Turkey’s decision to cut its diplomatic representation with Israel, ranging from the level of ambassador down to the level of third secretary, in response to the latter’s refusal to apologize for the deaths of nine Turks in the Freedom Flotilla incident, has been met with widespread praise on the Arab street. This is especially true in Egypt, where the Turkish decision coincided with a state of public anger at the deaths of three Egyptian police officers on the border with Israel. A joint investigate committee from both countries has been established to identify the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In Egypt, considerable room has been devoted to comparing the reactions of the two countries [Egypt and Turkey], in the headlines of newspapers and in current affairs television programs. This painted a picture that Egypt’s reaction was hesitant, confused and fearful, whilst Turkey’s was courageous, decisive and conclusive.
There is confusion as to what actually happened regarding the incident that took place on the Egyptian-Israeli border, and this has been represented in the contradictory information issued by the Egyptian government. There are political forces that have criticized the official response, claiming that it mirrors what the previous government used to do before the January 25th revolution, whilst revolutionary supporters have rallied in front of the [Israeli] embassy to demand the expulsion of the ambassador.
However, by comparing between the positions of the two countries in this way, we are exposed to a lot of political outbidding, in which different forces seek to score points on the street to raise their popularity, ignoring the fact that the circumstances of each country are not identical. The most dangerous thing in this process of outbidding is that we fall into the trap of “impeding battles”, whether in good or bad faith. As a result, the masses and the politicians become distracted from the most important goal of the January 25th revolution at this stage, namely to rebuild the foundations of a civil, democratic state in the shortest possible time.
The problem for all revolutions is that they carry with them enormous hope for change and dreams, but they face many impeding battles, most notably infighting, and at other times foreign wars and battles that they are dragged into. History bears witness to this, most notably the French, Russian and Iranian revolutions.
In the Turkish – Israeli crisis, Ankara did not act recklessly after it was angered by what happened to its nationals, and the show of force by Israel. Turkey has waited for an Israeli apology for more than a year, and has waited for a similar period for a report from the United Nations fact-finding committee. Then the elected government took its decision, which still keeps the door ajar [for rapprochement], because it does not specify the outright severance of diplomatic relations.
If we move on to Egypt, although it is recognized that there was something suspicious or reckless in what Israel did [on the border], and the masses are entitled to express anger and demand action, the response at official level should be governed by rational and interest-based calculations, in light of the results of the investigation. It should not succumb to political speculation, as has happened previously in the modern history of Egypt, and ended in disaster.
In any case, all future strategic decisions must be left to the government and the president, who have established legitimacy through the popular mandate granted to them by elections. Only then can they say that they represent the voice of the people, rather than the interim government or transitional authority that runs the country on a temporary basis until the handover of power. This brings us to the importance of focusing on the internal political process, completing the transitional phase, and rapidly moving on from the current moment of weakness.
I asked a friend in Cairo if he was concerned about what we read daily, in terms of reports about incidents of security breakdowns, quarrels, and clashes, raising concern for the future of the political process, and the rebuilding of the state and its institutions after the January 25th revolution. He answered: “It is true that there are breakdowns, but not in the magnitude reflected by the media portrayal. [The media] seeks to increase its distribution, gain viewers, or work towards other goals such as improving its record and image, after the revolution. [In reality] people are moving in the streets, sitting in cafes and going to the northern coast in their summer holidays…Despite the troubles, there is optimism.”