After the revolution in Tahrir square, Egypt made a clean break in almost all spheres of life. The Egyptians’ role model is Turkey. Regarding this, the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian academics have an interesting observation: the seeds of Arab Spring were planted in 2002 when the Justice and Development Party [AKP] took over in Turkey.
A new era has begun in Egypt, the key country in the context of the Arab Spring. Sabah spoke with businessmen, politicians, shopkeepers and demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria. We explored the huge industrial zone established by Turks in the Nile oasis. We saw the differences between the old and new Egypt. We listened to the dreams of the people, heard their prospects for the future and how they perceive Turkey.
After we left Cairo, we traveled for four hours to Alexandria, one of Egypt’s major commercial centers. We were welcomed by Ahmad M. al-Waqil, the chairman of the Egyptian Chambers of Industry, and the director of the African Chambers Union. As his assistant directed us into his office, we were informed that Waqil would be meeting with Hillary Clinton, who was in Alexandria at the time, after he met with us.
We found Waqil praying when we entered his expansive office overlooking the entire panorama of Alexandria. Despite his wealth, his dress was modest. After he finished praying, he welcomed us with an “As-Salamu Alaykum” and we started the interview. We were soon joined by several young policymakers from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The welcome we received was very warm. Our interviewees expressed their appreciation for us having given them an opportunity to express themselves, and they offered us a plaque.
We asked them about their thoughts on the fact that Turkey and Egypt share a common history given that they were governed by the same Empire, and about what they thought would happen next. Waqil emphasized the bond between two countries and claimed that they would enjoy full economic and social integration.
He added that Turkey is a model for Egypt and that President Mohammed Morsi has a difficult task ahead of him. He said: “The Egyptian economy is in very bad shape right now, but Morsi has plans ready. We will be active in the rebirth of the economy. We need investments, railroads and logistics. There will be important collaboration with Turkey in the energy sector. Firstly we need to achieve normalization and ensure security. The Egyptian people will also join our efforts.”
Throughout our visit we heard a variety of striking sociological and economic observations regarding Egypt. Prof. Dr. Galal K. al-Adam, the head of the development and project development unit, offered several important remarks. Adam is also an expert on Turkey, and says that it was the AKP government that triggered the Arab Spring. He elaborated on this and added that the seeds of the Arab spring can be found in the transformation that occurred in Turkey after the AKP came to power in 2002. Many others reiterated this statement.
“For years, entrepreneurship was forbidden in Egypt. The capital was controlled by a small group and the country lagged behind in global trade,” said Adam. He added, “However, no one can resist change. Turkey accomplished this years ago through elections. We accomplished this through different processes. However, at the end of the day, the Arab Spring will link us economically to many countries in the region. Regional prosperity will increase.”
We also met with academics in charge of designing Egypt’s liberal economic policies. Prof. Dr. Khaled M. Hanafy, the dean of Arab Academy for Science, listed the elements of the blueprint that is meant to guide the development of the Egyptian economy. Hanafy reminded us that entrepreneurship had long been banned in Egypt. “The Muslim Brotherhood might be conservative on moral issues, but their economic agenda is liberal. They have no other chance. The new government is embarking on economic renaissance. This is a must. These policies have already been applied incrementally since 2004. Our cooperation with Turkey in the logistics sector is crucial. Egypt is the gate to the African market and it has a huge domestic market given its population of over 80 million people.”
According to official statistics, there are 12 million Christians living in Egypt. Our cab driver Honi, who took us from Cairo to Alexandria, was an Egyptian Christian. Therefore we had the chance to hear what the Christians say about Egypt's transformation. Honi said that the Christians in Egypt, including himself, were watchful of what was going on in the country. He said that the government’s discourse — which is strongly based on religious references — would lead to discrimination in the country.
We brought up these concerns to all figures we interviewed, and their common answer was “No way!” Hanafy said that Egypt would not regress in terms of rights and liberties, adding that the talk of banning alcohol or bikini’s was fallacious.