Egypt versus Turkey 

Sherin Helal
Sunday 16 Feb 2020

In the diplomatic and other battles that have taken place between Turkey and Egypt, Egypt has always won hands down

The current feud between Egypt and Turkey has caused many to draw comparisons between how the two states conduct their policies in the ever-turbulent region of the Middle East. There are stark differences in the ways each state is handling the feud, and these allow for a better understanding of the two countries’ policies.

In its response to Turkey’s provocative practices, Egypt has maintained a policy of resilience and followed the guidelines of international law while at the same time showing a firm stance towards the acts of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan has deliberately and repeatedly insulted Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi at different forums and in various speeches using ad hominem tactics. From the way Erdogan has described him, it might have been thought that Al-Sisi was standing for election in Ankara and not in Cairo. By contrast, Al-Sisi has refrained from even mentioning Erdogan in any forum or statement. “I only deal with politicians, not with actors,” he might have been imagined as thinking.

Turkey’s propaganda apparatus has filled the airwaves with noise about alleged human-rights abuses and a lack of freedom of speech in Egypt – ironic, when one considers that Turkey is ranked as one of the three worst countries in the world by the Index of Press Freedom and the worst in the world in terms of the number of detained journalists. For its part, the Egyptian leadership has highlighted the fact that human rights are not confined simply to freedom of speech and the freedom of the press but also include welfare, security, proper housing and decent employment. 

Erdogan has been labelled as “foolish” by US President Donald Trump in open letters on more than one occasion. The same administration has often saluted the president of Egypt, describing him as “a brave leader” who is given a massive welcome on every visit to Washington.

Turkey has been accused, with the provision of irrefutable proof, by many countries of harbouring terrorists and trading stolen oil with the Islamic State (IS) group. Erdogan’s own son has been mentioned as being involved in such suspicious deals. Egypt, on the other hand, has fought terrorism on its own soil, stood firmly against attacks, and managed to rout terrorists on its territory. The global powers have cooperated with their Egyptian counterparts successfully, helping them to thwart potential terrorist attacks on their own soil.

Turkey has attempted to interfere in Egyptian-Saudi relations and has expressed its dissatisfaction with the military cooperation between them, also asserting its disapproval of border agreements and the settlement of the status of the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Despite the pressure that some countries have exerted on Egypt to interfere in the issue of Turkey’s draining of the Euphrates River in Iraq and its war against the Kurds, Egypt has refrained from any interference in Turkey, however, considering Turkish affairs to be outside the circle of its concerns in international relations. 

This has been part of the message from the Egyptian leadership to its Turkish counterpart to mind its own business, but thus far it does not seem that Erdogan has got the message.

Turkey’s naval power ranks 20th in the world today, according to the website Global Fire Power Index, and it has used this to threaten Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, using media propaganda in attempts to catch up with Egypt’s advances in signing gas extraction, liquefaction and export agreements. Fortunately, Egypt’s navy is ranked sixth in the world by the same Index, and it has sent naval teams on military manoeuvres to the gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean to make its military power clear to Turkey and to declare its readiness to engage at any moment should the need to do so arise.

The Turkish president has insisted on the existence of Turkish maritime borders with Libya, defying geography in doing so and denying the existence of a border between Libya and Egypt. Turkey has also concluded naval and military deals with the besieged Libyan interim government and dispatched terrorists to threaten Egypt’s western borders in its attempts to steal Libyan oil. 

For its part, Egypt has sent logistical and military support to the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar. The Libyan parliamentary speaker has also invoked the necessity of Egyptian military intervention to protect his country from a Turkish invasion.

The Turkish president and his representatives were ignored during the recent Berlin Conference on Libya, something which caused him to leave the event earlier than planned. The Turkish press mocked their leader as a “runaway monkey” as a result. By contrast, the Egyptian president was welcomed by all the leaders at the conference and managed to grab the attention of the major players, showing great diplomatic skill in uniting multiple allies.

Turkey, a country with fewer and fewer friends, has been rejected by the European Union and frowned on by the US and its neighbours in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Egypt has been able to reunite with Africa, and its relations are excellent with all its neighbours including Israel. 

Turkey has harboured Muslim Brotherhood fugitives from Egypt on its soil, while providing funding to broadcast their venom through TV networks based in Ankara in Arabic to distort the image of Egypt. Egypt could have harboured Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of Erdogan, and his aides and opened TV channels broadcasting in Turkish to counter Turkey’s false propaganda. 

However, Egypt did not do so because it is a country that does not conspire against others. “We are an honourable country at a time when honour can be difficult to find,” as President Al-Sisi has commented.

In the contest between Turkey and Egypt, Egypt has managed to score all the goals, politically, economically, militarily and diplomatically. Turkey, on the other hand, has emerged as a resounding loser.

The writer is an expert in African affairs.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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