Istanbul, March 19 (AFP/APP): Turkey is urging Egypt’s Istanbul-based opposition media to “tone down” criticism of President Fattah al-Sisi as Ankara tries to mend ties with Cairo, the people involved said Friday.
Istanbul has turned into a capital of Arab media critical of their governments back home. This is especially true of countries that lived through the tumult of the Arab Spring revolts, such as Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya. The Turkish megapolis is home to three Egyptian television channels: El Sharq, a liberal outlet owned by opposition figure Ayman Nour; Watan, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Mekameleen, an independent channel close to the Islamist movement.
Nour told AFP he had a meeting with Turkish officials on Thursday in which they expressed Ankara’s “desire to see these media outlets tone down” their criticism of Sisi’s rule. Turkey announced last week it had established diplomatic contact with Egypt for the first time since 2013 as part of broader efforts to repair relations with a host of Middle Eastern rivals.
Nour said his meeting with the Turks “focused on the media’s conduct in the context of these latest exchanges between Turkey and Egypt”. In reply, Nour added he told the officials he wanted to see the media “commit to respecting the charters of journalistic ethics”. He also denied reports Turkey had threatened to shut down the Egyptian opposition channels or expel opponents of Sisi’s rule.
“The possibility of closing down channels or expelling journalists or political opponents was never raised,” Nour said, calling the meeting “civilised in tone and involving no diktats”.
But sources within the Istanbul-based Egyptian opposition said that in meetings with some of the media outlets, the Turkish officials raised the idea of “suppressing certain programmes and excluding certain presenters”.
This suggestion “was rejected”, one of the sources told AFP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks. But “all options are on the table, including leaving Istanbul and moving to another country if rules are imposed on us that we cannot accept,” the source said. Ankara has been on a charm offensive aimed at re-establishing relations that broke off when Sisi spearheaded the military’s ouster of Turkish-backed Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The two regional powers have been at odds ever since, and particularly in Libya where they backed opposing sides of a conflict that erupted after the killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. Turkey’s announcement of a resumption of diplomatic contacts received a tepid response in Cairo, where Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said “words are not enough — they must be matched by deeds”.
Yasin Aktay, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also denied Ankara was planning to expel or hand over Egyptian journalists and political opponents to Cairo. “Turkey will not arrest anyone or hand anyone over,” Aktay said on social media.
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