“A week is a long time in politics” is a saying that has proved its validity over and over again. This week the old political rule manifested itself again as the terrorist-supporting regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began courting the Egyptian state, seeking to amend its diplomatic and political relations with Egypt.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated earlier in March that Ankara was prepared to negotiate a new maritime agreement in the Eastern Mediterranean with Cairo. He told the Turkish press that the two countries had made contacts on the intelligence and diplomatic levels.
Cavusoglu’s declaration about an ongoing diplomatic and political rapprochement with Egypt has been denied, however. A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry indicated that the current level of diplomatic relations between the two countries remains at the level of chargé d’affaires. The Egyptian side also indicated that any improvement in relations would require taking into account the legal and diplomatic framework that governs relations between countries and that should be based on respecting sovereignty and the requirements of Arab national security.
The latter statement was an indication that Egypt will not put up with the Turkish military interventions in Libya, Iraq and Syria, and nor will it accept Turkish threats against other Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This is not the first time that the Turkish regime has tried to amend its ties with Egypt despite its having been an instigator and aggressor, but it is the first time that Turkish regime officials have declared that they are seeking to amend ties officially in a major change of course for the ailing Turkish regime.
Years of support and financing of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation by Turkey, backed by its Gulf ally Qatar have left Turkish relations with Egypt under strain, as they are with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Last year, the two countries came close to a fully-fledged war in which Libya and the East Mediterranean Sea could have been the main battlefield. The continued Turkish support for Islamist and jihadist fanatics in Libya has caused the Egyptian administration to draw a line for the Turkish regime to stop its interference. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said that the Sirte-Jafra line in Libya was a red line for Egypt and should any party decide to cross it, it would mean open war with Egypt.
Al-Sisi’s ultimatum led to the end of Turkish dreams of controlling Libya, given that Turkey would have had to face the strongest and largest army in the Middle East in order to attain that goal. Erdogan along with his friends in the media then complained for over a year, warning Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
But Al-Sisi’s declaration also paved the way for a ceasefire agreement in October 2020 that halted the bloodbath in Libya. It paved the way for the election of a new government that is now attempting to restore order in the war-torn country. All of these events left Erdogan’s plans for expanding into the oil-rich Libyan state in tatters.
The Egyptian leadership’s resolute stance has finally buried these day-dreams, along with what Erdogan has called “Mavi Watan,” or “Blue Homeland,” an idea adopted by Neo-Ottomans and Islamists who have dreamed of the foolish notion of resurrecting an Islamic caliphate.
A more humorous angle on Erdogan’s newfound strategy has been his attempt to use an emotional rapprochement with Egypt by using historical ties between Turkey and Egypt in a manner to draw support. Erdogan, in US chat show “Oprah Winfrey” mode, has thus decided to appease Egyptian national sentiments in the cheesiest of ways.
He said that Egyptians and Turks had stronger bonds than Egyptians and Greeks and that he was keen on strengthening these bonds. For a moment, Erdogan seemed to believe that he had taken control of the emotions of over 100 million Egyptians, thinking that since he had decided he was willing to pursue reconciliation, the Egyptians would willingly accept this as a gift.
It felt for a moment that he was about to break into song, as if in some kind of Hollywood musical, but alas this was the reality and part of a new chapter that only manifests the troubled nature of the Turkish president. Egyptian-Greek relations go back some 2,300 years, and relations between the two nations are as cordial as ever, with recent events only cementing them.
The majority of Egyptians are well aware of the ill-intentions of Erdogan towards their country, and they do not care for a reconciliation with Turkey while he remains in power because that would represent an undeserved reward for a regime that has fostered instability in their country. Many believe that the Turkish regime should pay for the thousands of Egyptian lives lost during the ferocious war on terrorism that has been taking place since 2013 and even earlier, which the Turkish regime has been instrumental in fuelling by supporting and harbouring the very terrorists who have orchestrated terrorist attacks in this country.
Erdogan’s regime has the blood of thousands of Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians and Iraqis, as well Kurds, on its hands. This is not to mention the thousands of members of the Turkish opposition who have been killed or injured during his dark reign. Accordingly, there is no interest among the Egyptian public to improve relations with Turkey as long as the present regime remains in power.
Erdogan’s plans do not take into account the counter-strategy carried out by the Egyptian government either, one that over the past seven years has included major economic and military reforms that have catapulted both the Egyptian army and economy to new levels.
Furthermore, Egypt has forged strong alliances with Greece and Cyprus, two countries that are seen as enemies of the Turkish regime. It is also growing its alliances with Jordan and Iraq and strengthening its ties with Egypt’s traditional allies in the Gulf, among them Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Egypt has also forged stronger ties with European opponents of Erdogan’s regime such as France, Austria and other countries that oppose the Turkish regime’s Islamist policies with notable firmness.
The culmination of these moves on the economic front was the establishment of the Cairo-based East Med Gas Forum that includes all the Eastern Mediterranean countries as members, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but excludes Turkey. This move has placed Erdogan in a corner as his regime has said that it does not recognise this forum. Much to his dismay, however, the East Med Gas Forum has become a rapid success and has been recognised by the United Nations. The European Union and the United States are permanent observers.
Erdogan is facing European economic and diplomatic sanctions, threats of sanctions from the United States, and deteriorating diplomatic relations with all of Turkey’s neighbours. He is trying to extend an olive branch that is tainted with blood spilled by his regime, but this very late proposal will not be met with much interest or enthusiasm by Egypt or other countries. They have no real interest in providing life-support to an ailing regime that has ravaged the Turkish economy and helped to create havoc in the Middle East.
The fact that the Turkish president is now capitulating, ceasing his incessant hollow threats and stepping down from his high horse by claiming that there have been “misunderstandings” with Egypt since 2013, is simply testimony to the political and diplomatic victories of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, whose government has attained them without having had to fire a single shot.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly