Capitalising on rapprochement

Mohamed Hafez , Wednesday 12 Jul 2023

Rekindled Egyptian-Turkish relations could work for the benefit of both countries and the region.

Egyptian-Turkish relations
Egyptian-Turkish relations


Egyptian-Turkish relations have been restored to the ambassadorial level.

Relations between the two countries ruptured 10 years ago and they came close to a direct clash over three main issues: Libya; natural gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism.

Ankara has learned that confrontation with Egypt over these issues was a losing formula and cooperation would be more fruitful. Cairo, too, realised that cooperation would be in its interests. When Qatar took the initiative to promote a rapprochement, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi responded. 

The factors that led Turkey to restore relations with Egypt related to both its domestic affairs and the regional and international environment.

They were reinforced by the Egyptian state’s success in weathering the upheavals of the Arab Spring and reconsolidating its institutions.

It drew up a new constitution, held legislative elections and beat back terrorism, all the time laying the foundations for a new republic through nationwide urban and social development projects. It shored up its resistance against attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood and those powers that backed the terrorist group to sow instability. 

Meanwhile, in Turkey, inflation soared. Prices shot up by 92 to 124 per cent as the Turkish lira lost 55 per cent of its value against the dollar. The economic deterioration has several causes, some of them connected to Ankara’s policies since the Arab Spring and its support for the uprisings in Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria. As a result of these policies, Turkey lost many of its markets and foreign investments. Arab countries, especially from the Gulf, grew wary of cooperating with Ankara economically.

Turkey found itself increasingly isolated, politically and economically, in the Arab region. As its domestic situation worsened, Ankara began to realise that to break the isolation it needed to reengage with Arab states in a more constructive way.

It also understood that to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries of the region it would have to change the nature of its relationship with Egypt.

Other factors were at work too. They concerned Ankara’s handling of the Kurdish question, domestically and in Syria in Iraq, its closeness to Russia and the effects of this on its relationship with the Biden administration, rivalry with Iran in Syria and, more recently, Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. 

There are many areas in which Egypt and Turkey could work together. At the political level, revived cooperation between the two countries could have an impact on a range of crucial issues, including the Palestinian cause.

Cairo has major influence among Palestinian factions and has played a key role in negotiations between them, while Turkey and Israel cooperate and coordinate across diverse areas.

If Egypt and Turkey were to unify their aims with respect to the Palestinian question and combine efforts to muster pressure on Israel they could achieve progress towards a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause. 

Cooperation between Cairo and Ankara could also help foster a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis. Smoother relations between the two will help end the polarisation in Libya. Likewise, they could work to reduce instability in both Syria and Lebanon.

Normalisation between Egypt and Turkey will lead to closer friendship and cooperation between all Arab countries and Turkey. This applies to Gulf countries which generally see eye-to-eye with Egypt on a host of important issues. Arab countries and Turkey could join forces in the pursuit of common goals in international fora such as the UN Security Council, an alliance that would benefit Turkey, Arab and African stets.

Turkish-Arab cooperation could also reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and help resolve disputes over natural gas exploration, the division of energy resources and their delivery to international markets. 

Despite the rupture in diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkey in 2013, economic and trade relations continued. 

Egypt offers a competitive edge to Turkish firms contemplating opening manufacturing lines in Egypt.

Such companies can take advantage of the free trade agreement between the two countries and avoid the rising costs of production, labour and energy in Turkey.

The steel and mining sectors are among the most attractive for Turkish investors.

They might also consider investing in complementary industries and the manufacture of spare parts and textiles.

All these sectors have large markets and offer scope for cooperative ventures.

As relations develop, the two counties could also shift to using local currencies for commercial and financial transactions, reducing the pressures on FX reserves.

Turkey already imports 2.5 million m3 of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Egypt, and the two countries could explore the prospect of selling Egyptian LNG via Turkey to Europe. 

Tourism is a natural area for enhanced cooperation. Both countries are popular global tourist destinations famed for their major historical monuments, beaches and other attractions.

Indeed, they are already working together in this sector. The Egyptian Deputy Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ghada Shalabi has said the Egyptian and Turkish ministries of tourism are developing a project to attract Russian tourists to Egypt via Turkey by offering programmes that include tours of both countries.

Attracting Russian and Ukrainian tourists via Turkey would be a boon to the travel and aviation industries of both countries. Cooperation in this field could lead to an alliance between Egypt and Turkey’s national carriers.

On the military and security level, Egypt and Turkey could launch joint projects in the defence industries, especially in drone technology and other non-conventional military manufacturing in which Turkey has made considerable progress.

Ankara could provide Cairo with information about Islamic State (IS) fighters and the areas to which they have redeployed: Turkey has acquired important intelligence about IS commanders who fled Raqqa to Turkey and then travelled to their countries of origin.

Turkey’s security forces also have information that it gleaned along the Turkish-Syrian border on members of jihadist organisations who fled to Turkey following the Raqqa Agreement. 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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