Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's four-day official trip to North African countries Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia will be an opportunity for Turkey to bolster its policy of opening up to the African continent, experts agree.
“These three North African countries are of great importance for Turkey in its engagement policy with the continent,” Cahit Tuz, Middle East adviser in the Turkish Parliament, said in remarks to Today's Zaman.
Erdoğan, who is accompanied by some businesspeople, left Turkey for Morocco on Monday. He will then move on to Algeria and Tunisia as part of the North Africa tour, which is planned for June 3-6.
Erdoğan is scheduled to have meetings with the heads of state and government in the three nations and is expected to discuss political, economic and cultural issues as well as regional and international developments.
“The visit will strengthen the economic and political ties between Turkey and those countries,” said Ali Bakeer, an expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), and added: “Turkey's interest in the North African region has increased in recent years. Therefore, this visit will give the opportunity for Turkey to observe the latest developments in the region. Without visiting those countries, Turkish officials cannot understand the problems of the region.”
Over the past several years, Turkey has pursued multidimensional, multilateral foreign policy toward the African continent. The policy of opening up to the African continent, which was initiated in 2005, occupies a special place in Turkey's foreign policy.
Erdoğan is expected to attend business forums in all three countries during the visit.
First, Erdoğan is scheduled to attend the Turkey-Morocco Business Forum. Turkish and Moroccan businesspeople will come together at the forum and be accompanied by a trade delegation formed by the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (MÜSİAD).
In Tunisia, Erdoğan is scheduled to participate in the first meeting of the Turkey-Tunisia High Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
“The economic ties with these three countries are less than hoped when compared to Turkey's economic relations with other Arab countries. These countries provide lots of opportunity for Turkey to work together in diverse fields,” Bakeer said.
According to the USAK expert, Algeria could be a good supplier for Turkey in terms of oil and gas. “Turkey is looking forward to diversifying its partners in this field,” he mentioned.
Turkey signed a 10-year gas deal with an Algerian government-owned firm during a visit to Algeria in January, securing the annual delivery of 4 billion cubic meters of gas.
The deal comes as Turkey, which imports over 95 percent of its natural gas from abroad, is looking to move away from its traditional gas and oil partners, Iran and Russia.
“Also the construction field is important,” Bakeer added.
Algeria is one of Turkey's most important trading partners in North Africa. More than 200 Turkish firms operating in Algeria are engaged in the construction and infrastructure sectors.
In his visit to Algeria, Erdoğan will also inaugurate ironworks worth $500 million started by a Turkish firm on June 5 in Algeria's northwestern city of Wahran.
Morocco is also a significant economic partner for Turkey in the region. Turkish-Moroccan economic relations have developed steadily. A share of Turkish firms in the construction and infrastructure projects has materialized in recent years in Morocco.
North African countries could play role in strengthening Turkey's position
According to Tuz, Turkey's historical relations with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are very strong when compared to Turkey's relations with other Arab countries.
“These three countries can play an important role in Turkey's Africa policies by strengthening Turkey's position,” he said.
Morocco appreciates the strategic position, potential and power of Turkey. The North African country considers Turkey to have a pivotal role in its region and in the Islamic world, and it admires Turkey's position of being a bridge between the East and West, as well as the Christian and Muslim worlds. From the Moroccan perspective, Turkey is a modern, developed country that also retains its national identity.
“Turkish institutions in those countries would increase Turkish influence in the region,” Tuz stated.
The history of the Ottoman Empire constitutes a strong basis for current bilateral relations with those countries, without any historical prejudices.
“Turkey shares a similar political ideology with these countries. For instance, secularism is very strong in Tunisian and Algerian politics,” Tuz mentioned.
On the other side, Algeria considers Turkey the closest state to “Western” countries. Besides the common history shared by the two, the pre-dominance of Islam as the majority religion Turkey, its NATO membership and candidacy for EU full membership are also important factors in why Algeria is so close to Turkey.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, who visited Turkey last week, stated that the Turkish experience of developing its democracy is a good example for his country and added that Tunisia will follow the same path that Turkey did.
The strengthening of cooperation and dialogue between Turkey and Tunisia has been making important contributions to bilateral ties. High-level mutual visits on a regular basis, with connections and consultations being made, are adding depth to the climate of friendship.
The Ottoman presence in Tunisia, which lasted more than 300 years, is one of the factors of the Tunisians' feelings of understanding toward Turkey and its people.
CihanGüncelleme Tarihi: 04 Haziran 2013, 09:52