A leading Egyptian opposition figure based in Istanbul has said Turkey has asked Egypt’s Istanbul-based opposition media to “tone down” their criticism against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as Ankara tries to mend ties with Cairo.
Ayman Nour, the owner of the liberal outlet El Sharq, told AFP news agency on Friday that he held a meeting with Turkish officials in which they expressed Ankara’s “desire to see these media outlets tone down” their criticism of el-Sisi’s rule.
Nour said his meeting with the Turks on Thursday “focused on the media’s conduct in the context of these latest exchanges between Turkey and Egypt”.
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 megalopolis is home to three Egyptian television channels: El Sharq, a liberal outlet owned by opposition figure Nour; Watan, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Mekameleen, an independent channel close to the Islamist movement.
In reply to Turkish officials, Nour responded he wanted to see the media “commit to respecting the charters of journalistic ethics”, he said.
He also denied reports Turkey had threatened to shut down the Egyptian opposition channels or expel opponents of el-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”.
However, sources within the Istanbul-based Egyptian opposition told AFP 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.
Talks between the Egyptian opposition figure and Turkish officials came as Ankara is seeking to mend ties with Cairo for the first time since 2013 – when Turkey-backed President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, was removed by el-Sisi.
In a breakthrough, Turkey announced last week that the two countries held their first diplomatic contact since then at the level of intelligence and foreign ministers.
Turkey’s move received a tepid response initially in Cairo, where Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said “words are not enough, they must be matched by deeds”.
But on Friday, Egypt’s Information Minister Osama Heikal hailed Ankara’s efforts at rapprochement, saying that its steps were “a good sign to create a suitable atmosphere to discuss disputed cases between the two countries”.
Heikal also said differences between Egypt and Turkey serve the interests of neither side.
The two regional powers have been at odds over a range of regional geopolitical issues, particularly in Libya where they backed opposing sides of a conflict that erupted after the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 after a NATO-backed uprising.