In a phone call on Monday night, Al-Sisi agreed with Erdogan that Egypt and Turkey should move quickly to upgrade diplomatic relations and begin the process of exchanging ambassadors.
Cairo and Ankara’s relations ran into trouble after the 2013 uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of Turkey’s Erdogan, led to the ouster of its affiliated president Mohamed Morsi. The two countries withdrew their ambassadors soon after, amid accusations from Cairo that Ankara was supporting extremist Islamic groups and meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Though relations have also been tense over Libya, where Egypt and Turkey supported rival factions, in November last year the two countries decided to mend fences. Al-Sisi and Erdogan shook hands on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the World Football Cup in Qatar and vowed in a later half hour meeting to open a new chapter in relations. The two leaders spoke again on the phone after a devastating earthquake hit Turkey last February.
Following Monday night’s phone call, speculation grew that Egypt would be the first country that Erdogan planned to visit after being re-elected. Semi-official Egyptian sources told the foreign media that Erdogan’s trip to Egypt would be part of a tour that also included the Gulf.
Exchanging ambassadors was discussed last month during talks in Cairo between the foreign ministers of Egypt and Turkey. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Soukri and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said they had agreed a timeframe for upgrading diplomatic ties. Shoukri noted that “the accelerating development of Egypt-Turkish relations reflects the existence of political will to improve relations between Egypt and Turkey at all levels.”
Last month, Cavusoglu said that a summit meeting between Al-Sisi and Erdogan would take place after the Turkish elections, and Shoukri indicated that coordination to arrange a meeting between the two leaders was ongoing.
Al-Ahram political analyst Abdel-Fattah Abdel-Fattah says Egypt and Turkey were waiting for the Turkish presidential election to end before announcing the start of the process to exchange ambassadors and normalise relations.
“It would not have been appropriate to announce a resumption ahead of the elections as this could have negatively affected Erdogan’s chances given his supporters included the anti-Sisi Muslim Brotherhood,” said Abdel-Fattah.
“Now he’s won, Erdogan can put Turkey’s strategic interests above electoral calculations and continue his rapprochement with Cairo.”
It has become increasingly clear in recent years that Erdogan’s policies have become more pragmatic and less ideologically inclined, according to Abdel Fattah. “Ten years ago, Erdogan was proclaiming himself the main supporter of the so-called Arab Spring and Islamist movements, but when he found this position was undermining Turkey’s economic interests and causing problems with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE], he decided to change course.”
Independent political analyst Islam Al-Katatni views the reconciliation between Egypt and Turkey, and expected summit between Al-Sisi and Erdogan, as part of the growing rapprochement across region. Recent months have seen Saudi Arabia mending fences with Turkey and Iran, and Ankara burying the hatchet with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Israel and Syria.
“In recent years, Erdogan recognised that it is not in his country’s interest to side with Islamist movements, especially after they lost popularity and became politically disenfranchised in most Middle East countries.”
Al-Katatni also noted that “Egypt and Iran might also revive diplomatic relations following news that Sultan Haitham bin Tarik of Oman is currently brokering a reconciliation between the two countries, part of a general trend in the Middle East where old enemies decide to halt rivalries and instead seek economic cooperation and political rapprochement.”
Abdel-Fattah believes that one of the main reasons prompting Turkey to normalise relations with Egypt is that Cairo is a leading player in the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). “The forum has isolated Turkey and prevented it from prospecting for natural gas in the East Mediterranean, and now Erdogan believes a close relationship with Egypt will not only help Turkey join the forum but could also see Egypt broker a reconciliation between Turkey on one side and its rivals Cyprus and Greece on the other.”
Despite the decade of tense relations, trade between Egypt and Turkey has been unaffected. Trade exchange between the two countries currently stands at $10 billion.
“The joint Egyptian-Turkish Businessmen’s Association has played a significant role in fostering trade and economic cooperation during the decade of estrangement between the two countries,” according to Abdel-Fattah.
Cavusoglu said last month that the Turkish government is keen to develop economic relations with Egypt, particularly in the energy field.
Abdel-Fattah and Al-Katatni agree that reconciliation between Egypt and Turkey is a positive development for the region which, says Abdel-Fattah, “could help find solutions for ongoing crises in Libya, Syria and Palestine”.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly