put their ballot paper in the ballot box themselves.
In Gerla-Sohag, a huge banner of El-Nour was hanging above the entrance of the polling station.
In Giza (a more liberal area) a polling station has been closed down after there was gunfire around a very calm row of waiting voters.
This is just a limited list of irregularities which in normal democratic elections could only result in new, better organised elections, at least for those areas where the game wasn’t played by the rules. Now it is already clear that in the next few days a long list of electoral frauds will become public. There goes the illusion of so many Egyptians that the most conservative Muslims are also the most honest people. But more important is: what will be the consequence?
A couple of days ago the Egyptian writer, Alaa Al-Aswany, told me the military is using double standards. Where the liberals and revolutionaries have to follow the law scrupulously, the Islamist parties can almost do whatever they want. The liberal side has been accused of foreign money (which they have not) while nothing is done with the proven payment of 300 million Egyptian pounds of someone in the Gulf to an Islamist party. The Minister who made this payment public, told the press he forgot to whom it was paid.
I am not going to say that the liberal parties are losing the elections only because of this kind of Islamist fraud. They are too divided to be strong and their campaign is almost only concentrated on being against the Islamist parties instead of promoting their own plans for the future of Egypt. But if Egypt wants to be called a democracy, the rule of law must apply for all parties. Until now the Supreme Council of Armed Forces prefers the rule that all parties are equal but some are more equal than others.
When I woke up this morning a strange fog was hanging over my neighbourhood. It smelled like something was burning, but different still. Only after I entered Tahrir Square, I realised it was a cloud of tear gas. On Tahrir it was impossible to keep your eyes dry. Every five minutes tear gas was shot into the crowds. New and better equipment, activists told me, with the label “Made in the USA”. It is hard to think of a more efficient way for our American friends to destroy their fragile image even more… What happened on Tahrir in order to create a fog of teargas miles further down the city?
Last night, on November 19, I received a lot of disturbing messages from friends of mine who were on the square. In the morning the police cleared the square in a brutal way. There was no reason for this violence as protesters were just sleeping in their tents. After that security forces started with a severe crack down in which some thousand people were injured and two even killed.
It is not the first time that the military clears Tahrir Square. For security reasons. It is after all a major crossroad in Cairo. But this time the people don’t accept this anymore. The army is the one that refuses to abolish the emergency law and the military trials where already more then 12.000 people have been sentenced. It is the army that hesitated very long to give clarification about the electoral process. It is again the army that wants to have “extra-constitutional rights” by which their budget would stay secret and by which they could cancel any law adopted by the Parliament. And last but not least, it is the army that refuses to set a date for the presidential elections which would end their military rule. Today the Supreme Council even announced they would hand over their power by the end of 2012 if (!) the chaos would end.
The Egyptian people didn’t risk their life to end the rule of Mubarak and get another military one instead. That is why they are angry and why they won’t leave Tahrir that easily anymore. Many even talk about a second revolution in order to obtain real democracy. Are we witnessing the start of this second revolution right now? It is hard to predict. But one sign in that direction might be that whereas the mass demonstration of last Friday, 18 November, was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, I witness right now that Tahrir is filled again with the young and secular activists, the ones that were at the heart of the first revolution on the 25th of January. The EU should notice this as well and be faster than during the first revolution to support the demonstrators and their demand for freedom, democracy and the end of the military rule without delay.
On one of my sleepless nights, surfing on Youtube, I found a film of a disco in Tunis where people were dancing to the so-called Gaddafi song. It is a great mix of the mad speech Muammar Gaddafi gave some months ago to warn the Libyan opposition would hunt them down wherever they go: “Dar, dar, beit, beit, zenga, zenga” meaning in Arabic “house by house, apartment by apartment, alleyway by alleyway”.
In the past two months the roles were reversed. The rebels where hunting Gaddafi dar, dar, beit, beit, zenga, zenga.
Last Thursday on 20 October they found him in Sirte, in a pipe. When some rebels dragged him out, he asked one of them: “What have I done wrong to you?” The guy must have been too baffled to answer this appalling question. What have you done wrong to me? Um, well, where to begin? Being the last words of one of the most cruel dictators of our times, they tell us a lot about how this madman’s mind functioned. Probably, he really thought that murdering, torturing, raping and starving people was for the best of his country.
But now that the dust is settling, the biggest challenge for Libya is about to begin: The building of a new country on the ruins of the old one. More than 40 years of leadership from the frere-guide, the King of Kings of Africa, the leader of the revolution, have left behind a country without political parties, without intellectuals, without trade unions, without political structures and without civil society. Libya is a political desert.
Luckily, there are also wise and strong people like Mahmoud Jibril around. Without trying to be party-political, the Alde group can still be proud of the fact they were the first to invite Jibril to Europe, the first to recognise the Transitional National Council and to support its demand for a no-fly zone.
But two strong people are not enough. An entire new political structure has to be built. No wonder that even as Nato gets out of Libya, a new Western army comes in: the army of democracy builders. They will give all possible support to constructing a parliamentary democracy, based on models in the West.
At this point, we must be brave and dare to ask if trying to export our own parliamentary system is really the best thing to do?
It is a question all the more urgent since our system is currently facing its own problems. Nobody can deny we have problems of legitimacy, problems of inability to give proper answers to the financial and economic crisis. Thousands of Indignados are filling the streets of our capitals. In short, we must dare to admit that our system of democracy needs some rethinking.
So instead of trying to introduce our rules of politics in Libya, would it not be more adequate to use the Libyan political desert to create a new democratic oasis? A system with more participation of citizens, more involvement of people in the decision-making process, a stakeholder democracy, a system in which the “heart of power really is empty”, as the French philiosopher Claude Lefort put it.
Instead of lagging behind, Libya could become a model of a new kind of democracy. There are some-sharp thinking Libyans who want to give experiments a chance and to give the people in the street the opportunity to co-build a new country. Let us think together with them how to build a zenga zenga democracy.
On Monday (10 October) I received a message from a friend of mine, a true Muslima, as she calls herself. The message said: “Two of my friends died last night. I am breaking down. One of them was to get married in a couple of months. His friends sent me a picture of his fiance holding his dead body. Mubarak was a curtain, SCAF is the monster we unveiled!”
This is only one of the many messages of despair I received after what happened on Sunday. A peaceful demonstration of Copts during the evening was interrupted by unknown people throwing stones at the demonstrators. Half an hour later soldiers arrived, together with the police, and started a hallucinatory crackdown. Firing live bullets, driving tanks into crowds. Leaving 24 dead and 150 wounded behind. One dozen people died under the wheels of a tank. The pictures are very disturbing.
Why? The Copts were demonstrating peacefully against the fact that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is not reacting properly to attacks on Coptic churches. Not life-threatening for a government, is it? Moreover, there are demonstrations every week. No wonder that a lot of questions and theories are popping up. Why are the attackers of the Coptic church last week in the region of Aswan not brought to court? This is a valid question, certainly if you know that since February this year already 12,000 people have been sentenced by military court for disturbing the public order. It was not a massive attack. Only a dozen of Salafis, which are Muslim extremists, sacked a little church, not knowing someone was filming them. The fact that one of the guys on camera was not a Salafi, but an officer from the Ministry of Interior of course did explode the amount of conspiracy theories.
One of the most popular theories among Egyptians right now, is that the SCAF is organising these attacks and this chaos in order to keep power and to maintain the emergency law and military courts. In any case, what happened on Sunday will not diminish the doubts about the real intentions of the military. The fact that it is still totally unclear when the presidential elections are going to be held and the power of the SCAF will be transferred to a civilian doesn’t help either. That is of course also the message my friend sent me.
There remains the question about the situation of the Copts in Egypt. Until last weekend, my friend (whose name I deliberately don’t mention) told me that there are no problems with the Copts. A message I heard many, many times. And although a monk at the abbey of Saint Anthony, the oldest abbey in the world, told me a different story two days ago, everybody must admit that attacks on churches are being carried out by a few persons but condemned by everyone. Including the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that the Copts do face problems as a minority, but what happened yesterday can’t be reduced to a ‘Coptic problem.’
The conclusion is quite simple. There are only two possibilities: either the situation after the revolution has become more chaotic and has given extremists new opportunities, or someone is deliberately trying to create chaos and frictions between minorities. Either way, the military bares a responsibility. And if the SCAF doesn’t take its responsibility to saveguard the revolution, I predict a new revolution in Egypt in the months to come.
With a beer in our left hand and a water pipe in the right, we talked about the revolution and how the so-called April 6 Movement organised the protests day after day. These young people started their protest movement already in 2008, with a huge strike all over Egypt, on 6 April, the 80th birthday of former leader Hosni Mubarak.
During our discussion he told an even more astonishing story. Along with 59 other young leaders from the April 6 Movement, he was invited some weeks ago to visit Turkey. Not for tourism though. They met with PM Erdogan, with President Gul, with foreign minister Davutoglu and many more.
These very busy top politicians took their time and spoke freely of what their plans were for the future. Their message was that they want to create a new alliance between Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Turkey would invest a lot in Egypt, hoping for friendship and a big new market for its booming economy. What they are planning to do with Iran is less clear. But it is obvious that these three countries are in military and economic terms by far the strongest in the region.
“By the way,” he told me, “You in the West look differently at Iran than we do. For us it is a strong country.”
The fact that Turkish leaders personally told him all makes the story all the stronger.
Of course, it is true that Turkey is becoming a leader in the region. To make it clear Erdogan recently visited Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – the three countries that got rid of their dictators. He made a very strong impression at a meeting of the Arab League when he said it was not an option but an obligation to support the Palestinians in their statehood bid at the UN. He was greeted at the airport by crowds chanting “Welcome, Erdogan, Saladin!”
The alliance could be a very long term plan. Could be. But a few days later Turkish foreign minister Davutoglu said in an interview that he seeks an alliance with Egypt and that within two years Turkey is going to invest not less than €4 billion in the country. Meanwhile, Europe is talking about one million.
In any case, my water pipe friend is not the only one happy with the idea – many Egyptians support it.
Whatever happens with the alliance in future, it is clear that Turkey has turned its head from the West to the east. Angry and humiliated as they are because of the refusal to let them enter the EU (which has a religious dimension), they want to build their own union, based on secular Islamic principles.
Somehow I understand this. It is a lot nicer to be greeted as a hero in the east then as a beggar in the West. That is after all how the EU has treated them. An attitude we might soon regret.