Iran-Turkey-Egypt Strategic Cooperation

Monday, July 18, 2011

Possibilities and Requirements

Ahmad Adinehvand

The Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and Egypt constitute three major sides of the Middle East each encompassing vast areas of land with populations of over 70 million. Suitable cooperation among these countries will greatly help their own development and that of the whole Middle East in view of their rich civilizational and cultural backdrops and their central role in modernization of the region. High economic output and gross domestic product, abundant inexpensive labor force and acceptable technological advances are other factors which can help them achieve that goal.

All three countries have played a leading role in the establishment of global and Islamic civilizations at different junctures of history. Under the rule of Pharaohs, Egypt was cradle of an ancient civilization the magnificent relics of which still remain, especially in the area of architecture. Iran, on the other hand, established the first empire in history while Turkey, under the rule of the Ottomans governed a big part of the Islamic lands and while neighboring Eastern Europe was one of the most powerful empires that the world has ever seen.

Given their civilizational and historical backgrounds, these countries are still trying to vanguard regional developments and are willing to play a prominent part in economic, political and cultural advances of the Middle East. The Islamic Republic of Iran has approved 20-Year Vision Plan in order to rank the first in the region in terms of development indices by 2025 and to play a pioneering role in development of the Middle East. Turkey and Egypt are also vying the same position. Due to such resources as abundant manpower, undergrounds resources and geopolitical situations of their countries as well as easier access to modern technologies than Iran, both Ankara and Cairo seek to reach the summit of advancement and development in the region.

In view of the above facts, ambitious plans launched by leaders of three countries become more comprehensible. Now, if these countries moved toward more convergence and synergy, their huge potentials would certainly help them achieve a lofty position both in the region and in the world. It will take more time to discuss all dimensions of this issue, but here, foreign policy goals of three countries in addition to convergence grounds will be reviewed before pointing to necessity of closer cooperation among them.

Iran, Turkey and Egypt have adopted different and sometimes contradictory foreign policies in the past few decades when facing regional and global issues. Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran and Turkey were US allies while Egypt took sides with the Eastern Bloc and the former Soviet Union. As a result, when faced with the most complicated political issue of the past 60 years, that is, the occupation of Palestine, they adopted different positions. While Iran’s Shah recognized Israel and established cordial relations with Tel Aviv, Turkey’s position was more cautious. Egypt, on the other hand, became leader of the Arab states in fighting Israel and lost no opportunity to slam Iran’s relations with Israel.

Ironically, however, following the Islamic Revolution, Iran severed ties with Egypt over Palestine because Cairo had already signed the Camp David Accord with Israel to restore normal relations with Tel Aviv. The revolutionary Iran believed that Israel had seized Palestinian lands by force and emphasized that Israel should be wiped out from the world map. On the opposite, Egypt lodged Iran’s deposed Shah and took sides with Iraq during its war with Iran by offering unbridled military support to Iraqi invaders. The secular government of Turkey was not positive toward the religious government in Iran. Ankara frequently charged Iran with instigating separatist and Islamist forces in Turkey and relations between the two neighbors were far from friendly. Relations between Turkey and Egypt were somehow better. On the whole, relations among three countries were not cordial enough to provide grounds for regional cooperation.

That situation reigned for a long time. Now, we will discuss the current situation and future outlooks for trilateral relations and possibility of taking advantage of available potentials to power convergence and even introduce a common economic, political and security regime.

Election of the Islamist Justice and Development Party in Turkey was the turning point which led to more cordial relations among three countries. Due to its situation between Europe and Asia, Turkey enjoys high geopolitical importance. For many years, Turkish foreign policy had made proximity to Europe and non-interference in the Middle East’s issues its main goals. “Peace in and out of the country” was the axial motto of Turkey’s foreign policy. Ataturk considered it quite natural for a country which had just started its development drive to avail itself of a peaceful environment both in and out of its borders. The main objective of Turkey’s foreign policy since that time has been to join the western camp as an equal member. As for the Middle East and its neighbors, Turkey’s positions were determined in line with that goal. As a result, when the interests of the west were in conflict with the interests of the Middle Eastern states, Turkey gave priority to western states’ interests. Turkey’s effort for accession to the European Union has made the country observe the following principles: non-interference in internal affairs of the Middle Eastern states, equality among the states, maintaining friendly relations with Israel while offering political support for the Arabs, developing relations with the west and development of relations with Middle Eastern states.

Under these conditions, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy should be analyzed within general framework of the country’s foreign policy and strategic viewpoints of Justice and Development Party officials. Turkish statesmen maintain that their country has turned into a major power in Eurasia and the Middle East following termination of the Cold War and enjoys high potentials to play the role of a “bridge.” They believe in four general principles which should be observed by Turkey’s foreign policy and include: establishing a relationship between security and freedom, minimizing problems with the neighboring countries, adoption of a multifaceted foreign policy, and finally, implementing their foreign policy in an active and transparent manner. Turkey should, thus, be actively present in regional developments and turn into an authority for settling disputes and offering creative plans to solve regional challenges.

Empowerment of Justice and Development Party and its “look to the east” approach combined with sensitivity of the Middle Eastern issues have provided good grounds for proximity among Iran, Turkey and Egypt. Turkey has taken sides with Iran and Syria to condemn Israeli measures against Palestinians and has practically joined the resistance axis.

During past years, Egypt emphasized on its relations with Israel and did not care for Turkey’s new policy or Iran’s old policy toward Tel Aviv. While severing all ties to Iran, Egypt did its best to get as close to Israel as possible and did not hail Turkey’s new approach. Under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt closed down Rafah border crossing on Israel’s demand. The crossing was the sole lifeline connecting people of Gaza to the outside world and by closing it, Cairo caused major problems for the people of Gaza and the elected Palestinian authorities who belong to Hamas movement in order to serve the United States’ and Israel’s interests. The Egyptian government also cracked down on Islamist figures who called for close ties to Iran and Turkey and practically foiled all hopes in a possible alliance among three Middle Eastern powers; that is, Iran, Turkey and Egypt.

Popular protests in many Arab countries, including Egypt, at the beginning of 2011, have revealed promising outlooks before the eyes of the Middle Eastern peoples. Popular protests which finally led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s government, which was completely subservient to Israel and US policies, was hailed by both Iran and Turkey. As a result, many observers believe that Muslim nations will come closer to establish a new Islamic economic and security order in the Middle East pivoting around Iran, Egypt and Turkey. There is a lot of evidence to show that new political officials in Egypt, who are supposed to come to power in this important Islamic country, have understood the message of popular protests which is negation of dependence on the United States and Israel. As a result, they will become more inclined toward Islamic countries in the future and this will pave the way for closer political, security, and economic collaboration in the Middle East with Iran, Egypt and Turkey as the main axes of that collaboration.

After triumph of independence seeking uprising of the Egyptian people and subsequent to reelection of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party in recent elections and in view of Iran’s basic policy of cooperating with Muslim countries of the Middle East, the way is paved for further expansion of economic, political and security relations among three countries away from the US and Israel’s influences. Tehran, Cairo and Ankara should take a positive approach to synergism and make the most of their potentialities. By learning from failures of past regional arrangements, they should create new efficient arrangements in order to use their potentials in the best possible manner. In this way, they will be also able to increase maneuvering room of Muslim states and further limit influence of the United States and Israel’s acts of aggression. In view of the existing political will in three countries as well as complementary nature of their economic potentials, achieving this goal seems quite possible.

Source: International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC)
Translated By: Iran Review

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