Egypt and Turkey will hold their second round of high-level “exploratory” negotiations on Tuesday in a bid to bolster bilateral diplomatic and political relations that have been strained since 2013.
This round of talks will be held in Ankara at the invitation of Turkey. Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamdy Loza and his Turkish counterpart, Sedat Onal, will be heading the talks with the intention to find ways to resolve the differences between the two countries.
The two-day talks are expected to address bilateral relations between the two countries and discuss a number of regional issues, both Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministries said in separate statements late in August.
The exploratory talks come as Turkey attempts to end its differences — that have been impacting its economy — with regional powers over several crises in the region.
Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a political expert at Al-Ahram’s Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online that the impending second round of negotiations comes amid a “Turkish imperial project” to fill the power vacuum caused by the US’ slight withdrawal from the region recently.
The first round of talks — held in early May — was “frank and in-depth” as described by a joint statement by the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministries at the time.
The two sides addressed bilateral issues as well as a number of regional issues, particularly the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the statement said.
Later in May, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Egypt seeks to reach a point of contentment where there is “clear political ground” that meets the needs of both Egypt and Turkey in the event that the exploratory consultations between the two countries yield positive results.
As the talks approach after a gap of four months, expert at Al-Ahram’s Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Amr El-Shobaki told Ahram Online that he expects the talks to focus on the Libyan issue and the language of incitement employed by Istanbul-based pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels against Egypt, a point of contention that has already seen some improvement.
“The importance of these negotiations, in my opinion, is that Egypt maintains communication with the Turkish side to prevent a setback in the relations,” El-Shobaki said.
He added that it is important that the talks “underline the deep relations between the two peoples and their mutual civilisational and cultural heritage” and affirm that “Turkey is not defined by the ruling Justice and Development Party.”
“I do not expect that a solution will be reached in the secondround [of negotiations]. There are still deep differences between the two sides,” El-Shobaki said.
He noted that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party still has an ideological view towards the political situation in Egypt, noting that “this, in my opinion, obstructs the chances of achieving success in these negotiations.”
A history of discontent
Egypt’s relations with Turkey have been deteriorated significantly since the 2013 ouster of late Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was backed by the government of Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president and then prime minister.
The rift between the two countries then continued to widen, as Ankara frequently interfered in Egypt’s domestic affairs, most notably when Turkey voiced its opposition to the 30 June Revolution and its announced rejection of Egypt’s judicial sentences against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt designated as a terrorist organisation in 2013.
Egypt has also slammed Turkey for harbouring members and leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood and allowing them to voice their anti-Egyptian government rhetoric on Turkish TV channels.
This is in addition to Turkey’s military presence in Libya, a country that shares a 1,115 kilometre-long-border with Egypt and the stability of which is viewed as critical to Egypt’s national security.
The crux of the problem
In media remarks in June, Shoukry said that Egypt hopes its relations with Turkey could be reforged on the basis of bringing countries together, non-interference, and good neighbourhood.
Shoukry also called for the need to stop any activity on Turkish territories that seeks to destabilise other countries, in accordance with the United Nations charter on relations between countries.
“Egypt is not concerned with whether the ruling Justice and Development Party forms alliances with Political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood; what concerns Egypt is that this does not harm its national security,” El-Shobaki said.
“The discourse of the ruling Justice and Development Party swings between its ideological and pragmatic divisions,” El-Shobaki said, clarifying the duality of the party’s perception of Egypt.
The pragmatic division makes the party aware of the importance of the political relations with Egypt, but this is obstructed by its ideology, represented in its alliance with Political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, El-Shobaki added.
Tightening the noose on the Brotherhood
Turkey has taken remarkable measures against pro-Muslim Brotherhood propaganda, with Egyptian pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV hosts announcing in late June that their programmes — which they were broadcasting from Istanbul — have been halted.
Presenter Moataz Matar, whose show was broadcasted on Al Sharq, revealed that his program has been discontinued upon an official request from the Turkish government.
During the past period, El-Shobaki says, the only change was that some restrictions were imposed on the inflammatory discourse coming from the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul.
Shoukry has previously noted that Ankara’s recent move to prevent some Muslim Brotherhood fugitives from appearing on TV channels and the social media was a positive step.
However, he voiced, in statements on 3 July, his discontent regarding how Ankara still provides refuge to fugitive Muslim Brotherhood members facing terrorism charges in Egypt.
In this regard, Turkey has prevented two Muslim Brotherhood members from leaving the country, sources told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath channels last week.
The pair in question, Yehia Mousa and Alaa Al-Samahi, have been accused by Egyptian authorities of masterminding the assassination of former Egyptian prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat in 2015.
“I think the Turkish side is serious and keen on the restoring of [political] relations, but under its own conditions and without any review, a matter that Egypt will not accept,” El-Shobaki said.
Deployment in Libya vs. national security
In a TV interview on 25 June, Shoukry said Egypt has “reservations over Turkish policies in a number of areas, particularly the deployment of Turkish forces in Libya.”
Despite a UN call for all foreign forces to leave Libya, Erdogan has affirmed that Turkish military officers and allied Syrian fighters will stay in the Arab country as per a military cooperation agreement Erdogan signed with the former Libyan Government of National Accord that was headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj in 2019.
In an interview with Qatari Al-Jazeera channel in mid-June, Shoukry stated the existence of foreign forces in Libya, including Turkish forces, should not continue as there is no justification for their presence.
“Egypt demands the immediate exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters who threaten Egyptian national security from Libya,” Shoukry said.
Abdel-Fattah noted that the Turkish imperial project negatively impacts Egypt’s regional role, affects the region’s security and stability, and emboldens Turkey’s stay in Libya to establish itself as a constant threat to Egypt.
“If Egypt and Turkey could reach an understanding on the Libyan issue, I think this file can be resolved and progress can be achieved,” El-Shobaki concluded.