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Egypt's president heads to Turkey to build ties

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 9:45 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Friday, July 13, 2012 file photo, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to reporters during a joint news conference with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, unseen, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will travel to Turkey on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 to try to strengthen an emerging alliance of two moderate Islamist governments in a region beset by conflict and instability.

Maya Alleruzzo, File, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will travel to Turkey on Sunday to try to strengthen an emerging alliance of the two moderate Islamist governments in a region beset by conflict and instability.

Even though Morsi has only been in power for a few months, there are already strong signs a partnership with Turkey is forming — evident by the two governments teaming up to try to end Syria's civil war by firmly backing President Bashar Assad's exit from power.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Egyptian capital Cairo and pledged $2 billion in aid to boost confidence in an economy badly battered by a tourism slump, strikes and ongoing protests since the fall of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising.

In a 12-hour visit, Morsi will try to strengthen economic ties with Turkey — a country his Muslim Brotherhood group views as a success story of Muslim governance, boasting a strong economy along with Western ties and Islamic piety.

Turkey, a NATO member with a mostly Muslim (but not Arab) population, has been touted as a democratic model for Egypt and other Arab countries swept by popular revolts over the past two years.

But after initially looking to the Turkish ruling party as their role model, the Islamic fundamentalist Brotherhood in Egypt has cooled to the idea because of Turkey's strong secular leanings. Morsi and the Brotherhood, to the contrary, have been criticized by their opponents for pushing a more conservative Islamist line, particularly in drafting the country's new constitution.

"Before the revolution, we saw (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's regime ... as a successful model that can be emulated," said Dina Zakaria, a member of the foreign relations committee of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. "But can it be with all its details and can it all suit Egyptian society? Of course not."

Turkish officials and media have voiced enthusiasm for the relationship with Cairo after the uprising. Turkish President Abdullah Gul was the first foreign leader to visit Egypt after Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011, meeting with both the largely liberal and secular youth groups that spearheaded the pro-democracy revolt as well as with generals from the ruling military council who took over from Mubarak and then eventually transferred power to the democratically elected Morsi.

Erdogan got a warm welcome in Cairo last year, with crowds of Brotherhood supporters lining the airport road upon his arrival, some of them carrying banners reading: "Erdogan is a hero."

Erdogan has encouraged Egypt to mimic the Turkish model of governance.

But Zakaria said after frequent visits to Turkey and meetings with different groups there, she is convinced that Egyptian society would not accept Turkey's secular constitution.

Many in conservative Egypt equate the term secularism with "anti-Islam." As efforts to draft the country's constitution are marred by disputes over what many liberals perceive as overtly Islamist clauses in the charter, Zakaria ruled out drawing inspiration from the Turkish constitution.

"Their constitution won't work here in Egypt," she said. "There are things Egyptian people won't accept," she added, referring mainly to the separation of religion and he state.

One of the founding principles of Turkey's constitution is that it is a secular democracy, something that contradicts Egypt's old constitution, and is not even considered in the writing of the new charter. Debate remains in Egypt over whether to keep the current charter, which mentions that the principles of Islamic law are the basis of legislation, or to harden it to include a reference to specific Islamic laws which would guide all legislation.

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