17.05.2022 Author: Vladimir Platov

Ankara is Working Hard to Reestablish Relations with Cairo

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Turkey has recently begun working to re-establish relations with Egypt and the Gulf Arab states in an attempt to overcome divisions that have made Ankara increasingly isolated in the Arab world. After Erdoğan’s successful trip to Riyadh at the end of April, Ankara has been working hard to restore relations with Cairo.

Since the end of the 20th century, Turkey and Egypt have been building close commercial ties when Cairo, interested in exporting its gas to the European continent, began to pay more attention to contacts with Ankara. In 2005, a free trade agreement was signed.

However, Turkish-Egyptian relations deteriorated after the overthrow of Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia) member Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Turkish leader Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Justice and Development Party (JKP) was closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, then sharply condemned the Egyptian military’s actions against supporters of the deposed president. Turkey and Egypt recalled their respective ambassadors for consultations in August 2013, after which Egypt declared the Turkish ambassador persona non grata and Turkey reacted in kind. The parties have reduced the staff of their diplomatic missions to a minimum.

However, the cooling has not led to a significant reduction in trade relations. Ankara claims that relations are constantly maintained at the level of the intelligence services of both countries.

In the summer of 2020, Turkey and Egypt found themselves on the brink of a serious military clash: Turkey’s military intervention in Libya and Egypt’s menace to counter Ankara’s activities in the neighboring country by all means, up to and including the use of troops, threatened a full-scale war.

In May 2021, during a visit to Cairo by a high-level delegation from Ankara, the Turkish side launched a reconciliation initiative. According to the influential regional Arab publication Asharq Al-Awsat, the Turkish leadership has stepped up propaganda activities aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations with Egypt. To this end, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has announced at all recent international events a “new” policy in state relations aimed at improving Turkey’s image on the world stage.  The Turkish Foreign Minister tried to convince his diplomatic colleagues that re-establishing relations with Egypt was the cornerstone for Turkey’s continued strengthening of relations with the Arab world, but that it was the most difficult step.

As Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said a year ago, Turkey’s talks with Egypt could contribute to renewed cooperation and efforts to end the war in Libya. According to Kalın, the intelligence chiefs as well as the foreign ministers of both countries are already in contact. Making a conciliatory gesture towards Cairo as recently as last year, Turkey asked Egyptian opposition TV channels operating in its territory to tone down criticism of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

During the period when relations with Ankara were severed, Cairo developed ties with Greece, which is unfriendly to Turkey. In particular, with the participation of Cairo and Athens, the East Mediterranean Gas Forum was established in 2019, which also includes Italy, Greek Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Turkey, for its part, stated that no work related to offshore gas extraction in Cyprus could take place without Ankara’s consent, so Egypt is in no hurry to reconcile, hoping for a compromise with Ankara on the energy issue. In addition, Egypt hopes that the Turkish leader will withdraw its support from the Muslim Brotherhood, expel its representatives and close its offices in Turkey. Cairo also understands that Ankara used to be one of the investors in the Egyptian economy, having established economic zones in Egypt, which, however, are not operating at the moment. The launch of these economic zones is therefore another of the Egyptian authorities’ conditions in the reconciliation talks with Ankara.

Relations between Cairo and Ankara remain quite difficult because of the current events in Libya, where Turkey, unlike Egypt, does not support Libya’s legitimately elected government and is very active in arming the opposition.

In the circumstances, the Egyptian authorities have firmly outlined the basic conditions for restoring trust and full relations with Turkey, demanding that Ankara comply with all international agreements, especially regarding state borders and the use of economic zones in the Mediterranean. Another and no less important condition Cairo sets is the cessation of Ankara’s interference in the internal affairs of other states and the imposition of the ideology of pan-Turkism. Finally, Egypt takes an uncompromising stance against the Turkish military presence in Libya, Syria and Iraq, advocating the withdrawal of Turkish troops and mercenaries from these countries and the cessation of aid to them.

The Egyptian leadership has strong support from the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and most of the leading countries of Western Europe in asserting its claims to Turkey. However, Cairo is also aware that Ankara’s recent activity to restore relations with Egypt is largely due to overcoming crises within the country, in particular internal problems caused by an economy struggling with a currency collapse and skyrocketing inflation.

Given that many of Cairo’s demands to Ankara are quite sensitive, Egypt is clearly not hoping for a quick resolution and the restoration of “good neighbor relations”. According to a number of analysts’ assessments in the Egyptian media, there is no doubt that, even if diplomatic relations between the countries are restored to their previous extent, they are likely to remain “cool” for some time. At least as long as Turkey continues to assert itself as a leader in the Middle East, which it aspires to do.

However, the two states, whose economies are largely dependent on income from tourism, are clearly willing to turn a blind eye to the contradictions and join forces to develop the tourism sector. That is why the respective ministries of the two countries have already developed a project to attract tourists to Egypt via Turkey, i.e. with simultaneous visits to both countries.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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