New warmth in Egypt-Turkey relations?

Doaa El-Bey , Friday 10 Mar 2023

The visit by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Turkey last week is just one of many signs of a new warmth in Egyptian-Turkish relations.

New warmth in Egypt-Turkey relations
Shoukri with Cavusoglu (photo: AFP)


Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri visited Turkey last week to express Egypt’s support following the devastating earthquakes in the southeast of the country that have taken the lives of over 50,000 people.  

His visit, the first in almost a decade, was also significant for other reasons as it signals a new rapprochement in Egyptian-Turkish relations, professor of international relations Tarek Fahmi told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Shoukri’s visit aims to build on the recent positive developments in relations, and this was reflected in official statements during the visit,” Fahmi added.

During his visit to Ankara last week, Shoukri said that the visit was a message of friendship and solidarity between Egypt and Turkey. Commenting on relations between the two countries, he said that they were on track, adding that it is important to agree on a roadmap for the speedy restoration of normal relations between them.

“What is important for us is to bring the relationship back to the old level and to take it further in the interests of both countries and in accordance with their common interests,” Shoukri told reporters during a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu tried to outline a possible roadmap for future relations, saying that “we exchanged views on mutual visits in the upcoming period. Our deputy foreign ministers have met twice before, and it would be beneficial for them to meet again… After talks, our presidents could also meet either in Turkey or Egypt.”

He said that developing better relations between his country and Egypt was of interest to both countries and was important for the peace, stability, and development of the region. But moving bilateral relations forward remains dependent on addressing the tensions that caused the breach in the first place, he said.

Fahmi said there were two areas of disagreement between Egypt and Turkey having to do with Libya and differences in the Eastern Mediterranean. The situation in Libya was the most important issue between the two countries as it was linked to complicated factors in the region, he added.

“However, there are some signs of agreement between the two countries on Libya. Egypt has unilaterally demarcated its borders with Libya, and Turkey did not object but called for more negotiations. Both countries agree that internal communication is very important to resolve the Libyan issue,” Fahmi said.

Turkish officials have repeatedly stated that Ankara is keen to work with Egypt and other parties to achieve stability and security in Libya. Both countries agree that the only way to do this is by holding transparent and democratic elections in the country.

Cairo and Ankara are backing one of the rival administrations dividing Libya into eastern and western regions.

Fahmi said that differences in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Ankara’s relations with Greece and Cyprus were another obstacle to improving relations between Cairo and Ankara, adding that resolving these differences would take time.

Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt have been working to expand their cooperation in recent years, and any expectations that Cairo will fundamentally change its alliances in Ankara’s favour are unrealistic, he said.

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMFG), an energy alliance formed by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, has been a source of alarm for Ankara. However, it could be content with observer status in the forum, which could open up the possibility of finding common ground.

Other differences between the two countries emerged after Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-led government was overthrown in 2013. Many leading members of the group chose to reside in Turkey, where they have been voicing criticisms of Egypt.

Within months of the collapse of the MB regime, Egypt expelled the Turkish ambassador to Cairo in response to Ankara’s repeated criticisms of Egypt. Turkey responded by declaring the Egyptian ambassador persona non grata.

Relations were strained until two rounds of exploratory talks were held in 2021 to help to bridge the differences between Egypt and Turkey. Cairo asked Ankara to stop interfering in the domestic affairs of the Arab states, particularly Libya and Syria, to halt its media campaigns against Egypt, and to stop granting Turkish nationality to Egyptians living in Turkey.

Following the second round of talks, a joint statement was issued by the Egyptian and Turkish foreign ministries saying that both sides had agreed to continue the talks. However, no other rounds have been held.

In the meantime, Ankara has taken positive steps to improving its relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, moves that have raised hopes of similar steps with Cairo. Various Turkish officials see Ankara’s relations with the UAE as heralding better relations with Egypt.

A brief meeting between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi late last year during the opening session of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar raised hopes of a breakthrough in relations.

Cavusoglu then revealed that his country might re-appoint an ambassador to Egypt in the upcoming months after a nine-year absence. Egypt did not comment on the statement.

Shoukri’s first leg on his tour of the region last week was to Syria, also badly hit by the earthquakes. He expressed Egypt’s solidarity with Syria in a move indicating thawing relations with Damascus.

He met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus and underlined Egypt’s readiness to provide further support to Syria. Al-Assad told Shoukri that he had appreciated Al-Sisi’s telephone call following the disaster.

Commenting on the present status of relations, one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said that approaches to improving relations between Cairo and Ankara were clearly different. Cairo wants the differences between Egypt and Turkey to be settled before taking steps to improve relations, while Ankara is seeking a partial resolution of some of the differences and leaving others for later.

“The normalisation of relations will depend on how far the two parties are willing to compromise, especially as it will work in the interest of both countries as well as of the whole region,” he said.

Fahmi pointed to two possible scenarios, either that relations are improved soon or that this is delayed. The first scenario is the more likely, he said, and it would change the equations in the region and lead to different outcomes. Several parties in the region including Israel and the Arab states are waiting for this step, he said.

“Erdogan is working to reach this end before the upcoming elections in Turkey. That is why he has resolved his problems with the Gulf states and Israel. Resolving his differences with Egypt would improve the chances of his party winning the elections,” Fahmi said.

Whether relations are improved soon or are improved later, “Egypt is looking at all the options and will deal with the issues in a way that works best for the interests of the region,” he said.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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