Will Egypt and Turkey embark on reconciliation efforts?

Passant Darwish , Monday 11 Jul 2016

After reconciliation with Russia and Israel, can Turkey and Egypt see an end to the three years of diplomatic tension?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (R)

"Turkey has not yet taken any steps on normalising relations with Egypt, but would like to restore ties," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in a press conference on Monday.

The relationship between the two countries deteriorated after the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erdogan has repeatedly slammed Morsi's removal, which followed mass street protests, as a military coup.

Following Turkey's successful reconciliation with both Russia and Israel, talks of a respite from the three years of tensions between Egypt and Turkey have dominated both countries' media, with opponents and supporters commenting on the move.

Possibility of reconciliation

Last week, the AKP's Deputy Chairman for Economic Affairs Saban Disli said that Turkey is planning on sending a group of delegates to Egypt in an attempt to patch up relations between the two countries.

However, later in the same week, the AKP's Human Rights Deputy Chairman Yasin Aktay was quoted by Turkish media as saying, "it is not possible for Turkey to have a normal relationship with Egypt as long as grave human rights violations keep happening there.”

Egypt's foreign affairs ministry remains tight-lipped regarding any possible visit from a Turkish delegation.

However, Egyptian MP Mostafa Bakry told Mehwar TV channel last week that three conditions have to be met before a Turkish delegation can visit Cairo and talks of reconciliation are opened.

The conditions are for Turkey to "acknowledge and apologise for all of its crimes against Egypt and its security," to "handover to Egypt the wanted terrorist criminals and inciters," and to shut down TV channels that criticise Egypt's government.

Following Morsi's ouster, Turkey opened its doors to fleeing Muslim Brotherhood members after a crackdown on the group by Egyptian authorities.

Many Brotherhood figures in Turkey are wanted by Egypt on criminal charges, while others have already been sentenced in absentia to jail terms and death sentences.

Turkey has also hosted and broadcasted several TV channels critical of Egypt's regime, turning a deaf ear to Egypt's repeated requests to shut them down.

"The ball is in Turkey's court [for reconciliation]," Bakry concluded.

Political analyst Ahmed Youssef Ahmed told Ahram Online that even though Turkey took steps to improve its foreign relations, he is not sure this direction "crystallised in regards to Egypt specifically."

He says there is no "apparent strong initiative from the Turkish side for normalising relations with Egypt."

He argues that Turkey sustained "heavy losses" after cutting ties with Russia, and the "consequences of severing its ties with Israel [in 2010] could also be felt," but not so much with cutting off Egypt.

"Turkey has to completely stop its policy of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood and providing them with a political and media platform," Ahmed stated.

Tit for tat

Since July 2013, Erdogan has repeatedly criticised Egypt's leadership and domestic policies, while pro-government media in Egypt has heavily criticised Erdogan's policy towards the country.

However, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who has been known to warn of foreign schemes against the country from "evil people," has remained diplomatic in not directly naming or criticising Turkey.

The pattern of back and forth statements between the two countries mainly revolves around Turkey criticising Egyptian policies and domestic affairs, and Egypt firing back that Turkey should mind its own internal issues.

On 5 July, Erdogan answered a media question on whether Ankara would pursue reconciliation with Egypt by vaguely saying that "steps taken [towards reconciliation] with Russia and Israel are different."

Erdogan stressed that Turkey "does not have any problem with the Egyptian people; the problem in Egypt is with its administration, in particular a problem with its leader," Anadolu news agency reported in Arabic.

In a matter of hours, the Egyptian foreign ministry said it already has "reservations on dealing with the Turkish leadership, which is adamant on adopting blundering regional polices."

The ministry stressed that Egypt's leadership was selected in a "free, democratic poll," adding that the "starting point of establishing a normal relationship between countries is respecting the will of the people."

Egypt has, however, reacted amicably to friendly statements coming from Turkey.

On 28 June, Egypt's foreign ministry welcomed a statement by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that there "is no obstacle in the way of better commercial and economic ties with Egypt and Turkey is ready to enter a new phase."

However, the ministry also noted the "contradicting statements from inside Turkey" that reflect a desire to improve relationships while at the same time not acknowledging Egypt's current regime.

Whether or not Egypt and Turkey are truly moving towards reconciliation, the upcoming weeks will be the indicator.

Meanwhile, political analyst Ahmed suggests that "Egypt should not do anything until it is clear that Turkey is taking genuine steps towards changing its policy towards Egypt."

"The ball is in Turkey's court, really," he concluded. 

Short link: