Rapprochement with Ankara

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo marked a new phase in the two countries’ complex relations.

Rapprochement with Ankara

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s one-day visit to Egypt, his first in 10 years, saw the signing of an agreement to restructure the Strategic Cooperation Council which the two countries’ foreign ministers first agreed to form in 2010, and the finalising of cooperation deals in covering tourism, culture, and education.  

Cairo and Ankara cut diplomatic ties in 2013 following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Tensions then escalated over their support of warring sides in Libya and differences over gas reserves in the East Mediterranean. Relations began to thaw in 2021 and last year the two countries reappointed ambassadors.

In a press conference during Erdogan’s visit, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi revealed that he had been invited to visit Ankara in April and underlined how commercial and investment relations between Egypt and Turkey had continued to grow despite political tensions.

“I am looking forward to receiving President Al-Sisi in Ankara at the earliest opportunity to hold the first meeting of the Egyptian-Turkish Strategic Cooperation Council which will take relations between our two countries to new levels,” said Erdogan.

Reiterating the two countries’ ambition to increase bilateral trade to $15 billion “as soon as possible”, Erdogan said that “trade has acted as the locomotive of our cooperation and we are determined to push it forward.”The Turkish president also pointed out that the defence industry held “serious cooperation potential”.

Earlier this month Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, who accompanied Erdogan alongside Defence Minister Yasar Guler and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, announced that Turkey would begin exporting drones to Egypt. On 4 February, Fidan told A Haber television that Ankara had agreed “to provide Egypt with unmanned air vehicles and other technologies”.

According to figures released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egyptian exports to Turkey reached $3.8 billion in 2023, down from $4 billion in 2022. Egyptian imports from Turkey stood at $2.8 billion in 2023, down from $3.8 billion in 2022. CAPMAS also reported that new Turkish investments in Egypt reached $167.2 million in FY 2022-23, down from $179.9 million in FY 2021-22.

Senator Adel Al-Lamei, Egyptian lead on the Egyptian Turkish Business Council, noted that despite political tensions Egypt and Turkey had maintained strong economic and commercial cooperation.

Attributing last year’s 15 per cent drop in trade to the severe economic crises affecting the region, Al-Lamei said Erdogan’s visit and the creation of the Strategic Cooperation Council would see trade and investment exchange between the two countries reach new highs.

Al-Lamei revealed that when President Al-Sisi visits Turkey in April, the Egyptian-Turkish Business Council will meet in Istanbul to discuss joint investments between the two countries.

Mustafa Denizer, the Turkish lead on the business council, noted that the value of Turkish investments in Egypt reached $3 billion in 2023, creating 170,000 job opportunities for Egyptians.

Denizer singled out the production of textiles, iron, and steel and electric appliances as holding out particular promise.

“The four largest textile factories in Egypt are Turkish and many Turkish companies prefer Egypt as a production base as it enables them to benefit from the Qualifying Industrial Zones[QIZ] protocol between Egypt and the United States,” he said.

Denizer also cited recent growth in tourist traffic, noting that“the influx of Turkish tourists into Egypt after Cairo eased visa regulations in April 2023 is helping compensate for the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors.”

Turkish Ambassador to Egypt Salih Multu said last week that the number of Turkish tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh has increased fivefold since 2022now they can secure a visa on arrival and that the number of tourists from Egypt to Turkey“has already broken records and may soon reach one million”.

Magdi Al-Walili, a member of parliament’s Energy Committee, sees potential for Turkey and Egypt to cooperate in the defence sector through technology transfer and in the energy sector through exploration of natural gas in the East Mediterranean.

“Turkey is seeking Egypt’s support to join the Cairo-headquartered East Mediterranean Gas Forum and is keen to sign a bilateral treaty to demarcate maritime borders with Egypt,” he said.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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