Egypt-Turkey: One step forward, two steps back

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 14 Jul 2021

The process of normalising relations between Egypt and Turkey has slowed, with no prospect of a breakthrough

One step forward, two steps back

Two months ago, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo aimed at normalising relations. In a joint statement on 6 May, the two sides said they would evaluate the outcome of the first round of consultations before agreeing the next move, and that an Egyptian delegation would visit Turkey for a second round of talks.

On Monday, however, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri told Sada Al-Balad TV channel that while “we could hold a new round of exploratory talks with Turkish officials in the future there is nothing on the agenda right now.”

In another TV interview on 25 June, Shoukri said: “We have reservations over Turkish policies in a number of areas, particularly the deployment of Turkish forces in Libya.

“Their presence there lacks legitimacy. It is based on a deal between Turkey and the transitional Libyan government which was not authorised to initiate such an agreement.

“International consensus is behind the resolutions of the Berlin 2 Conference which clearly state that all foreigners in Libya should leave.”

Informed sources told Al-Arabiya TV channel on 24 June that Cairo had stipulated Turkish forces must leave Libya before any more steps towards normalising relations between the two countries are taken and had sent a message to the Turkish intelligence agency informing it there can be no security coordination or bilateral talks until the condition is met. “This explains why Egypt is refraining from holding further exploratory talks with Turkey despite Ankara’s eagerness to resume such talks,” said Al-Arabiya.

On 3 July, Shoukri referred to another obstacle in the way of normalisation, telling Cairo and the People TV channel that Ankara is still giving refuge to fugitive Muslim Brotherhood members facing terrorism charges in Egypt. He, nonetheless, 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.

Shoukri was referring to Ankara’s decision on 24 June to prevent two Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood hosts from appearing on Al-Shark and Mekamleen TV channels which broadcast from Istanbul.

Al-Arabiya described the ban as an attempt to pave the way for the restoration of relations with Egypt and cited sources as saying that four other Brotherhood-linked TV hosts — Moetaz Mattar, Mohamed Nasser, Hisham Abdallah, and Hamza Zoba — had been banned from TV channels and social media.

Despite such moves, Al-Ahram political analyst Beshir Abdel-Fattah says Turkey’s relations with the Muslim Brotherhood remain strong, and no one should expect the banning of a few hosts from appearing on TV to lead to an improvement in relations.

Meanwhile, on 2 July Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that “We have military forces in Libya, Syria, Azerbaijan and the East Mediterranean and we will stay there,” he said.

MP Mustafa Bakri says Erdogan’s statement was deliberately provocative. “I think it explains why Cairo won’t move forward towards normalising relations with Turkey. Egyptian officials have yet to be convinced that Ankara is sincere in wanting to normalise relations with Cairo.

“Last month’s visit of the Turkish defence and foreign ministers to Libya’s capital — Tripoli — to review a Turkish air base there, merely served to confirm Cairo’s suspicions.”

Bakri also notes that Yassin Aktay, one of Erdogan’s leading advisors, condemned Egypt’s Court of Cassation for upholding death sentences against 12 Muslim Brotherhood leaders found guilty of inciting violence and of murder.

In an article in Yeni Şafak newspaper, Aktay said that an Egyptian court had ratified a previously issued ruling to execute 12 people, including ministers in “the elected government that was overthrown by the coup, as well as figures in the party of that government”.

“These conflicting signals coming from Turkish officials send one message — Ankara is neither sincere nor serious about restoring relations with Egypt,” says Bakri.

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian human rights activist, points out that Aktay is the architect of the relationship between the Turkish president and the Muslim Brotherhood and one of the most important catalysts for the deterioration of relations between Egypt and Turkey after 2013. “He facilitated the entry of Muslim Brotherhood members who fled Egypt to Turkey, and he has been taking care of them since then. Over the past seven years he has been supervising and directing Muslim Brotherhood activities inside Turkey, especially their media activities targeting the Egyptian state,” she says.

“It seems that there are two wings in the Turkish government: one led by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pushing for reconciliation with Egypt, and one led by Aktay pushing in the opposite direction.”

Bakri also notes that Turkish’s reconciliation talks with Saudi Arabia have also faltered. “I think that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are in coordination in this respect, and no one should expect a breakthrough in relations with Turkey anytime soon.”


 *A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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