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The New Era of Turkish-Egyptian Relations

17 Feb 2024 21:55

Islam Times - Erdogan's trip to Egypt, following years of hostility, not only thawed icy relations but also signaled a transition from strategic competition to constructive engagement and collaboration, laying the groundwork for a fresh era in regional politics.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's unexpected journey to Egypt marked the culmination of efforts to ease tensions between Ankara and Cairo, ultimately raising the flag of peace again after a decade-long diplomatic crisis.

Beyond the resolution of the enduring political rift, what garnered significant attention was the sight of Erdoğan and El-Sisi sharing smiles in a single frame, a stark contrast to the verbal confrontations that dominated headlines until just a few years ago. Erdoğan, once branding El-Sisi as a 'killer' and a 'coup leader,' and vowing never to shake hands with him, has now changed course, extending his hand to the very person who expelled President Mohamed Morsi, Erdogan's former popular and allied counterpart, from power in 2013.

During a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Erdoğan expressed joy at revisiting Cairo after 12 years and extended an invitation for El-Sisi to Ankara, proposing the first-ever high-level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting between Turkey and Egypt. Stressing their shared cultural heritage spanning over a thousand years, Erdoğan underscored their mutual aspiration to elevate bilateral relations to a dignified stature. He pledged to boost trade with Cairo to $15 billion in the near term and highlighted ongoing evaluations of energy and defense cooperation, along with discussions to bolster collaboration in tourism, education, and cultural exchanges.

El-Sisi also emphasized, "I want to underscore the enduring bond between our peoples over the past decade, as our trade and investment ties have steadily flourished." Regarding this visit as a pivotal moment in bilateral relations, El-Sisi expressed his eagerness to visit Turkey and highlighted Egypt's substantial role in defense investments, expressing optimism about collaborative ventures.

Directing his remarks to Erdogan, El-Sisi proposed, "Let's inaugurate a fresh chapter between our nations, one that fortifies our ties and sets us on a constructive trajectory. Egypt genuinely seeks to enhance relations, but Turkey must approach this closeness earnestly and not merely as a tactical alignment for short-term gains. This proximity should transcend practical policies, considering Turkey's reputation in foreign relations."

This gathering reflects the diplomatic endeavors of both countries' officials in recent years. It signifies a departure from Erdogan's past criticisms of El-Sisi and marks a pragmatic shift in Turkey's foreign policy. Additionally, this trip represents a notable accomplishment for El-Sisi, given that Turkey was the sole country yet to formally recognize the Egyptian government established following a military coup.

The extended path towards easing tension

The process of easing tensions in Turkey-Egypt relations took a convoluted path until the gradual thawing of the frosty atmosphere between the two nations over several years. In 2013, following Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's military-backed removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Turkey cut diplomatic ties with Cairo. Erdogan explicitly stated his refusal to engage in negotiations with El-Sisi, even offering residency to certain exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This stance persisted in subsequent years, notably during the 51-day Gaza conflict in 2014, when Erdogan criticized El-Sisi, labeling him as "no different from others" and accusing him of tyranny. In 2019, Erdogan accused Egyptian authorities of Morsi's death, vowing to pursue legal action in international courts, although no such actions materialized.

However, Turkey's entanglement in numerous domestic economic challenges and the impasse of several regional policies prompted Ankara to transition from a confrontational stance to adopting conciliatory rhetoric and pursuing tension-reduction measures in its foreign affairs.

The ice between the two nations began to melt in 2021 with a Turkish delegation's visit to Egypt. In November 2022, Erdogan and El-Sisi shook hands during the Qatar World Cup, signaling a new chapter in bilateral relations as declared by the Egyptian presidency.

Amidst these developments, another source of disagreement between the two nations arose from Ankara's backing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, a stance strongly opposed by the El-Sisi administration. El-Sisi's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt diverged from Turkey's policies, as Turkey provided refuge to Brotherhood-affiliated groups in the region. Furthermore, Turkish television channels aired advertisements critical of the Egyptian government, causing rage from Cairo authorities. However, Erdogan's actions over the past two years, driven partly by political interests and efforts to normalize relations with Arab countries, included a reduction in support for the Brotherhood and the closure of Hamas offices in Istanbul in 2022, paving the way for rapprochement with Egypt.

The most significant milestone in bilateral relations occurred last July, with Cairo and Ankara appointing ambassadors to each other's capitals for the first time in a decade. Subsequently, Erdogan and El-Sisi convened on the sidelines of the G20 summit in India in September.

In the last couple of years, due to the unpredictability of Erdogan's foreign policy initiatives, the Egyptian government maintained a skeptical stance towards Turkey, impeding the complete restoration of relations with Ankara. However, prevailing regional dynamics have prompted both nations to move towards reestablishing their ties.

The normalization of relations between Turkey and Egypt occurred subsequent to Erdogan's normalization of ties with Arab Gulf leaders and the Zionist regime over the same period. Erdogan's successful efforts in expanding relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bolstered his influence and contributed to his approach towards Cairo, aimed at cultivating trust with these two nations. Consequently, Erdogan, having harbored hostility towards Egypt for years, is now visiting the country in an effort to rejuvenate relations and negotiate agreements on various fronts.

The outstanding issues between Ankara and Cairo

While Erdogan's trip to Cairo has indeed cultivated a more friendly atmosphere in bilateral relations, it's important to acknowledge that the horizon of these relations hasn't fully cleared, and there are still visible clouds of discord.

The Libyan file stood out as a point of contention between Turkey and Egypt, with both countries supporting opposing factions. Egypt, along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, threw its weight behind Khalifa Haftar's forces in eastern Libya, whereas Turkey supported the Government of National Accord, endorsed by the United Nations, which had Islamist leanings. Turkey even went as far as establishing a military base in Tripoli, Libya's capital, and deploying troops to the country. Consequently, Turkey's military presence in Libya sparked concerns for Egypt, given its close ties between national security and stability in Libya.

Despite Erdogan and El-Sisi's discussions during their meeting about the necessity of bolstering mediation efforts regarding the Libyan issue to facilitate elections and consolidate the military establishment, such a perspective hasn't yet yielded positive results in resolving the political impasse in Tripoli.

Another pressing matter involves the oil and gas dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean, which remains an unresolved and contentious issue between the two nations. Dialogue between their respective presidents becomes imperative as both vie to secure their stakes in this resource-rich area.

In this domain, the likelihood of resolving this energy dispute promptly appears slim, given the absence of any shifts in the alliances within the Eastern Mediterranean. Egypt's cooperation with Greece and Cyprus remains unchanged, and signals from both sides suggest that reaching an agreement based on new logistical arrangements is not feasible at present.

Turkey has encountered significant hurdles from coastal nations in asserting its maritime sovereignty. The year 2019 marked the onset of Turkey's political isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean, an unexpected and unwelcome development in a region abundant with oil, gas, and hydrocarbon resources.

The establishment of the "Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum" in Cairo in 2019, comprising autonomous entities from Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Italy, Israel, and Cyprus, aimed to address the energy needs of its members and create a regional gas market. This poses a significant challenge to Turkey's energy interests. Consequently, Cairo's groundwork within the Eastern Mediterranean Forum remains firm, while Ankara's aspirations in the region persist. The fact that Erdogan and El-Sisi not raising this issue during their meeting indicates their unwillingness to compromise on their respective positions.

Potential Collaboration

While Turkey and Egypt differ in certain areas, there exist various realms of cooperation between them. One anticipated area of collaboration in the coming period involves revitalizing economic ties and striving to boost bilateral trade, which currently amounts to $10 billion and aims to reach $15 billion within the next five years, as highlighted by Erdogan during the joint press conference with El-Sisi.

According to "Al Qahera News," Turkish investment in Egypt totals approximately $2 billion, with contractors engaged in projects valued at around $1.2 billion. Enhancing existing trade relationships through new agreements, diversifying mutual investments, and launching initiatives in transportation and energy will enhance economic cooperation. Moreover, both nations prioritize tourism and cultural exchange.

Given Egypt's recent economic and revenue crises stemming from tensions in the Red Sea and reduced maritime traffic through the Suez Canal, some experts speculate that the El-Sisi administration seeks to stabilize Egypt's economy by receiving economic support from Turkey. Despite Turkey's current economic challenges, it can potentially aid Egypt in the future by attracting foreign investments, fostering agreements with Arab nations, and attracting a greater number of tourists.

One of the key items on Erdogan's agenda during his visit is to explore opportunities for joint mediation endeavors in regional conflicts. Both nations hold pivotal roles in regional dynamics, and their shared stances and discussions concerning Palestine, including humanitarian aid, mediation efforts, the vision for an independent Palestinian state, and post-war reconstruction, carry significant weight.

Moreover, the bilateral relationship between Turkey and Egypt has the potential to foster equilibrium in the dynamics of the Persian Gulf and the African region, contributing to positive outcomes for the stability of nations like Libya and Sudan. Over the years, Egypt and Turkey have cultivated diplomatic, economic, cultural, and social bonds, and undoubtedly, this visit will bolster ties in these spheres.

The transformative nature of the Turkey-Egypt relationship, rooted in historical foundations and influenced by recent diplomatic endeavors, signals a broader shift in the geopolitical landscape of the region. As Turkey endeavors to redefine its role in the Middle East, the normalization of ties with Egypt represents a step toward constructive engagement and collaboration, opening doors to a new era in regional politics. This shift, emblematic of Turkey's evolving foreign policy approach, holds the promise of enhancing stability and cooperation in the Middle East, despite confronting significant complexities and changes. Therefore, Erdogan's efforts to broaden potential areas of collaboration with Egypt, especially regarding the Palestinian cause and deepening security cooperation, can play a pivotal role in preventing conflicts in the region.

In this context, Erdogan underscored that tackling the humanitarian crisis in Gaza took priority in negotiations with El-Sisi, affirming, "We are committed to collaborating and standing in solidarity with our Egyptian counterparts to halt the bloodshed in Gaza. Despite global reactions to Netanyahu's policies of occupation, destruction, and indiscriminate killings, Turkey remains resolute in enhancing dialogues with Egypt across all levels to foster peace and stability in Gaza and the wider region." Erdogan stressed, "Our foremost goal is to secure an immediate ceasefire and facilitate unimpeded humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Any attempts to displace Gaza residents from their homes are utterly unacceptable."

Despite the aforementioned concerns, Cairo and Ankara approach each other cautiously, grappling with a decade-long crisis of confidence that requires concerted efforts to surmount. Turkey's willingness to supply defense equipment and technology to Egypt reflects part of the initiative to bridge this trust gap. However, a substantial portion of re-establishing satisfactory relations hinges on leadership's readiness to address delicate matters like the Libyan situation, energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the matter concerning the Muslim Brotherhood.

Story Code: 1116950

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