30.03.2023 Author: Vladimir Platov

Why has Turkey Stepped Up its Diplomatic Efforts with Egypt?

Turkey Egypt

The discussion of many contentious issues in Turkish society has been considerably enhanced in light of the impending elections in this nation. As the political battle rages on, several candidates and parties are attempting to play both domestic and foreign policy cards to win over voters.

For instance, the leader of the Rodina party and Turkish presidential candidate Dogu Perincek recently made a statement at the opening of a conference on the integration of Azerbaijan into Eurasia about the recognition of Crimea and new regions as Russian regions if he wins the elections in May.

While reminding Russia of Turkey’s NATO membership, pro-Western opposition politicians in Turkey also rely on “Moscow’s kindness.” In this regard, supporters of the single leader of the main opposition Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have suggested great promise to “continue cooperation with Russia” if he wins the elections. Ünal Çeviköz, chief foreign policy adviser to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu,  has recently began to emphasize that Russia is indisputably an essential neighbor and partner for Turkey, and that relations with it, particularly the resolution of issues of mutual interest, cannot be overlooked.

In addition  to including the following topics regarding Turkey’s future relations with Russia, China, NATO, the USA, and the European Union in pre-election battles, the most important regional issues for this country, particularly the Kurdish issue, relations with Syria, the Libyan question, and the eastern Mediterranean, are actively addressed. In terms of the latter, the issue of Ankara’s relations with Egypt, which have deteriorated dramatically since July 2013, is being debated extensively. Subsequently, following the 2013 Egyptian coup d’eta Ankara-backed President Mohamed Morsi, an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood (outlawed in Russia), was deposed. President Erdogan reacted by labeling El-Sisi a dictator and refusing to acknowledge him as Egypt’s rightful leader.

It cannot be ruled out that one of the reasons for this reluctance was Erdoğan’s worry that such a “revolutionary situation” in Egypt may be transferred to the activities of the Turkish military elite, which already had enough of experience in carrying out coups. The events in Turkey in July 2016, when certain members of the Turkish army attempted to overthrow Erdoğan, confirmed the reality of these suspicions.

Another factor contributing to the significant deterioration in relations between the two countries was growing dispute on a number of regional development concerns. In particular, Turkey’s ambition to become a regional leader was hampered by Egypt’s actions, which began to actively play on the side of the US and even take part in the Yemen war on the side of Saudi Arabia, to counter Ankara in Libya.

In any case, Egypt and Turkey were and continue to be two highly important Eastern Mediterranean countries with big populations and militarily prominent positions in the region, which have a significant impact not just on regional affairs. The current political confrontation between both countries has had a significant influence on the economy and well-being of the two countries’ populations, therefore finding common ground and resolving years of tension in ties has become extremely important for them.

This issue has recently been extensively pursued by both official Ankara and representatives of the opposition forces in Turkish society, with the hope of benefiting from this agreement in the pre-election battle. In March 2021, a number of media sites reported on secret encounters between officials of the two countries’ intelligence services, during which the opposing side’s sentiments were examined. And it’s not at all impossible that these relationships had an impact in the 85% rise in trade between the two countries in 2022.

The mediation efforts of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani did not go unnoticed by the international community either: in November, during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Doha, he hosted a private meeting between the presidents of Egypt and Turkey, which allowed the two politicians to find ways to ease the tensions in bilateral relations.

The call by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Erdoğan to express his condolences following the February 6, 2023 earthquake that struck southern Turkey, as well as Cairo’s subsequent dispatch of rescue teams, ships carrying humanitarian aid, and the visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Turkey, was undoubtedly a significant step in establishing contacts. The return visit to Cairo of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on March 18 also helped to restore bilateral relations.  Following its completion,  Çavuşoğlu stated that an agreement was reached to maximize diplomatic, trade, and economic relations, as well as Ankara’s investments in Egypt in many areas, including trade, energy, and transportation.

In the context of the two nations’ rapprochement, special attention is now being paid to tracking mutually sensitive positions and the respect of “red lines,” particularly in the Libyan agenda, and the development of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cairo is expecting Ankara to extradite members of the Muslim Brotherhood (organization banned in Russia) who are hiding in Turkey and wanted in Egypt for their involvement in terrorist attacks. As well as termination of the presence of Turkish military in Libya, withdrawal of all pro-Turkish fighters and settlements of disputes with Cyprus and Greece.

 Turkey, meanwhile, fervently hopes that Cairo will modify its stance in the Eastern Mediterranean and refrain from undermining Ankara’s foreign policy. Turkey is especially concerned about Egypt’s support for Ankara’s involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Pipeline project and delimitation of maritime boundaries.

The personnel of the two Embassies, whose opening can be anticipated after the month of Ramadan, will painstakingly address the fact that these delicate issues and “red lines” cannot be handled overnight.

Outside analysts and the public in these nations highlight the positive aspects of the rapprochement between Turkey and Egypt while highlighting the absence of the United States and the West as a whole from this process due to the latter’s significantly weakened position in the region. It is acknowledged that this has in turn driven Cairo and Ankara to separately look for methods to calm bilateral and regional tensions, creating the groundwork for a new multipolar world order, as opposed to the West’s aim to maintain its supremacy.

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

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